From: Benjamin Thomas Walker
As a recent graduate of the Indiana Public School system, I was not surprised to read that Bartholomew County is the seventh worst county for teenage pregnancy in Indiana. Even though the Republic did a great job of covering what life is like for those affected, I was disappointed by the fact that they did not address the underlying causes of teenage pregnancy. While socio-economic background and family life can both be contributing factors for teenage pregnancy, a factor that is unfortunately seldom talked about is our school systems’ inability to properly equip young people with the necessary tools to make safe and responsible decisions about sex.
In my high school health class, the sex education that my peers and I received essentially consisted of being told to save ourselves for marriage or else we would end up with syphilis or some other horrific sexually transmitted infection. None of us were told about how to practice safe sex or how to use birth control. This is because the Indiana Code specifies that public schools must stress “abstinence-only” education. While the intentions of this policy are in the right place, the simple fact of the matter is that abstinence-only education does not work.
Let’s get one uncomfortable tidbit out of the way: Teenagers have sex. They have been having sex for a long time. They will most likely continue to have sex. If that is not made evident by the high rate of teenage pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the average age for loss of virginity in the U.S. is 17. Clearly, simply telling teenagers to save themselves for marriage is not working. What is more, abstinence-only education does not inform teenagers about how to protect themselves. It does not include any instruction about condoms, contraception or anything else that could prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. Due to this, it should come as no surprise that states such as Indiana, where abstinence-only education is the norm, have the highest rates of teenage pregnancy.
An alternative to this is already in practice in various other states around the country. In states such as New Hampshire, public school instructors teach young people how to use protection and contraception. New Hampshire has the lowest rate of teenage pregnancy in the country. This policy could be adopted in Indiana with a single amendment of the Indiana Code.
It is about time we stopped relying on failed educational policies. It is about time we started actually informing young people about how to protect themselves in their intimate relationships. It is about time our state Legislature allowed for a more comprehensive sex education curriculum in this state’s public schools. We owe it to our young people to ensure they are capable of protecting themselves.