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By keeping comprehensive sexuality education from Arkansas students, we are robbing them of the opportunity to make healthy sexual choices throughout their life.

If the thought of your child learning about sexuality in a school classroom is scary, consider these facts about how your child is actually learning about sex: More than 90 percent of youth have access to the Internet, which has increased both wanted and unwanted exposure to sexually explicit and pornographic material. Despite the ideal reality for some, research suggests that children are learning about sex from peers rather than parents. And those peers are most likely learning it from media. Some researchers call media the "sexual super peer" based on the impact it has on adolescent development of sexual attitudes and beliefs, and therefore behaviors.

If you're still not convinced comprehensive sexuality programs might be a better option than the current reality, consider this: We know abstinence-only education doesn't work. In fact, research shows a positive correlation between an emphasis on abstinence education and teen pregnancy and birth rates.

We know our country has some of the highest teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection (STI) rates when compared to other industrialized nations. And we know that Arkansas has ranked at the top in the nation for teen pregnancy rates--49.5 for every 1,000 in 2018, according to the Arkansas Department of Health (the national average is 31.3 per 1,000). The national average in Switzerland--which offers comprehensive sex education to its students starting in kindergarten--was 3.4 to every 1,000 in 2018.

Yeah, I know, the difference is staggering. And frankly sad for Arkansas' youth.

The statistics are very clear: Countries that educate their children about sexuality in classroom settings (age-appropriate information from kindergarten on) see that their teenagers have information about their bodies, relationships and sexuality that make it easier to make healthy choices. Surprisingly, that even means waiting longer to have sex than teenagers who receive abstinence-only or abstinence-focused sex education.

It also helps create a culture where teens can talk to trusted adults without fear of shame and punishment, so they get better advice. Finally, it helps debunk the harmful and unrealistic myths perpetuated by media--Arkansas youths' current sex education teacher.

If we truly wanted to support our Arkansas students--I mean really, really cared about their well-being over our own fears about sexuality--then we'd offer comprehensive sexuality education in our school systems as soon as possible. Let's start now so no future generations of Arkansas teenagers have to make choices about sex without age-appropriate and factual information.

Currently, Arkansas does not mandate sex education, except that schools that choose to offer it must lean towards abstinence only. If you want to help change this for our state, Arkansas Coalition for Healthy Youth (ARCHY) advocates for policy to mandate more effective sexuality education in our school systems. Find them on Facebook or contact arcoalitionforhealthyyouth@gmail.com to get involved.

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Terrah Graves is a Master of Social Work student at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

Editorial on 04/15/2019

Print Headline: TERRAH GRAVES: For their future

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