Recently, the Dallas Independent School District (ISD) school board voted to adopt new sex ed curricula that place a greater emphasis on contraception and “consent” education to reduce teen pregnancy. The Dallas Morning News reported that, according to the North Texas Alliance to Reduce Unintended Pregnancy in Teens (Ntarupt), Dallas “has the highest teen birth rate of the top 20 largest counties in the country.” The board simultaneously approved the creation of after-school programs by Ntarupt, which lists Planned Parenthood’s website as a reliable resource.
And while Ntarupt’s ‘Talk about it Dallas’ website reads “Parents must guide and educate their kids about sex,” and tells them, “we’re asking you to explain how sex works in a healthy way, on your terms and with your values,” the same website features a section targeted at teens called “Know your Rights: Accessing healthcare services without a parent/guardian.”
‘Consent’ is the wrong emphasis
“Consent” was a buzzword among proponents of the new sex ed curricula, which is opt-in throughout Texas schools and starts in sixth grade. One mom of a current sophomore student stated during a board meeting, “I said yes [to a change of curriculum publisher] because I want my son to know how to give and receive – or not – sexual consent, how to protect himself, how to not get a STD, and to have the tools needed to make the best decisions for his life.”
One community member noted that even 20 years ago, her kids were “getting bombarded with sexual information but it was not from my family and it was not from the school.” She opined, “any school curriculum that is less than comprehensive and candid is ludicrous” insisting “we can argue for abstinence-only [sexual education] all we want, but we cannot stop kids from having sex. What we can do, what we must do is give kids the full gory picture of what they need to know about sex — how to protect themselves, including the issue of consent, how to prevent pregnancy, how to prevent disease, how to prevent trauma.”
Live Action News has previously pointed out significant problems with making “consent” the ultimate (and often only) criterion to determine whether any kind of sexual activity is ok for teens. Troublingly, an overemphasis on the subjective concept of consent may also lead to a downplaying of the objective, documented, verifiable negative consequences of early sexual activity.
What’s more, how are teens supposed to have a “healthy view of their own sexuality” (purportedly the goal of virtually every comprehensive sexuality education program) when they’re not taught the basic facts of how their own bodies even work, and when they’re instead only taught how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy (the latter of which is often treated as if it is a disease)? Are there only two options for sex education: an “anything goes so long as there’s consent” approach on the one hand, or giving kids a “gory” picture of sex as intrinsically linked to disease on the other?
There is another, better way
Fortunately, there’s a third way that isn’t shame-based. Instead, it teaches young men and women in developmentally-appropriate ways through fertility awareness that their bodies are good, that their fertility is a sign of both reproductive and overall health — especially for women — and that shared decision-making based on mutual respect and healthy goal-setting leads to happiness and wholeness rather than disease and heartbreak.
As women’s health nurse practitioner Teresa Kenney writes in “The Happy Girl’s Guide to Being Whole,” a fertility awareness book written especially for high school girls and college-aged women, “What happens from the first day of our period until the start of the next one… is actually a vital sign of our overall health, just like blood pressure or heart rate. Learning to be in tune with the [easily observable] biological signs… gives us the knowledge we need to understand our own functioning and to recognize early on if something needs medical attention so that we can be knowledgeable advocates for our own needs” (Kenney, 25).
What if every teen in America knew basic biological facts, including the equation for conception: sperm, an egg, and fertile cervical fluid? As Kenney writes, but most teens don’t know, fertile cervical fluid is only produced during a short window each cycle, and “no cervical fluid means no conception,” meaning that most of the cycle is infertile (Kenney, 25).
What if every teen knew that ovulation, not menstruation, is the main hormonal event of the female cycle, and that if a young woman isn’t on contraception and isn’t having cervical fluid, she’s very possibly not ovulating? What if young women knew that not ovulating is cause for concern given ovulation’s brain, breast, bone, immune, and heart benefits?
And what if young men and women understood that “the goal of hormonal birth control (HBC) is to prevent women from ovulating,” meaning that users don’t receive the health benefits of ovulation, and that HBC can cause a host of side effects varying from distressing to deadly? (Kenney, 76)
Dallas ISD is right when they insist that current sex ed programs in America aren’t satisfactory, but fixating on consent and further perpetuating fear and shame narratives around sexuality won’t solve the problems in the current model. Sex ed that incorporates fertility awareness encourages young men and women to understand how their bodies were actually designed so that they can make healthy decisions with their future goals in mind.
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