There's a scene in the movie Mean Girls in which high school health teacher Coach Carr gives his students a lesson in sex education. It pretty much consists of him saying: "Don't have sex, because you will get pregnant...and die!" As much as I wish I could say Coach Carr's class bears no resemblance to how we teach kids about sex in the real world, the sad truth of the matter is that the primary message many educators are sending out about sex is to be afraid. Be very afraid.
Unfortunately, by only emphasizing the link that sex has with disease and death, we may be leading people to conclude that sex is a much risker and far more dangerous activity than it really is, especially when compared to other risky health activities. In a recent article over at Playboy, I discuss the results of a new set of studies published in the International Journal of Sexual Health that are consistent with this idea. These studies reveal that we stigmatize persons who unknowingly transmit STIs more than those who transmit nonsexual infections, even when the consequences of those nonsexual infections are far worse. Moreover, we overestimate the risks associated with sexual activity and rate sex as riskier for our health than things that are objectively more dangerous, such as driving. Check out the full article for a closer look at the research and why we might do well to reconsider the way we approach sex education.
While you're over at Playboy, check out my Hard Science column to learn more about the science of sex. Some of my other articles include:
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