Though it has the second highest percentage of teen pregnancies in the nation, Oklahoma’s sex education is lacking.
Like Salt-N-Pepa once said, “Let’s talk about sex, baby.” Or not. As college students living in Tulsa, Oklahoma, we have become familiar with the conflicts that Oklahoma schools face. From the teacher walkouts earlier this year to battles over education funding, we’re often reminded of the low ranking of Oklahoma schools out of all 50 states. Though at the forefront of educational problems are adequate teachers’ salaries and viable budgets, the subjects taught are also limited — one of these being sex education.
I grew up in Tulsa and attended Tulsa public schools (TPS). My time in middle and high school did not feel severely affected by the low budgets and low-quality scores. But looking back, I now see things that were missing. One of these was indeed a gap in sex education for TPS students.
In middle school, we did have a speaker address this through a series of class sessions, but nothing similar occurred in high school. My fellow students and I comically received a birds-and-the-bees talk from our world and U.S. history teacher. Other than a couple of videos on HIV/AIDS, this one-time, lighthearted discussion was the extent of our high school sex-ed. I can think of three out of a little over 1,000 students with whom I had classes who became pregnant and gave birth before their high school graduation. There could have easily been others who I never met as well.
The Tulsa World reported that Oklahoma experienced a 29 percent decrease in teen pregnancies from 2012 to 2016. Though this is a positive change, our state is still ranked second in teen pregnancies in the United States. Arkansas currently occupies the number one spot on this list. Teen families are more likely to receive welfare than other age demographics and see more health issues in their children. Other than pregnancy, about one third of high schoolers were sexually active in 2011, and STD prevalence has increased.
Programs in Oklahoma such as the Take Control Initiative stress the importance of education as preventative measures for this issue. Oklahoma does not require sex-ed to be taught in schools. When it is taught, classes focus on abstinence more than other preventative measures against pregnancy.
What is and what is not included in sex-ed has come under scrutiny in Oklahoma. Parents of a seventh grader in Jay, Oklahoma, claimed that a sex-ed lesson disturbed their child. They did not go into detail about the lesson’s content in their report to News 9, but they believed that it was too graphic and inappropriate. The school had approved the program, but not all of the parents were aware of it beforehand. What this conflict demonstrates is the fact that Oklahoma has not established a consistent, effective sex-ed program for schools statewide. Additionally, when students do receive sex-ed lessons, they come from outside agencies rather than from within the schools themselves.
Given that Oklahoma still has the second highest percentage of teen pregnancies, abstinence is obviously not wholeheartedly practiced by high schoolers. Schools need to stress healthy and safe lifestyle choices, as most students don’t avoid sex forever. We show young people what to do in situations like intruders on campus, natural disasters and medical emergencies. We do not tell them to avoid these situations. They are inevitable. So why not show and equip young people with the tools to stay safe in a world of raging hormones as well? Sexual situations are not as unavoidable as my aforementioned examples, but the statistics of sexually active high schoolers and teen pregnancies speak for themselves.