Too Little, Too Late

Sex education should be taught earlier to encourage safe and healthy decisions

ANDREW BACHRACH, STAFF WRITER

 With the push of a button or the tap of a finger, kids have access to nearly anything, thanks to the internet. However, because of this, many young Americans are being exposed to sexually explicit content much earlier than previous generations. Psychology Today reports that children as young as eight are being exposed to explicit photographs online, which is way too early.  

Due to the increasing role of social media and television in adolescents’ lives, these problems should be addressed much earlier than it is now. Currently, Health and Wellness, formerly known as Life Management Skills or LMS, taught in the 8th grade, is where human sexuality is taught to Trinity students. This is not the only topic taught in Health and Wellness, which includes discussions about alcohol, drugs, budgeting, health, and more in order to prepare students for the confusing world ahead of them. However sex education is undoubtedly one of the most important topics taught to students today. Despite this, most American kids are already exposed to explicit content before receiving sexual education, according to the CDC, so the school must teach them earlier to combat false information. 

Seventh grade is the best time for Trinity students to have matured enough to understand and respect the material taught to them. Seventh graders are also at an early enough age that we can minimize the problems caused by teaching sex education too late. In order to fully prepare Trinity’s teenagers to navigate the confusing world ahead, we should teach kids about “the birds and the bees” earlier, before it is too late. Students will learn crucial information about pornography, birth control, STD prevention, and information about their bodies that could prove vital for their future. Kids are exposed to so much information and explicit material on the internet, that one year can still make a difference in educating teenagers. If Sex Education is taught in seventh grade, students will learn the difference between good and bad behavior before they engage in that behavior. 

   Current Health and Wellness instructors Amanda Dean and Scott Sukup agree that today’s hyperconnected world heavily influences the youth of the 21st century. Dean believes that a lot of kids do not understand the potential consequences or even legal implications of sending or possessing explicit photos. 

   “It’s hard for us to stay ahead of this rapidly evolving social media landscape,” Sukup said.

    Director of Learning and Instruction Stephanie Dryden thinks that the school should consider all of its options.

   “I think that’s certainly worth a conversation,” Dryden said. “A lot of that has to come back to families and their own value systems, but that would certainly be a school community conversation about what’s best for our community.”

   Both Dean and Sukup agree that 8th grade is the best year to teach human sexuality, yet they believe that possibly changing it is something worth talking about.

   “8th grade is the appropriate place for it, but that doesn’t mean that discussions don’t have to happen,” Dean said. “I don’t think some of the content would be absorbed as well if it was taught earlier.”

   Despite this, many health experts think that sexual education should be taught much earlier than it is currently being taught in the United States. In order to significantly lower the rates of teen pregnancies, abortions, and sexually transmitted diseases, children should start receiving formal education about sex as early as age 10, according to a 2014 study from Georgetown University. 

   The Georgetown University study furthers that sex ed programs should be refocused to target kids who are at the early onset of puberty, when they are most receptive to messages that could shape their future attitudes toward sex. Teaching sexual education too late is inherently dangerous, as a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that “most American teens don’t receive formal sexual health instruction until after they’ve already become sexually active.” 

    According to a survey, 43% of Trinity upper schoolers believe that the class should be taught in sixth or seventh grade. Not only that, but an overwhelming majority, 84%, knew “some” or “a lot” of the information regarding human sexuality discussed in Health and Wellness before taking the class. Moreover, this means that the majority of Trinity students were already exposed to explicit information, pictures or topics even before being taught what is healthy and unhealthy behavior. 

   This is problematic, as according to Psychology Today, “more than 66 percent of boys and 40 percent of girls reported wanting to try some of the sexual behaviors they saw in the media, and by high school, many had done so.” 

   This in turn increases the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. In order to combat bad decisions by American teenagers, we need to be teaching sexual education earlier.

To find a successful example of early education, we need only look across the Atlantic to the Netherlands. According to The Atlantic, most Dutch children have been taught about concepts such as boundaries, sexual diversity, gender identity, deciding when to have sex, and how to use barriers and contraceptives by the time they reach middle school. If we can use the Dutch model of teaching sex education earlier, we could help nurture a new generation that is much more adept to their surroundings and the possible dangers of sexual activity. 

   According to Psychology Today, some studies suggest that early exposure to pornography and other explicit imagery may increase the risks of a child becoming a victim of sexual violence or acting out sexually against another child. They further that, young people ages 15 to 24 acquire half of all new STDs each year, which rises to nearly 10 million new cases per year. In order to curb the exponential growth of STDs, schools need to teach how to prevent these diseases at a younger age, especially stressing the importance of condoms and birth control.

   However, parents should still have a role in teaching their children about this confusing topic. Dryden believes that parents and schools should be partners in teaching kids about sex and related material before they reach the class in eighth grade. Sukup agrees and believes that it is the school’s job to reinforce that material in class.

   “We are trying to reinforce information we hope parents are already discussing before they take our class,” Sukup said. “It should be the parents having these conversations with kids. Parents need to monitor the type of information that kids are seeing.” 

   Parents and Trinity should both play important roles in educating youth about sex. However more Trinity students, according to a survey, learned about sex from other sources, rather than from their parents. 59% of students reported that they learned this information from the internet, and 72% reported that they learned it from friends, while only 55% of those surveyed responded that they learned about sex and puberty from their parents. The fact that a large proportion of students learned information regarding sex from friends means that the information they are receiving has questionable accuracy and reliability. The school, along with parents, need to play a bigger role in teaching students healthy behavior earlier, to make sure that students understand how to make good decisions in the future.

   In order to adapt to today’s ever-changing world and media landscape, Trinity needs to begin formal sexual education earlier than we currently do. Kids are being exposed to explicit material well before they are being taught good decision making skills. For example, a 2014 survey published in the medical journal Pediatrics found that 20% of early middle schoolers surveyed said they had received sexually explicit cell phone texts or pictures. 

 If at Trinity, we teach the confusing world of sexual activity, as well as crucial decision-making skills at an earlier age, many of the problems that much of our youth faces today could be alleviated. Middle school is an extremely confusing time for teenagers, and in order to minimize bad decisions and explain the confusing world of puberty, healthy sexual behavior and good decision making skills must be taught earlier, because right now, we are teaching too little, too late.