For parents, it can be a nerve-racking time as their child starts to reach the age where they are old enough to learn about pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The child needs not only to understand the ways in which these can occur, but also the importance of prevention. Navigating this topic with a child can be stressful, and many parents feel as though they are not well enough equipped to answer questions or discuss this subject; which, despite many efforts to normalize, is often still regarded as “taboo.” These worries are common and understandable, but parents doing something as simple as giving permission to have their student learn these topics in school or other institutions are not only hopefully making the situation easier on themselves, but are also allowing their children to receive the best possible education – especially if the curriculum offered encompasses both contraception sex-ed and abstinence sex-ed.
The Illinois Comprehensive Sex-Ed Bill (HB 2675) has been enacted since the fall of 2016. This law states that a sex-ed course or class offered from 6th through 12th grade must include instruction on both abstinence and contraception for pregnancy and STI prevention. This law also states that in public schools, abstinence is required to be taught as a positive decision, but it is not required to be taught as the “only option.”
Sexual activity is a normal and natural part of life, and 95% of people will engage in sexual activity at some point during their lifetime. This ultimately means that as a society, we should be offering the most comprehensive sex-ed possible to students so that they can make informed and safe choices for themselves, instead of maintaining the mindset that the best and only option is to tell students to avoid (or abstain) from these activities. We cannot live in a false reality where we believe that kids will stay kids forever.
Abstinence still is essential to teach regarding the prevention of pregnancy and the transmission of STIs, as it is the only 100% effective way of preventing these outcomes.* However, if focused only on this method of prevention, students will be missing out on vital information they truly will need for life, some of which can be life-saving. This education is essential for every person, no matter the point they are at in their lives or what their identity or orientation is. Learning this information sooner rather than later will enable students to be able to make healthy and informed decisions not only for themselves, but for their partners as well. So, although some may feel that sex-ed is being taught to kids at too young of an age, for some students it may be too late if, as a society, we were to wait to teach this information when it may seem more “relevant” to them.
Comprehensive sex ed, including both contraceptives and abstinence, is vital for everyone, especially the younger crowd. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to sex-ed. Accurate and scientific information needs to be presented to give students the best chance at advocating for, and protecting, their health.
*Some STIs can be spread through blood, which can be transmitted if engaging in IV drug use when sharing unsterilized needles.
Written by: Rachel Simmons-Health Educator, Robert Crown Center for Health Education