(Written by Jill Borowski, Saline High School Class of 2012)
An open letter to the parents and administrators of Saline Area Schools:
I will never forget sitting at the kitchen table one morning, eating breakfast, while my mother explained the term “intercourse” before sending me off on the bus to school. Later that day, I would hear a similar explanation from my male fifth grade teacher, and she wanted the information to come from someone I really trusted in order to minimize the shock. I remember thinking it was gross, not understanding why anyone would want to “do” intercourse. At ten years old, I was too young to grasp the concept of sex, and our introduction to sex education (which was more of an anatomy lesson than anything else) left me with more questions than answers.
Fast forward to freshman year of high school, and I can barely recall what I learned in health class. I don’t remember being told about teen pregnancy rates, the correct way to use a condom (or other forms of birth control), or even being lectured on abstinence. In fact, my only recollection of our sex education unit was learning about STDs by swapping water in paper Dixie cups with multiple classmates, then checking to see if our sample had been contaminated by a randomly placed “STD” cup. Spoiler alert: most of our samples reacted to the test chemical as is to be expected in a lesson on the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases. It was a unique activity that really got the point across to a classroom full of 14-year-olds.
This is not to say the sexual education curriculum I experienced did not cover many of these issues; it means they were not impressionable, not interesting, and therefore, not effective. Plenty of my peers were having sex, including some of my friends, and what was taught in freshman health class wasn’t enough to change that. Maybe they zoned out while the teacher was talking; perhaps their parents never talked to them about intercourse. Or, they just chose to do it anyway. Sex is fun and exciting, and the media does nothing to make teenagers think otherwise.
It has come to my attention that there has been a recent push to implement abstinence-based sexual education in Saline Area Schools. A quick Google search of “abstinence-only education statistics” turns up dozens of results from credible sources with studies showing the “just say no” policy doesn’t lead to chaste behavior. In fact, since the beginning of government-funded abstinence-only programs, we've seen an increase in teenage pregnancy and STD rates in the United States. A study published by the Public Library of Science in its science and medicine-based research journal, PLOS ONE, compared state-by-state data on teen pregnancy and STD rates with their corresponding state-mandated policies on sexual education (with the exception of North Dakota and Wyoming).
The states that ranked highest in their level of abstinence education also had the highest pregnancy and STD rates among girls aged 14-19; as the level of abstinence-only education decreased, so too did the pregnancy and STD rates (Stranger-Hall and Hall, “Abstinence-Only Education and Teen Pregnancy Rates – Why We Need Comprehensive Sex Education in the U.S.”). It is important to remember that correlation does not prove causation, but we would be remiss to ignore the obvious pattern this research has revealed. There are plenty of other studies backing up these findings, and I encourage you to seek out more information on the subject. This is not exclusive to public school systems either; plenty of Catholic and other religion-based schools face the same problems. A private school in Hagerstown, Maryland recently came under fire in the media for refusing to allow a pregnant student to walk at graduation after she signed a contract vowing to abstain from premarital sex at the beginning of the school year.
I personally chose to remain abstinent throughout high school and most of college, and when I was ready to take the plunge into exploring my sexuality, I knew how to protect myself from disease or an unexpected pregnancy. I was ready because I had parents who were open and honest with me about sex; parents who told me it was okay to not wait until marriage because they themselves hadn't waited. They answered my questions and encouraged me to hold off until I was ready, to never feel pressured into being intimate. When sex wasn’t taboo or prohibited, it became less desirable to my rebellious teenage self. With an Ob/Gyn nurse for a mother, the advice didn't stop after high school graduation. She even became a powerful resource for my female roommates, offering judgment-free answers to every question they might have, especially those they didn’t feel could be discussed with their own parents.
The reality is, I don’t like the idea of high school kids being sexually active either, and this letter is not the written equivalent of handing a 16-year-old a few condoms and saying, “Have at it!” But telling them they are morally wrong or perverse because they made that choice for themselves (or want to) is not the solution either. Besides, we would be hard-pressed to find a teenager who enjoys being scolded or lectured. We can educate our youth about safe sex and birth control while still positively encouraging them to wait; these two concepts are not mutually exclusive.
We all have the same goal here, and that is to keep Saline students healthy and safe, and to help them be the best version of themselves. There is a way to meet in the middle and find a solution that works for everyone, and parents should be able to opt their children out of a lesson if they feel the need to do so. Thus, I encourage you to put your heads together as the leaders of this community and think about what is really best for our students. I ask you to not ignore research because it conflicts with your personal views. And I challenge you to think about your teenage self, and the kind of sexual education that is effective and would undoubtedly be remembered to this day.
SHS Class of 2012