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Column: Comprehensive Sex Ed Covers Range Of Important Topics

This story was written by Chelsea Fiddyment, Daily Illini

In light of Bristol Palin's pregnancy anda smear ad directed at Obama's support of a comprehensive sex-ed bill, sex education is -- or definitely should be -- a hot topic.

Many people seem to read the words "comprehensive sex education"and conjure images of teachers encouraging teens to have sex by touting the effectiveness of contraception, throwing condoms at them and showing them a porn while having a classroom orgy. These concerned citizens imagine the subject of abstinence thrown completely out the window with the morals of American youth.

The truth is that comprehensive sex education doesn't just concern what we teach teens specifically pertaining to the act of sex. It encompasses a broad range of topics including teens' body image and self-esteem, physical development and the formation of positive, healthy relationships with others -- not just romantic ones. Teaching kids about sex ultimately involves teaching them to understand and love theirown bodies, to respect themselves and others, and using these ideas to make well-informed personal decisions.

What pro-abstinence people seem to forget is that comprehensive sex education programs are also pro-abstinence. After all, abstinence is the only 100 percent-guaranteed way not to get pregnant or contract an STI, and comprehensive sex-ed teaches that. Programs just discuss it in addition to realistic and medically accurate information about the use of contraceptives (among many, many other things).

Despite public argument otherwise, this promotion of abstinence is not the crux of the sex education issue. The reasoning behind comprehensive sex-ed comes from the idea that we should prepare our children for much more than the "dangers of sex." It's crucial for both parents and schools to introduce children to positive and informational messages about their bodies in age-appropriate formats.

Instituting comprehensive sex education programs in grades K-12 (to return to the smear ad concerning Obama) doesn't mean teaching kindergarteners about getting their freak on. It means beginning to provide age-sensitive information in order to set the foundation for further learning as kids begin to have more questions about their bodies. It means making kids comfortable with talking to their support networks, especially their parents, about relationships and sex later on -- and vice-versa.

But let's face it: We're obsessed with making the battle between abstinence-only education and comprehensive sex-ed about the perceived encouragement that "safe sex" and "no sex" have equivalent results (no babies, no STIs). It's absolutely true that abstention from sex is the only guaranteed way to avoid undesired outcomes. However, when 17 is the average age for Americans to lose their virginity and most young people aren't married until between the ages of 25 and 27, it's vitally important that we provide them with additional safety options.

Comprehensive sex education programs strive to equip youths with truthful data about sex that they will carry far beyond high school, and that's what we must concern ourselves with. Teen pregnancy and STI rates certainly do not comprise the majority of our list of goals when implementing a sex education program (or shouldn't, anyway).

We want future generations to live without fear of or embarrassment about their genitalia. We want them to implement protective sexual habits within the context of any relationship. We want them to value consent and respect at a higher level of importance than desire. And of course, we want them to realize the amount of physical and emotional health that relationships, especially sexual ones, impact.

For parents, this issue comes down to trust. If we provide kids with all the iformation they need to know to protect themselves, we acknowledge that the choice to have sex is ultimately theirs (which it is), and we provide them with a comprehensive amount of knowledge in order to make that choice in the way that is best for them. People must then trust their parenting skills to have shaped these children to consider their own best interests.

Long story short, we tell kids not to do a lot of things. Sometimes they listen, and sometimes they don't. But when we tell them not to have sex without providing them any other information, we are to blame for leaving them open to all of the potential consequences because they have no other understanding of how to protect themselves. Instead, let's use this recent sex-ed limelight wisely. Refusing to discuss our options leaves American youth in the same boat as Bristol Palin.