Students Say Let's Talk About Sex

‘Abstinence only is not working’ says state-appointed panel

Sex ed seems to be the pink elephant in high school. At least that's what the kids are saying. 

While being bombarded with sexual images on TV and adult references in popular music, many students across the state say current sex education programs in schools are getting a bad grade.  

"Being high school students, we know what goes on in high schools and what happens between teens on the weekends," Sarah Chapman, 17, told the Sun-Times.

Currently, Illinois law does not require public high schools to teach sex education. If they do, they must focus on abstinence until marriage. The decision has caused debate among parents and politicians about the prorer approach to the sensitive issue.

Now, students want their say, too.

After a year of research and hundreds of student interviews, a statewide Student Advisory Council has found that "abstinence only" education isn't sufficient. The state-appointed teen panel cited a 2007 survey that found nearly half of Illinois high school students reported having had sexual intercourse.

Federal funding for abstinence-only classes has increased, but it hasn't seemed to have affected teens' sexual habits. The rate of Illinois teen births and sexually transmitted diseases has risen since 2005.

"You give kids Drivers' Ed to teach them how to drive," Ken Bringe, physical education director at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, told the Sun-Times. "We expect there to be less accidents [as a result]... We need to get women to the point where they are not having these unwanted pregnancies. That's going to happen through education, not through ignorance."

The Student Advisory Council has concluded that "abstinence-only is not working, so Illinois needs to take a stand and help our youth." They will recommend to a State Board of Education committee that sex ed be mandatory and cover "the real deal," including sexually transmitted diseases and contraceptive options.

Several of the teens interviewed said that what little sexual education was provided seemed to be decades-old. They suggested that teachers use updated videos, the Internet, and have teenage mothers guest-speak.

"Many parents aren't educating their children or are just uncomfortable talking to their kids," said Melody Ahrens, a parent of a Student Advisory Council member. "Somebody has to educate the kids."

Matt Bartosik is the editor of Off the Rocks' next issue and a "between blogs" blogger.

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