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Adolescent Sexual Health and the U.S.

The below essay was written by Kalvin L., 17, from California. He was awarded Second Prize in the Stay Teen Project Future Essay Contest.  
 

I am a firm believer in the fact that I have the power and necessary tools to effectively push my life in the direction that I would like it to go. I view each day of my life as a new day that can be shaped into whatever I want it to be. My goal, first and foremost, of both my long-term life and of my day-to-day occurrences is to be happy. Whether that happiness comes via spending time with my friends, acing my next test, or eating lunch with my mom, I strive to do what makes me feel content and what makes me feel like life is worthwhile. My health ­ physical, emotional, sexual ­ plays a big role in my life. Unfortunately, today people prioritize the pursuit of other goals over health, the one thing that truly determines whether or not life can maintain its quality.

Specifically, sexual health is key in determining the way our lives play out. At the heart of the discussion of sexual health is teen pregnancy. As a teen myself, and with the majority of my friends being sexually active, I see firsthand the impulsive ideologies of teens who are engaging in sexual relations with their significant others. In reality, it is easy for us teens to disregard the use of contraception because we are not adequately informed on safe sex. The sad reality is that if I ask any one of my friends, I am certain that none of them would be able to say that they could go to their parents for sexual advice. I believe that here lies the crux of the problem; as children, we look up to our parents as role models and rely on them for support, but we cannot even ask them for advice regarding something so vital to our development. Without someone to provide objective information about sex, many teens turn to unreliable sources that can disseminate harmful ideas and wrongful notions about sexual intimacy.

The core issue here is the fact that in the US, adolescent sexual relations are far too stigmatized. Teens are constantly reminded to “remain abstinent” and not engage in sexual intimacy. As a result, adolescents are not properly equipped with the knowledge of how to be sexually safe when the situation arises. When compared with Germany and Netherlands, the United States’ teen pregnancy rate is almost four times that of those nations. Furthermore, in the US, there is less contraceptive use, more abortions, and more prevalence of STDs. Add on the fact that these European nations are having more sexual intercourse than the US and it paints a picture that shows how the US is really lacking in sexual education infrastructure. Despite the fact that American teens continue to have sex, our educational model still focuses on abstinence.

In reality, when teens go into these abstinence ­type sexual education classes, it is just a joke for the students in the room because most everyone knows that the reality is that it is ineffective. I think preparing for a healthy future means that somehow, America needs to reform its sexual education model to push for a message that tells teens, “Sex is not bad or shameful, and it’s not for everyone, but if you and your partner feel ready and you do decide to engage in sexual relations, you should use some form of protection ­ whether it be a condom, birth control, or an IUD.” The principal issue with teen pregnancies overall is that once someone has a child, priorities shift from school and/or athletics to the care of the newborn child. Ultimately, this can cause someone to drop out of school and out of the future labor force and resort to other measures to earn a living.

Because of societal expectations in the US, it is often looked down upon as a teen to walk into a drug store and purchase some contraception. Fear of having neighbors, family members, or friends see us is a powerful deterrent in this situation. Many choose not to use contraception because of this looming fear. I want people to understand that as adolescents, we want to make the right choices, we want to take the safer route, and we want to maintain our sexual health, but as it stands right now, the stigma imposed upon us by those around us is standing as a steadfast obstacle in our way.

Sexual health for me extends beyond the idea of using contraception or being tested before engaging in sexual relations. It is the idea that as human beings, we should respect our bodies and our desires by being conscious of our decisions and making choices rationally and carefully when they pertain to our health. For me, preparing for a healthy future means taking the necessary steps to ensure my physical, sexual, and emotional wellbeing in the future as well as in the present. Both my happiness in life and my aspirations of furthering my education at a postsecondary institution are contingent upon the idea that I continue to live healthily and maintain balance in all aspects of my life. In my life, there are many resources that provide me with the proper guidance toward a healthy future. To make vital decisions regarding my own sexual health, I refer to websites like WebMD and YouTubers like Lacey Green because they provide objective sexual education without the stigma associated with learning about such topics.

Clearly, sexual wellbeing is a topic that needs to be brought to light so that as a nation, we can reduce the amount of teen pregnancies, abortions, and STD ­transmissions among teens. Even though sexual health remains a difficult topic to discuss, I have faith in the ability of our nation to move forward and improve. I strongly believe that in the upcoming years people will begin to realize that by opening up discussion regarding sex and creating an educational model that seeks to inform people, society will progress steadily for everyone.

Check out the other Stay Teen Project Future Essay Contest Winners:
First Place
Third Place

 

Teenagers sitting on a tree limb

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