By Aisha Zahid, Marissa Schmidt, Phoebe Yueill, Viridiana Garibay
America is not well known for its access to sexual education regarding sexual health. In
the Omaha area many students who have graduated from public and private schools lack basic knowledge on the topic of sexual health. To learn more about this matter, the group is going to discuss and research the classes and curriculum that are available to educate young students about their sexual health and bodies. The focus will be on the high schools and middle schools in Omaha. During the research process it was expected to find that there will be crucial gaps in the education system that result in a detrimental effect to teen health.
For this project information was gathered from the school district websites and other
online sources. The information gathered discussed what topics and information the school districts in Omaha teach their students. Six different districts curriculum were found and used for the data set. Orientating memos were written as a preliminary response to the data and from those memos’ themes were chosen to code the entire data set. Each member of the research team created an individual coding table using the themes. Each coding table was then analyzed. The individual coding tables were then put into one collective table where all of the data was coded and organized in the table, so the data would be easy to access. Then those themes were put into a findings table and reasoning behind each teaching was discussed.
STDs/STIs and Contraceptives
Most schools in the sample teach about STDs and STIs early in middle school and 9th
grade. The schools in the study teach early to provide young adolescents the most information possible to help stop the spread of STDs and STIs. The schools in the study teach which contraceptives to use to best prevent the spread, but Millard, Papillion-La Vista, and Elkhorn still stress abstinence as the best way to prevent the spread of STDs and STIs. Millard and Westside teach the different forms of contraceptives in detail to give the students a well-rounded education on the different kinds of contraceptives available to the students. Westside teaches comprehensive sex education which includes all options for preventing STDs/STIs and pregnancies. Westside discusses the correct and consistent use of condoms and contraceptives. The Catholic schools teach that contraceptives are wrong in the eyes of God. Chlamydia rates in Omaha in 2016 were at an all-time high. Most of those cases were in the 15 to 24 year old age group. Gonorrhea rates also increased by 30 percent because in 2016 there were 325 more infections than 2015 (Council).
In the United States, statistics show that overall, about one third of all sexually active
young people become infected by an STD by age 24. Further, it was seen that teen girls had the highest rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea, whereas rates for teen boys were much lower (Kirby). These high rates reflect less access to health services and lack of discussion on contraceptives in curriculum. When comparing the United States to other countries—such as the Netherlands, France, and Australia—the U.S. was the only one that did not provide sexual health services that “complement their school-based sex education policies, such as general provision of contraception, emergency contraception, abortion, counselling, STI screenings and treatment, education, and referral” (Weaver, Smith & Kippax). The absence of comprehensive education means that contraception is not provided for all youth. This resulted in the United States being ranked “first among developed nations in rates of both teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases” (Hall & Stranger-Hall). Teaching contraceptive options and teaching how to use them decreases unplanned pregnancies. In the United States 86% of the drop in teen
pregnancy between 1995-2002, is because of contraceptive use (Kleeman). More specifically, Douglas County STD rates for both Gonorrhea and Chlamydia have consistently been “higher than state and national rates since 1998” (GetCheckedOmaha).
For the most part the schools in this study do not teach about gender identity or LGBTQ
sexual health. Millard and Papillion both do not talk about gender identity or LGBTQ sexual health at all. Elkhorn gives a definition of gender identity but does not discuss it in detail. Instead, they suggest that students to talk to their parents if they have more questions. There is no apparent reason for this choice. Westside, Omaha Public Schools, and the Archdioceses talk about the subject in detail. Westside and Omaha take a comprehensive approach. They give the facts without any personal opinions. On the other hand, the catholic schools teach through the lens on Catholicism. They teach the scientific parts on the topic but then tell the students that it is not something they agree with because of their beliefs. The schools avoid teaching this to avoid offending people or making them uncomfortable.
Riskier reproductive health behaviors and more negative reproductive outcomes were
reported in sexual minority girls. Many girls in the United States reported to attraction of the same sex, having bisexual behaviors and identities. Sexual identity and partner gender are strong predictors of sexual health outcomes. Girls that reported having female sexual partners were more likely to have moved out of their parents’ house before the age of 18. This led to a risk of prostitution and rape. If schools thought more about LGBTQ, adolescents would have more knowledge how to prevent situations like these and how to better protect themselves (Riskind).
Abstinence is a major component of sexual education in schools. Not one school teaches
otherwise. Teaching abstinence is also important, but it has gotten to the point where schools stress and rely heavily on teaching abstinence and only abstinence. Informing students about the risks of having unprotected sex is important, but it is also important to teach about having safe sex and how to protect themselves if they are sexually active.
Millard has a pro-abstinence curriculum and stresses that abstinence is the most effective way to prevent pregnancy and STD/STIs. Abstinence is covered in 8th grade and above. Papillion La-Vista teaches sexual education with an emphasis on abstinence. It is also taught in 8th grade and above. Westside teaches comprehensive sex education. It emphasizes on abstinence but also teaches detailed information on other contraceptives. Elkhorn starts teaching about abstinence since the 7th grade and compares methods of birth control with abstinence, then in ninth grade, explaining the effectiveness against pregnancy and STDs. Archdiocese of Omaha Comprehensive sex education taught through the lens of Catholicism. Omaha Public reinforces abstinence throughout high school.
