Expanding “the talk” in classrooms

Abstinence isn’t the only way to teach sex-ed

Lydia McNanney '23, Business Manager

Lydia McNanney ’23

*Denotes a student who, for safety reasons, chose to stay anonymous

Societal obsession with purity has influenced young individuals to feel pressure to keep their innocence by practicing abstinence and adopting a shameful outlook on sex.

In many cases, Jane Doe* sees parents and religious organizations who perpetuate their abstinence-based ideals on young children as being responsible for the popularity of purity culture.

“Growing up, especially when I was younger and impressionable, I always told that abstinence was the only way,” Doe said. “My parents told me, at a very young age, that, for religious reasons, I would have to wait until marriage to have sex, and for a long time I believed this was the only way.”

Doe said she no longer follows abstinence, and she feels confident in her decision to do so. However, she sometimes feels guilt which she attributes to her upbringing, and the culture she was exposed to as a child.

“When I started getting in my own relationships, I began to realize that it wasn’t so easy to just be abstinent and that it may not be such a bad thing to be sexually active,” Doe said. “Coming to terms with my sexuality was a very big struggle for me because it’s very hard to change your thought process after subscribing to one idea of something for so long.”

Local therapist Ellen Miller advocates for a shame-free environment where students can feel comfortable in their sexuality, which she believes can support mental health.

“Sexual behavior is such a huge part of development, and it’s something that can be extremely beneficial, not just for our physical health, but for our mental and emotional health as well,” Miller said. “If that part of human development and anatomy is shamed, then I would say that’s an immense impact on mental health.”

For sexually active students, Miller recommends having a trusted adult who can be a reliable source of information, and to avoid questionable websites.

“People are going to get their information from somewhere, best-case scenario, they get it from a trusted source, like from a school, a teacher, or a credible website like Planned Parenthood,” Miller said. “Otherwise they’re gonna go to the internet or their friends who also may not have the right information which could result in misconceptions and dangerous situations.”

Sex is, and always has been, a part of high school culture. According to health teacher Nicole Westfall, the knowledge that there are sexually active high schoolers has led many to question the current, district-mandated, abstinence-based curriculum.

“About 15 years ago, there was a push for making some changes in the sex-ed curriculum that we were absence based, but things have changed in 15 years,” Westfall said. “We’re up for curriculum review in the next two years and we’re hoping to modernize the way we approach sex as a topic.”

Although the current curriculum covers some instruction regarding STDs and contraceptives, according to Westfall, abstinence is still a main focus in the current teaching.

“We can talk about STDs, we talk about birth control, but as I said, abstinence is always referred to as the only 100 percent way to make sure (a student) doesn’t get an STD, or become a teen mom,” Westfall said.

Doe said she supports the modernization of sex-ed and believes receiving a comprehensive sex education can help individuals make informed and safe decisions about being sexually active.

“It’s up to the person so if for whatever reason, you don’t want to have sex that’s perfectly fine, but at the same time you should not feel forced to abstain if you don’t want to,” Doe said. “As long as everything’s consensual, people should feel free to make whatever decision they feel comfortable with.”