By Lily Heritage
Sex education is a touchy subject. Policies that determine whether sex education is mandatory, or if it has to be medically accurate, vary across state lines. Here in Oklahoma, a sex ed curriculum is not required, but a medically accurate HIV prevention course is. There is also new legislature that requires sex education to include information about consent, and to inform about abortions (more on this later). Parents also have the option to opt their children out of sex education in school.
Since only certain topics are required to be taught, there’s a lot of room for variance. Some schools teach just the mandated material, and some schools go more in-depth with topics such as contraceptives, sexual abuse, pregnancy, and other STIs. All of these sex ed programs in Oklahoma are abstinence based.
Jenks currently uses the program “Worth the Wait,” which is taught in 7th grade and above, and covers puberty, reproduction, information on STIs, reasons to stay abstinent, the legality of sexual contact or abuse, fetal development, prenatal care, and information about contraceptives.
The sex ed program at Jenks is on the comprehensive side of the spectrum, compared to our more rural counterparts. Having thorough education on safe sex, STDs, pregnancy, and other topics related to sexual health has proven crucial to keeping teen birth rates and STD rates low. According to a 2013 study, Oklahoma has the 4th highest rate of teenage (age 15-19) pregnancies nationwide. Oklahoma has some of the strictest laws and policies that mandate sex education be abstinence-only; Meanwhile, Connecticut, the state with the lowest teen birth rate in the country, mandates a more comprehensive sex ed curriculum and doesn’t stress abstinence-only sex education.
Leaving states to decide what sex education should look like can lead to bias based on politics and/or religious beliefs in any given state. Oklahoma has a law that mandates students be taught that abortions kill a living human being, while also being told of facilities that will aid in carrying the unborn child to birth. The CDC has 16 critical topics to be taught in sex ed to aid teenagers in making healthy decisions about their sexual health, one of which is “how to access valid and reliable information, products and services related to HIV, STDs, and pregnancy”. This Oklahoma law fails to meet this criteria, as it only provides one sided information about a service related to pregnancy: abortion.
In order to prepare today’s youth with accurate and complete information regarding their own sexual health, the laws on this issue have to mandate that accurate and complete information be provided.
There are ways you can contribute to comprehensive sexual education in our community. You can contact Kevin Hern here, the local representative for our district, or our state senators, James Inhofe and James Lankford. You can also support organizations that seek to provide comprehensive sex education, such as the Tulsa Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.