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Sex Ed Needs an Overhaul

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When my husband and I decided it was time to start a family, I did what any sane person would do—I obsessively read about how to succeed in the baby-making department. At 29 years old, in doing all of this research, I soon realized how very little knowledge I had about my reproductive system. I mean I knew that having a period meant that I could get pregnant, but that was about it. I had learned that particular gem in fifth grade when they divided the boys and the girls up for the uber-uncomfortable sex ed talk.

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At the time, I was working in an alternative high school setting, where amongst social, emotional, behavioral and familial issues that brought many of my students to come to this schooling environment were teen parents, mostly teen moms, and many girls who would become pregnant once they got to this school.

When I announced to my students that I was pregnant, one of my advisory girls told me she was pregnant, too. We were due weeks apart. She was afraid to tell me—afraid I'd be disappointed in her. Truth is, I was disappointed as I was working so hard to get her to catch up on school credits in order for her to attain her high school diploma before she turned 21, when she would no longer be able to enroll in a public high school. I didn't tell her that, though. I supported her, motivated her and cried tears of joy when she became a success story as she graduated high school and began college.

She was one of the lucky few teen moms whose pregnancy catapulted her into responsibility. She was motivated to do right by her son to gain her high school diploma, go on to college, and become successful to create a different future for her family. And I think a huge part of that success had to do with the fact that her boyfriend stuck around, and her family did all they could to allow her to stay in school. It's sad to say, though, that she was the exception, because most of the teenage moms I came to know while teaching in the alternative setting dropped out of high school, and only some succeeded in getting their GEDs.

I wonder if the eighth-grader who became a mom at 14 and decided to keep her baby would have ever made it to high school and graduated.

As the years went on, a thought kept creeping back into my head. What would happen if these girls were more educated about their own reproductive systems? What would happen if they understood how their fertility worked? What if—beyond the fifth-grade excruciatingly awkward sex-ed talk—when students reached middle and high school, health class included information on natural family planning? What if we stopped with the whole "ignorance is bliss" mantra and empowered our children with knowledge to make good decisions to avoid becoming a teen parent statistic?

I wonder all of this as I think back to other girls I worked with. I wonder if the 17-year-old who I found in the bathroom, writhing in pain while we waited for an ambulance to come get her as she began miscarrying, would have this be a part of her history—a history that began when she was 15 and lost twin girls in her second trimester.

I wonder if the very intellectual girl, who made some poor choices, who I knew through two abortions, and chose to keep her daughter when she got pregnant a third time would still be a high school dropout, living in a trailer trying to find a good minimum wage job to support her new family.

And I wonder if the eighth-grader who I knew before I got to the alternative high school, who became a mom at 14 and decided to keep her baby, would have ever made it to high school and graduated.

I know so many adult women who choose Natural Family Planning as their mode of birth control. Though some have used it to help them get pregnant, most of the time they are using their knowledge to not get pregnant. They are in tune with their bodies and know how to avoid getting knocked up. I just think how powerful it would be for not just sexually active teenage girls, but their partners too, to have his information. If they knew the very few days a month that they could get pregnant, would so teen pregnancy happen so often?

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I must admit, just thinking about this scares me. I have two girls and I know how important it will be for me to talk with them about being safe and protecting themselves. And I know my role as their mother is to help them make good choices. Of course I want them to wait to have sex, but I know I didn't, and I'm realistic about it.

So I will talk to them about their fertility when they get older. I will ease into it. Because I wish I had this knowledge as a teenager, and I so wish for all the teen parents that I've taught and have seen struggle through the years had this understanding too.

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