Studies show that Sex and STD/HIV education programs that focused only on abstinence
consistently failed to have any significant effect on sexual behavior. On the other hand,
comprehensive programs that encouraged both abstinence and contraceptives had a positive impact delaying sex, and increased condom and contraceptive use (Kirby). Most developed countries have some form of sex education in schools, ranging from reproductive biology classes to comprehensive sex education programs that encompass reproductive health and development, STIs, sexual identity, sexual behavior, gender issues, and interpersonal relationships. In the Netherlands and France, the programs are more pragmatic and focus on preventing STIs, HIV and unwanted pregnancy. On the other hand, in the United States, most young people are encouraged to abstain from sex until marriage. Further, the Netherlands, Australia, and France have programs in place to further teacher training in the area of sexual health and require that teachers who teach sex education are qualified to do so. Teachers are often encouraged to go
beyond the obligatory sexual health topics and address any questions students might have about sexuality and sexual health. Adversely, sex education in the U.S. is usually introduced at the secondary level and is typically taught by teachers without training in sexual health (Weaver). With the European countries having better sexual-health related statistics, it is clear that the U.S.’ approach to sex education has shown to be unsuccessful as the country suffers from high rates of youth pregnancy, abortion, and sexually transmitted diseases.
The topic of abortion is widely contested in both political and social circles, and there is
no uniform or standard way to discuss this issue in the United States. Some schools choose to avoid discussions about abortion altogether; others teach that abortion is a sin; and some stick to “just the facts,” ignoring discussions about the social and economic circumstances that revolve around abortion. This means that the information students receive about abortion depends on what their particular school or teacher chooses to focus on. In Omaha, most school districts in the study sample do not adequately cover abortion. A definition—“termination of pregnancy”—can be given if asked, however, teachers commonly suggest that the student ask their parents for further information on the topic. An exception to this was the Archdiocese of Omaha. At this Catholic school, abortion is covered but through the lens of Catholicism and is therefore taught as “morally wrong.” As students are taught that they “must celebrate every life as a gift – even if it wasn’t part of the plan.” Omaha Public Schools also provides students with information on Nebraska state law—“The law in Nebraska for abortion requires a minor under the age of 18 to obtain parental consent from a biological parent or legal guardian… a petition requesting court order allowing the abortion is available for those
without written consent…” Nonetheless, with the lack of discussion on the topic, it is clear that the majority of the student population in Omaha also does not get the proper education on abortion.
Studies show that adolescents who received formal sex education had much lower risks
of falling pregnant unintentionally as compared to those who did not have access to sex
education at all. Further, risk of pregnancy was lower for those who received comprehensive sex education than those who learned in an abstinence-only environment. Although a number of initiatives were put in place, the rate of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections did not change in the United States and other countries. However, teens have started to use more hormonal contraception and condoms, leading the rate of teenage pregnancies to decrease. From pregnancies that do occur, it has been show that 1 in 3 of them lead to abortion. On the other hand, in Europe—where, in the last decade of the 20th century, “classes on how to prevent unwanted pregnancies started to appear”—it was reported that the lowest rate of teen
pregnancy, four out of every thousand, is in the Netherlands. Where sex education became mandatory for all students in 1955. This also reduced the number of performed abortions in the country, thought to be a result of sexually active adolescents using contraception (Drwal, Malgorzata, et al.).
There is evidence that shows that bringing in a guest speaker can help students be more
receptive to the material. As students tend to think that guest speakers are experts in the field and know more on the topic that they are talking about. Doing this also helps avoid awkward conversations with the teacher or avoid making the teacher feel uncomfortable (McRee). The idea of theatre-based curriculum has another beneficial approach. Having college students teach high school students about sex education creates a more relatable and personal experience for the high school students. This is called a near-peer approach and in some cases works better than having a teacher who is significantly older than the students teach sex education (Lightfoot,Gordon and Gere).
Using techniques like humor and skits or theatre-based methods to teach sex education
makes students more receptive to the topics. This could be used to teach more sensitive subjects like gender identity as long as it is not making fun of the subjects (Lightfoot, Gordon & Gere). Comprehensive sex education programs have been thoroughly evaluated and it has been found that they significantly delayed sexual initiation, it reduced the frequency of sex and the number of sexual partners, and increased condom and contraceptive use (Council). It was noticed that all the school districts in this study have an opt-out policy. This allows parents to take their student out of the sex education portion on health class. Usually there is a permission form that has to be turned in to the school. This is to avoid upsetting people. As some parents want to be the ones to teach their kids about sex and sexual health.
This project ultimately showed the need for a change in the sex education curriculum.
The abstinence only programs are not effectively preventing STDs/STIs and pregnancy. It has been shown that the comprehensive programs effectively teach students how to properly have safe sex and also encourages them to have less sexual partners and not as many sexual encounters. Thus, school districts should make a research-based decision when choosing their sex education curriculum.
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