Sex ed and the Internet: part I

Putting an end to sexual misinformation

The following the first of a two-part series about comprehensive sex education, hook-up culture, benevolent sexism and some of the corners of the Internet where these intersect. 

By Shilpa Esther Trivedi
Putting an end to sexual misinformation

The following the first of a two-part series about comprehensive sex education, hook-up culture, benevolent sexism and some of the corners of the Internet where these intersect. 

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This past week, Parks and Recreation humorously took on problems with sex education, and while the episode itself was funny, the problems with ensuring accurate and comprehensive sex education the show alludes to are very real.

Teen pregnancy is a hot-button issue in this country: We talk about it in the news, we watch shows like 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom and we endlessly debate how best to prevent it.

Just a couple weeks ago the Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced that teen pregnancy rates have dropped to the lowest ever recorded. President Barack Obama is anti-abstinence-only education because these programs have been consistently proven as inaccurate and an immense failure at preventing teen pregnancy.

While Obama originally removed two-thirds of the $176 million former President G.W. Bush provided to abstinence-only education, unfortunately many of these programs are still taught and continue to be paid for by our tax dollars.

Here’s an example to give you an idea of how some of these programs work:

One program teaches young girls about sex by handing them a piece of tape and telling them to stick it to something. Then they remove the tape and affix it to a different object. As they repeat this process, girls are taught that women who have sex with multiple partners become like the tape: dirty and unable to properly form an attachment.

Programs with exercises like this one fail to educate teens and renforce horrible stereotypes.

Abstinence is a valid option. If practiced correctly, abstinence will prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, but studies indicate teens who take this pledge often fail to remain fully abstinent and don’t know how to have safe sex when they do end up engaging in some form of intercourse.

This isn’t just a problem for teenagers.

If you’ve ever had a partner or a friend who believed some crazy myth or theory about how to prevent pregnancy that wasn’t biologically sound, or who didn’t understand when to get tested, you know what I’m talking about.

Teens raised with abstinence-only education often become adults who remain uninformed about their own reproductive health. Thus, abstinence ought to be taught only in conjunction with all of the other methods of preventing STDs and pregnancy.

I’m neither for nor against teen pregnancy. Personally, I don’t have the right to judge another person’s choice to have a child at any age (or many of their other lifestyle choices). Actually, by attempting to prevent unwanted pregnancy among teenagers, we’ve created a social stigma around teen motherhood that has some abhorrent ramifications.

Comprehensive education about sexuality and sexual practices is absolutely needed at the earliest possible age.

This also means providing universal access to the full range of reproductive health services—including abortion, birth control methods and even prenatal care—to everyone, regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic status or sexual orientation.

Ensuring accurate information, education and access is the best way to give all genders the tools needed to take control of their lives and navigate their own health care and that of their children (if desired) with a sense of autonomy, in order to prevent the spread of diseases and to ensure that everyone who becomes a parent does so if and when they desire to become a parent.

If teenagers aren’t being given correct and comprehensive information in the classroom, they’ll often turn to other avenues such as peers or parents who may not give correct information or promote positive gender concepts.

Today, teens searching for this information most often turn to the Internet.

In part two of this series, I’ll talk about a few sites whose creators engage in questionable behavior regarding sex education. The sites I’ll critique are indicative of a larger societal problem and represent trends I find offensive and, worse, potentially very harmful.

You’re probably wondering at this point why you should care at all about the sites that I’ll mention; after all, there is plenty of suspect information on the Internet.

The answer: Because, in an age where many people get their information about what is and isn’t safe sexual behavior from these sites, your next partner may very well have some incorrect ideas about how to keep both of you safe. They may have in the past engaged in detrimental behavior with other partners as a result of misinformation about sex, which could potentially impact your future health.