Kentucky sits in the middle of the Midwest and the South, a perfect intersection of Northern urbanization and Southern sweet tea. It boasts beautiful Appalachian mountains, quintessential “bluegrass”, and the world’s longest cave system, Mammoth Cave National Park. Horses roam green pastures as they train for the Kentucky Derby, and warm grandmothers sit and knit on porch benches. It truly is “my old Kentucky home.” However, not everything is idyllic in Kentucky. Besides its high rates of obesity and opiate addictions, there is another phenomenon plaguing my gorgeous Commonwealth. Abstinence-only education reigns in public all across Kentucky, which creates other problems. Here is my personal memoir:
In my freshman year of high school, I sat in my first-period class, health. The morning sun shone through the windows as we watched our teacher’s presentation. Fourteen-year-old boys giggled behind me and made crass jokes while we looked at picture after picture of genitals with advanced STI infections. I remember my teacher saying something to the effect of, “This is what will happen if you have sex with nasty people” as we looked at the extremely graphic photos. The next couple days, we watched episodes of “16 and Pregnant” on MTV. It portrayed dramatic and terrifying birth scenes and girls our age who had no idea how to take care of their children but offered no legitimate information on how to avoid the girls’ fate. Lastly, we did a highly degrading experiment to mimic the spread of STI’s. Each student was given a cup of water. My teacher put a chemical in each of our cups of water. We were then supposed to mix our water with the water belonging to three other students, to simulate having unprotected sex with three people. Afterwards, my teacher put a different chemical in our water. If the cup turned pink, that meant that we had contracted an STI. The worst part was that the girl in my class whose cup was the pinkest (meaning she had been the initial source of the STI) had been singled out by my teacher out of spite. He chose to publicly shame for her lifestyle.
This was the extent of my sex education in high school. We were never shown how to put on a condom, nor were we taught about the differences in birth control methods for women like pills, implants, and other devices. We NEVER discussed issues like dating violence, sexual orientation, nor the importance of consent in sexual situations. Without this knowledge, my classmates and I were unable to prevent pregnancy and the spread of STIs. Instead of being taught how to stay safe and healthy, we were indoctrinated into a culture that shames young people and scares them from having sex. Abstinence-only curricula such as the one I was taught are meant to stop young people from having sex. However, this approach is simply ineffective. In 2013, almost 40% of high schoolers in Kentucky reported they had had sex at some juncture. Abstinence-only education also contributes to Kentucky’s national rank of 43 out of 50 in teen births. In 2015, the number of births was 1000 females aged 15-19 was 35.3. Kentucky also has a high rate of people infected with HIV. Almost 10,000 suffer from HIV, 60% of whom were unaware of their HIV infection until 30 days or less before their AIDS diagnosis (meaning many of them had been infected, for 10 or more years before ever testing).
Young people are going to have sex whether we want them to or not. Abstinence-only education simply does not work. These programs withhold information about pregnancy and STD prevention. By using scare tactics and misleading the youth in our state, we are setting them up for failure. These children will grow up not knowing safe procedures for sex, which increase the rates of unwanted pregnancies and STI’s in Kentucky. You can help promote comprehensive sex education in Kentucky by contacting these officials:
Governor Matt Bevin: https://governor.ky.gov/contact/
Senator Rand Paul: https://www.paul.senate.gov/connect/email-rand
Senator Mitch McConnell: https://www.mcconnell.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact?p=ContactForm