Let’s Talk About Sex

Imagine a hallway at Eagle River High School, flooded with a mixture of pre-pubescent freshman and fully-fledged adults, likely suffering from early-onset senioritis. These teens are in the most pivotal stages of hormonal and reproductive development. Why then, are we not discussing the one thing on everyone’s mind? Why do we avoid the topic of sex?

Several students, commenting on the state of ASD’s sex ed programs, could only recall one unit, taught in eighth-grade health. Even our principal, Marty Lang, agrees that the topic is a “developmentally appropriate thing to talk to teenagers about.” With the age of consent being 16, any student passed their sophomore midterms—a majority of the school—can legally consent to sex. However, the lack of a proper education can lead them to sex that is risky or unsafe. ERHS students miss out not only on information about consent and STDs but also on basic anatomy and healthy relationships.

A student at Service High School, Jade Phillips, recognized this lapse in her education and sought out an inclusive sex-ed program. Jade is part of a volunteer group in Anchorage called Teen Council, where teenagers learn about reproduction and teach teens at other middle and high schools. She stressed the importance of formal sex education, insisting that without it, students will turn to the internet for answers. “Many myths and misnomers that come from the internet can lead to unsafe practices. A formal sex education will assure teens get medically accurate information, resources, and answers to all their questions,” Phillips cautioned.

Misinformation is a common source of anxiety among students and faculty at Eagle River High School. “I think the most dangerous thing is the answer that kids don’t know,” Principal Lang said. “Misinformation sometimes exists because kids don’t want to talk to the adults who maybe have more information.” Ian Burdick, a Junior at ERHS, affirmed that “unless you went out of your way to get some sort of other sex education, you basically have to turn to the internet for a lot of stuff like that and the internet’s not always reliable.” Even the school nurse, Megan Charles, agreed. While she wavered on the idea of a required sex ed class, she resolved that “there should be information available [to students],” on risk and protection. “It’s good for everybody to know about their body and how it functions and how it works,” she added.

Despite these views, in the 12 years that Eagle River High School has been around, there has never been a comprehensive class on sexual education. It can be included in elective courses or taught through gym classes, but these are not mandatory. This means that most kids are never exposed to any sex ed, and no one receives a formal education on the topic.

Last year, Allison Jimenez and Elle Adkins, now ERHS graduates, wrote a resolution to create mandatory, comprehensive sex-ed for the district. They presented their resolution at the school board meeting, but were essentially given the same narrative we’ve been fed for years—it’s possible, but it probably won’t happen. ASD is unwilling to fund sex-ed electives, and it’s unlikely that they will ever be mandatory. Of course, there are programs that schools can choose to implement through the PE department, which require specific training in sex ed, but Eagle River does not take advantage of these opportunities.

While mandatory sex-ed or health would add to the current 22.5 credits required for graduation (a point emphasized by Lang on why no such requirement existed), this credit could account for a semester of PE and would be much more valuable to students than a semester spent frolfing or playing flag football. Studies have found that sex ed programs lead to “increased condom use, less unplanned pregnancies, and lower rates of STDs” according to Teen Council member, Jade Phillips. This is especially prevalent when ⅔ of the students interviewed claimed that middle school sex-ed “never explained how to use contraceptives.” One student, Kali Spencer (11), also described an encounter with a girl who had been misusing tampons for months, saying, “If people don’t understand how the products they use work, then we’re doing something wrong.”

Principal Lang stresses that students should seek out adults rather than turn to other teens (or to Google): “I want to make sure that teenagers understand that the adults around them care about them. We can provide a lot of life experience. We’ve all been there. We’ve all been teenagers. I would love it if teenagers sought out their parents or other trusted adults to ask questions, so they aren’t trying to navigate these difficult topics—that have some potentially serious consequences—on their own.”

He reminds students that our nurse, Ms. Charles, is qualified to answer questions, and he urges them to ask.

Unless we successfully create a mandatory sexual education course, the best we can do, as students, is rely on adults. Rather than turning to the vague results of a Google search or the inaccuracies of teenage gossip, students should seek out professional sources. While it may be uncomfortable to do so at first, the potential consequences could be a lot more embarrassing. Comprehensive sex-education may not be available at Eagle River, but the information is out there—it’s just a matter of finding it.

 

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