A sensitive subject

Sex. It’s forbidden, it’s taboo, and the controversy surrounding the subject has developed into a longstanding conflict within the education system. Sex Education has been met with reluctance for years; whether it be personal beliefs or policy, there’s always an argument against comprehensive Sex Education. It might be that the subject makes people uncomfortable or the funding simply isn’t there, sex education is facing an uphill battle into mainstream education.

Typically run through the health curriculum, Sex Education isn’t taught in health teacher Michael Ivey’s class.

“It’s a personal decision I made based on the sensitive subject matter,” Ivey said. “Many parents would prefer to discuss it with their children rather than involving the school.”

It’s an opinion held by many, including girls’ basketball coach Grant Givens, who taught the health curriculum several years ago.

“It’s a topic some parents feel awkward having their kids taught,” Givens said, “They’d rather talk to their children themselves.”

He’s not alone. Avoiding Sex Education and sex in general has become a part of mainstream culture, many states do not even require that sex education be taught. This leaves kids uninformed to the dangers of venereal disease, sexual violence and the risk of teen pregnancy according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s State Sex and HIV Education Policy. This lack of awareness isn’t just in Oklahoma, though the state has been criticized before for high rates of teen pregnancy and venereal disease, consistently ranking in the top five in both of these issues. As of 2013, the Center for Disease Control found 273,000 teen pregnancies every year nationally and rising steadily. When the average was a steady 31.3 births per 1,000 females, Oklahoma was producing at a 47.8 per 1,000 births and it hasn’t slowed down since.

Nurse Chris Watkins didn’t bat an eye at these statistics, though her perspective on lack of Sex Education is quite different than that of Ivey or Givens.

“There just isn’t any money for Sex Ed,” Watkins said. “Budget cuts are already affecting our elective curriculum. There isn’t any funding.”

Watkins makes sure students aren’t left entirely unaware, teaching a course over venereal disease for sophomores every year.

“I’d like to see them receive more information,” Watkins said. “I don’t believe they get enough, but I try to keep them informed about how to avoid things like STDs and teen pregnancy,” Watkins said. “We also have to be realistic, and where we are and how much funding is available to us, it just isn’t realistic.”

But budget cuts haven’t always been in effect, and Duncan has never had Sex Ed.

“It might have something to do with where we are, ‘The Bible Belt,’” Watkins said. “People are reluctant to involve the school in something as sensitive as sex.”

Amber Shahan knows the effects of teen pregnancy all too clearly, the responsibilities of motherhood presenting themselves with the birth of her son, Alexzander.

“They should know the responsibilities of having children,” Shahan said. “You’ve brought this person into the world, and it isn’t about you anymore.”

The birth of Shahan’s child has indefinitely changed her life, though she does remember the pain and isolation that came with teen pregnancy.

“Having sex isn’t something you should be ashamed or embarrassed of,” Shahan said, “but being on birth control isn’t something you should be ashamed of either.”

Whether it’s personal or fiscal or affecting day-to-day life, facts can’t be denied. As many states see a decline in teen pregnancy, Oklahoma hasn’t wavered, remaining third in highest teen birth rate in the United States, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. Studies connecting the high rates with a lack of sex education aren’t few and far between.

Planned Parenthood’s study “Reducing Teen Pregnancy” notes that states with the highest rates of teen pregnancy are also the states that prefer abstinence-only education or no sex education at all.

The statistics are there: comprehensive education leads to lower teen pregnancy rates. Oklahoma simply refuses to acknowledge the facts and get with the program.