#WYNTKA: Sexual Health

Photos: (Getty)

by: Joe Lazauskas 

Like many Americans, I remember my 8th grade sex-ed class well. In one class, Ms. Reiter broke a condom while stretching it over a very large banana; moments later, a diaphragm snapped out of her hand and landed on Nate Fisher’s lap. There was also a lot of useful information about pregnancy, STDs, and sexual preference.

Not all American-educated children have memories of sex-ed class; since there is no federal law that requires public schools to teach sex education, the decision is left up to states and individual school districts. Currently, 18 states and the District of Columbia require schools to provide sex education and 32 do not.

+ What do kids learn in sex-ed class?

In some states, such as Louisiana, kids might learn about HIV/AIDS, but not about any other STDs or how to prevent pregnancy. In other states, like Washington, teens receive comprehensive sex education on everything from homosexuality to birth control pills to all STDs, in hopes of lowering the high STD contraction rate amongst young people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and the Kaiser Family Foundation, 1 in 2 people having sex will get an STD by age 25. Most won’t know it. The only way to know if you have an STD is to get tested.

In Alaska, there has been a small but fierce push recently to warn students about the dangers of Eskimo kissing.*

*This probably isn’t true.

+ So does comprehensive sex-ed increase or decrease the rate of STDs and pregnancies among young people?

There’s a big debate brewing on this question. Though World Health Organization found there is no evidence that comprehensive programs encourage sexual activity, conservative abstinence-only groups dismiss these findings, contending that safe-sex education encourages sexual activity. They argue that abstinence until marriage should be the sole sex-ed mantra (even though sex-ed mantra sounds like a “Snoop Lion” reggae album).

Generally, liberals tend to champion studies that show that comprehensive sexual education reduces teen pregnancies, while abstinence-only education has little or no effect.

+ Is this the only sexual health issue liberals and conservatives disagree on?

Not by a long shot. The sex-ed debate pales in comparison to the debate over abortion, which has remained a hot-button issue since 1973, when the Supreme Court affirmed a women’s right to choose an abortion in Roe v. Wade, ruling that the constitutional right to privacy “is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.” Liberals tend to support a woman’s right to choose, while conservatives do not.

Abortion has become a bigger part of the national conversation as evangelical Christians—who believe that life begins at conception and thus view abortion as murder—have become a bigger and bigger part of the Republican Party and the conservative movement. While abortion ranked last amongst 12 major issues for likely 2012 voters in a recent poll, it ranked third amongst evangelicals.

Recently, contraception also reentered the national debate, as Republican lawmakers pushed to allow employers and health insurance companies to deny coverage of contraception—like the birth control pill—on religious or moral grounds. The measure failed 51-48, and now, health insurers will be required to cover the cost of contraception under President Obama’s Affordable Health Act.

+ Hasn’t there been a lot of controversy over Planned Parenthood, too?

Indeed. Considering all the brew ha-ha, you would think Planned Parenthood paid Kristin Stewart to cheat on R-Patz.

Though only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services are abortions, organizations like the Susan B. Anthony List characterize Planned Parenthood as an “abortion giant,” in their “Scoreboard” tallying the $61 million of recent defunding of Planned Parenthood by ten Republican-controlled state legislatures since 2010. Last month, President Obama awarded Title X grants to rescue Planned Parenthood in three states. Governor Romney has vowed to “get rid” of Planned Parenthood, if elected President.

Supporters of Planned Parenthood counter that the organization actually helps reduce the abortion rate, as their services prevent more than 584,000 unintended pregnancies each year. In addition, Planned Parenthood provides nearly 770,000 Pap tests and 750,000 breast exams each year to detect breast and cervical cancer.

Early this year, the Susan B. Komen Foundation decided to defund Planned Parenthood, but reversed their decision following a massive public backlash.

+ What can I do?

If you’d like to support the pro-life movement, get in touch with an organization like the Susan B. Anthony List. If you’d like to get involved in supporting Planned Parenthood, which relies heavily on volunteers to treat so many American women, click here. For more info on how you can prevent unplanned pregnancy and practice safe sex, check out It’s (Your) Sex Life.

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