Analysis: sex ed in Arkansas

Maggie Hendrix, Reporter

With high teen pregnancy and sexual assault rates in Arkansas, sex education continues to be relevant in discussions about public health. Unfortunately, in Arkansas, schools are not required to teach any form of sex ed, but if it is taught, they must emphasize abstinence. There is, however, no law against teaching about contraceptives.

At FHS, sex ed is taught as part of the required health and wellness course, which may be taken from freshman to senior year. Rather than being taught by the course’s teacher, it is taught by a consultant from Reality Check, Inc., a nonprofit based in Rogers.

According to Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), Reality Check received $130,697 from the Arkansas Department of Health through Healthy Connections, Inc. in the fiscal year of 2015. Healthy Connections collaborates with the Arkansas Abstinence Education Program.

I took sex ed in health as a freshman, and I was very disappointed with the experience. While I appreciated the program’s discussion of self-respect and boundaries, I felt that it could be significantly improved in order to help its students. Its focus was almost entirely on abstinence, with only a brief discussion of contraceptives.

A large portion of the course was related to the physical and emotional risks of sex, especially STDs, but there was little discussion on how to prevent contracting STDs, let alone pregnancy, outside of being abstinent. While teaching about ectopic pregnancies, the instructor displayed a picture of the amniotic sac from a terminated ectopic pregnancy and said that the baby would never get to breathe or smile because of “choices the parents made.” This is, simply put, appalling. While chlamydia can increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy, it is one of a number of things that correlate with higher rates of ectopic pregnancy. The Ectopic Pregnancy Trust lists reasons including fertility treatments, abdominal surgery, and older age. An ectopic pregnancy is an incredibly emotional and difficult experience, and to blame the mother is to make the time even more painful by furthering the guilt that women feel after failed pregnancies.

Although the Reality Check program takes up three class days, and arguably leaves no room for time to introduce research-based ways to reduce pregnancy and disease transmission, I saw several spots which could have been tweaked. During a discussion of chlamydia, the instructor described side effects while playing with a Tupperware of green slime, and in another class, an instructor illustrated virginity by telling students to imagine that they were going to the store and leaving their laptop in the front seat of their convertible, asking whose fault it would be if the laptop were stolen. This is not effective sex education.

Arkansas has the highest teen birth rate in the country according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy’s most recent data. As studies that consistently show that abstinence-only education has failed to improve rates of pregnancy and STDs among students, it is no surprise that the current abstinence-first program is ineffective.

What I found to be most concerning about the program was that consent was not mentioned at any point in the class. Even within an abstinence-based program, consent should be a key part of the curriculum because it is important for students who plan to be abstinent until marriage to know how consent works, including within a marriage. Failing to teach students about consent puts them in danger by omitting what is perhaps the most important aspect of sex education, and to send students into adulthood without adequate knowledge is to do a disservice to society. Consent is as basic to sex ed as simple addition is to algebra, and no school would exclude addition from its curriculum. Data shows that students in Arkansas do not know enough about consent. According to the previously mentioned SIECUS report, almost half of Arkansas high school students reported having had sex, and 18.2% of female high school students and 10.5% of male high school students who had dated in the 12 months before being surveyed experienced dating violence during those 12 months. This means that one of every five sexually active high school girls has experienced dating violence in the past year. These statistics show that the current sex education is not effective, and it is deeply upsetting to consider that, although simple changes in sex ed curriculum could have incredible impacts on students, these changes have not been made.

Sophomore Vivian Brantley said of the Reality Check program, “it was very informative, and if you could get past the awkward stage of it, it was very fun and interesting.” She also says that, upon reflection, she realized that consent was not touched on in her class, and she thinks it would have improved the program.

“People view sex as taboo,” said senior Taylor Tames, adding, “they’re not giving us the information that we need to hear, and that’s not right.” Sex ed is, by nature, awkward, and if it overlooks important topics in order to avoid uncomfortable conversations, it is failing to adequately prepare students for the future.

The clear solution to the problems facing Arkansas is comprehensive sex education including information about contraceptives and consent in addition to abstinence. Additionally, health teachers should be qualified to teach sex ed instead of bringing in an outside company. Finally, sex ed should be taught more frequently and from an earlier age. To begin teaching students as late as their senior year is often too late to make a positive impact, and it would be more effective to teach sex ed more than once over the course of their schooling. Changing the way sex ed is taught at FHS will positively impact students and society.

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