Gates: Start effective sex education before college


Matt Gates, Columnist

Northwestern Sex Week exemplifies how open NU and many other colleges are in their discussion of issues relating to sex and sexuality. The honest approach I have seen at a school where people collect condoms and lubricant as they walk into a burlesque show on a Saturday night is indicative of a student body that is prepared to make decisions about sex. Unfortunately, this strongly contrasts with the intimidating approach found in many high schools. Many come to college without being informed about topics that should have been covered in high school.

“Don’t have sex because you will get pregnant and die!” is more than just a line from “Mean Girls.” It is not far from what many NU students I have spoken to were taught in high school. This is not to say there are not instances of effective sexual education in schools. However, improvement is needed. The scare tactics used in high school health keep students from trusting their educators and learning what they need to know to be prepared for college.

With young people accounting for half of all new infections of sexually transmitted diseases, sexual education needs to be introduced at younger ages. Students come to college uninformed about STDs and begin engaging in sexual behavior — or worse, they have already been infected in high school. For instance, one study found at least one in four teenage girls in America has an STD.

In my middle school health class, my teacher showed us a diagram to explain the risk of STD infection that results from sex with one person, which is essentially the equivalent of having sex with all of their partners and the partners of all of their partners. One student remarked that in that case, he might as well have sex with as many people as he wanted once he had sex with one person. It is obviously not the same to have sex with one person as it is to have sex with hundreds, yet the teacher’s literal explanation of this concept made it seem this way.

Likewise, the insistence of some schools in maintaining abstinence-only sexual education has similar negative consequences for teens. Rates of teen pregnancy are highest in states with such sex ed. Meanwhile, the average age for a male to lose his virginity is 16.9. For females, it is 17.4. Schools try to scare students into avoiding any sexual contact rather than preparing them with accurate information. It is important that sexual education teachers emphasize that no contraception method guarantees protection from pregnancy or STDs. However, avoiding the topic in its entirety undermines the purpose of sex ed.

Classes that use scare tactics also often overlook important information. Basic topics like circumcision and the menstrual cycle are left out in favor of terrifying stories about teen pregnancy and STDs.

Sex education designed to intimidate students into complying with a set of rules and morals is destined to fail. The second students realize that what they are being told lies somewhere between exaggerated and untrue, they disregard everything they learn in class. Sex Week programming is encouraging. This approach to sexual education needs to be instituted at an earlier age in order to adequately prepare young people to make informed decisions in college.

 Matt Gates is a Weinberg freshman. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].