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Sex education: Does it help or hurt a student?

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The professor put a blindfold over her eyes and told the college student* to hold the banana. The student did as she was told, and the professor handed her a condom and told her to figure out how to put it on. After quite a bit of fumbling, the student was able to attach the condom around the banana but repeatedly asked if she could peek to see if she was doing it correctly.

When the student took the blindfold off, the professor turned to the sex education class and asked, "Now if she had this much trouble putting a condom on in a well-lit classroom with just a blindfold on, how many of you are confident that you know how to put a condom on your partner in the dark?"

This course was one of the few times that a mandatory physical education course came in handy for all those involved whether they were sexually active or not. But no matter how many stories are told where sex education is useful to otherwise clueless students, some states still won't budge on mandatory sex education course. It's up to the parents to teach their children about such a sensitive topic.

But if the parent refuses to talk about it or just demands that the child be abstinent -- regardless of whether the child follows through with these commands -- then who's at fault?

A few years later while attending a book signing at my alma mater, Lincoln University (Missouri), a student walked up to me after a speech I'd given on HIV/AIDS testing and my volunteer work with a Chicago organization called BEHIV (Better Existence for HIV). He told me he was relieved that I came to the school because in the state of Missouri, sex education isn't regularly taught. I spoke with the university president shortly after to express that student's concern.

Students had the option to take courses on nutrition and fitness but not sex education. But in a college setting, what do you think college students are more likely to have on their minds -- diabetes rates or condom usage?


State Checklist

Sex Ed required by law?

Abstinence Course taught?

STD/STI prevention courses?

(Click here** to see the chart.)


Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most popular sexually transmitted infection (STI) for sexually active people and, according to CDC, affects over 79 million Americans and 14 million are affected each year. HPV can lead to genital, cervical, vaginal, vulvar, penile, anal and oropharyngeal cancers.

The good news is over 21,000 cases can be prevented by HPV vaccines, which are recommended for children and young adults ages 11 to 26. Even if parents are in deep denial about their children even considering the idea of sex, at least the vaccines are available to college-age students. But if those same students know next to nothing about STIs or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), how will they even know if they should get the vaccine?

For parents who are concerned that regularly speaking about topics like sex, condom usage, STIs and STDs will give their children too many ideas about initiating sexual activity, one has to wonder why this argument isn't taken up with other topics. In American History, students learn about war. In American Literature, students read about everything from betrayal to relationships (ex. Shakespeare). In Art History, students read about talented work but also have to learn about traumatic experiences that artists (ex. Vincent van Gogh, ear cutting and the prostitute) went through. Students in economics courses will be able to recognize the lightweight border between gambling and Wall Street.

So if everything taught means a student will run out and copy it, should parents also be concerned about one-eared children, war-hungry kids and gamblers, too? Or, can educating a student on the basics help them make more educated, independent decisions when they're not under their parents' wings?

* This was a true story that Shamontiel observed from a sex education course during the two years she attended Northern Michigan University for undergrad.

** Examiner is currently not formatted to accept column/row charts so the checklist has been moved to Shamontiel's personal site.)

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