By Terrah Baker
It’s nothing new that the U.S. has the highest rate of teen pregnancy of all the developed countries — up to nine times higher according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It also may not be surprising the U.S. holds the least comprehensive view and curriculum for youth sexual education.
For this reason, the Students for Gender Equality at the UA are trying to bring attention to the need for sex education as a way to stop pandemic problems such as teen pregnancy, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, sexual assault and general ignorance of human sexuality.
“Arkansas still teaches abstinence only sex education as the best way to avoid teen pregnancy and to avoid STDs, but they don’t really give you any information as to how to avoid them if you aren’t being abstinent,” Jodi Nimmo of SGE said. “That is a huge concern.”
Especially since the CDC reported 47 percent of high school students surveyed in 2011 had had sexual intercourse. Thirty-three percent of those students said they had intercourse during the previous three months, 39 percent of those students said they did not use a condom and 76 percent did not use any form of birth control.
These numbers aren’t high considering nearly half of the 19 million new STDs each year are among young people aged 15-24 years, and 49 percent of pregnancies in the U.S. in 2006 were unplanned, including four of five pregnancies to girls under the ages of 19.
In Arkansas, public school systems aren’t required to teach students about contraceptive options and about STDs; but if they do, they’re required to stress abstinence above all else.
Fayetteville Public Schools Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Kaye Jacoby, said in the almost two years she’s worked at the school, TFW was the first to ask about the type of sexual education students were receiving.
“I am fairly new to Fayetteville — in my second year. Common Core Implementation has been front and center in our curriculum work,” she said. “We do teach standards on human reproduction that are mandated by the state of Arkansas.”
Under kindergarten through eighth grade curriculum standards for health and wellness set out by the Arkansas Department of Education, students will first hear about sexuality during seventh grade. They’re taught to “Recognize the consequences of sexual interaction: emotional, social and physical.” Next, they will hear about sexuality in eighth grade, when many teenagers are hitting puberty and experiencing an onslaught of hormones and confusion. They then learn to “Evaluate how sexual decisions influence their future, family, peers, community and future life-mate.”
By the time they reach high school, and puberty, sex is something determined to be negative and not discussed, leaving many young teenagers at risk and with many questions, said Nimmo.
But, the risk and questions don’t end when they leave home and attend college. In many circumstances, said Coordinator, Mary Wyant, of the UA’s STAR Central — an information and help center dealing with sexual assault — this is the first time students have been away from home, coming into a hypersexual environment.
“It’s amazing how many students don’t know how their anatomy and physiology works. For some reason that chapter in the health book gets skipped. That’s not just in Arkansas, that’s across the nation,” she said. “When I think of sex education I think of healthy sexuality … What you see nationwide, however, because of a culture that is uncomfortable with talking about healthy sexuality, it makes it all the more difficult to talk about sexual violence.”
Studies from the 1970s up to the 2010 CDC study show one in four women will experience a sexual assault during their college careers, higher than the one in five seen in general society. This is another reason why sex education is so important for everyone, not just those students choosing to be sexually active, said Nimmo.
“What if you are abstaining, and you’re the perfect angel and then you get raped and your rapist isn’t wearing a condom? It would be helpful if you knew where to go to get tested or to deal with any unplanned pregnancy,” she said.
It’s also for those who have never experienced sexual intercourse, she explained. At one event where Nimmo and other UA students were handing out condoms and pamphlets on contraceptive options, a student who proclaimed she had never had sex and was waiting until she got married asked to learn more.
“She had a lot of questions because she was going to get married and had never had sex. She wanted to know about contraceptives, birth control and everything. It was awesome and it made us realize that this is for everyone,” Nimmo said.
There will be something for everyone wanting to learn more about sexuality and contraception options, including those available on the UA campus, at the Smart and Sexy events beginning Mon., Feb. 18, on the UA campus.
Smart & Sexy Schedule of Events:
Monday: Let’s Talk About Sex (1998) and Kinsey (2004) Showing, Giffels Auditorium (Old Main), 5 to 10 p.m.
Tuesday: A Look At Healthy Relationships, Pat Walker health representative, Arkansas Union, rooms 509/510, 6 p.m.
Wednesday: Hot Topics, each talk is about 30 minutes, you choose the topic. Gender 101, UA Safer Sex Statistics, Rape Culture and Transgender 101, Snacks provided. AU 512/514, 5 to 8 p.m.
Thursday: Sex Ed You Never Got In High School, Laura Phillips (Nurse from Pat Walker), pizza and drinks provided. AU 512/514, 6:30 p.m.
Friday: Booth Day. Planned Parenthood, Peace at Home, Pat Walker Health Center, PRIDE, RESPECT, NWA Rape Crisis Center, Students for Gender Equality and Intact Arkansas. in the Connections Lounge.
The Climax: Fri., Feb. 22, Nightbird Books, performers of all kinds, including Blossom’s Burlesque from Fayetteville, 8 p.m.