(To note, I grew up in Oklahoma.)
Abstinence-only? If only.
The amount of sex education I received in school is roughly equal to the number of legitimate scientific criticisms Ray has regarding evolution: none. There were no health courses, no material handed out to students, no discussion of it at all. I had questions about various things relating to sex in middle school. Were they questions about the mechanics of sex? No. Were they questions about relationships surrounding sex? No. They were health-related questions.
Why weren't my questions regarding mechanics or relationships? I think by middle school most kids understand these fairly well. I actually had the awkward experience of being sat down for the mechanics talk by my father in middle school -- roughly three years after a guy had brought a Penthouse magazine to elementary school one day. As far as relationships, that's stressed ad nauseam by parents and television.
Questions a 13-year-old can't answer
What was lacking, though, was education about sex.
- What's the probability of getting pregnant the first time you have sex without contraception use?
- Can either party contract an STD if there is only oral sex?
- If the other person is a virgin, is there any chance of getting an STD?
- How reliable is contraception for preventing both STDs and pregnancy?
- Where can you get condoms and is there an age restriction?
Sampling educational material
I wonder if condoms had been available at school if that would have encouraged sexual activity? Again, I can't say, but I imagine, if anything, it would have encouraged responsible sexual activity. I knew a couple of guys who stole condoms from the store, but I wonder about those who didn't? Would the several pregnancies which occurred in eighth grade have occurred had condoms been available along with proper sex education? Again... I can't say.
My observations are limited to middle school as I had the privilege of going to an academically-accelerated school for high school (one to where you must apply). Visiting with my friends who went to the public high school was surreal. All they seemed to talk about was sex and recounting all the girls I knew in middle school who were now pregnant. While I imagine the details of most STD-positive individuals is kept private (for good reason), they could recite a list of diseased individuals.
Abstinence-only driver's education
I think ignorance is an invalid form of education. I reflect back on my driver's education. Most of it was about the mechanics of driving, but they set apart a third of the course for responsible driving. Did they make sure to avoid a discussion of drinking so as not to encourage it? No. Did they, in their discussion, urge us only to abstain from drinking? No. They educated us about it.
- What are the laws surrounding drinking, and drinking and driving?
- What are the physical and mental effects of intoxication?
- How does intoxication influence your driving?
- How much more likely are you to get in an accident if you're intoxicated?
- Is marijuana intoxication okay to drive with?
A foundation of ignorance
What if my driver's education had omitted the education on drinking? I could only imagine people thinking it's safe as long as you aren't traveling a long distance or at high speeds. I imagine their only education would be comprised of what they hear from others, such as drink coffee before you drive drunk to make you alert.
I don't think we would accept that for education on driving. Sadly, this type of education is what we accept for sex. Too many kids think oral sex is not sex and that there are no risks for disease contraction with it. Too many don't know whether there's an age restriction on buying condoms (which only compounds the fear of embarrassment at the checkout lane). Too many just don't have basic education -- neither from schools or parents.