As a sophomore in high school, I was required to take health last year. Like most kids in the class I wasn't exactly thrilled to learn about how to “improve my well being.” I didn't opt out and figured maybe I could learn a thing or two.

It turns out that all health talks about is mental illness and drug abuse. These are both great things to learn about, but I was surprised that there was no real health unit. Which meant no basic sex ed. Although I don't find myself eager to learn about sex, I never understood why we didn't talk about it.

So today, we’re going to go on a date. First, well get to know the guy and look deeper into what schools are teaching now. Then we will indulge in our meal and understand what sex education is really about. Finally, we can walk away stuffed with the benefits that sex education brings to our youth.

Because I'm a 16-year-old who still can't explain what conception is.

Starting with this date, let's see what's on the menu. Sex education has been around for centuries, with the earliest form being present in the training of World War I soldiers. Soldiers were shown the movie “Damaged Goods” as a way to inform trainees of the dangers of STDs. By 1920, currciculum involving sex and STDs was introduced into schools and was generally accepted by the public. During the sexual revolution of the ’60s, sex education became taboo.

Religious groups began to attack the general purpose behind sex ed, claiming that it was enouraging sinful activities in adolescents. By the ’80s, the government decided to regulate abstinence-only education instead, meaning schools would now teach kids to completely refrain from sexual acts until marriage. Since then, nothing has changed. Only 24 states mandate real sex education, and the other 26 aren't required to teach anything outside of abstinence. But it's time for a change.

As of now, only 24 states are informing kids about the dangers of sexual activity. However, the information they are providing is scarce and unuseful. These schools will focus on promoting no sex in teens and hardly cover what STDs are. All this instruction is doing is harming teens in the long run. A study conducted by Hall Keli concluded that “... high school courses require, on average, 6.2 total hours of instruction on human sexuality, with 4 hours or less on HIV, other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and pregnancy prevention.” Although there is some talk about sex education in class, it is not enough to fully educate students on a basic part of life. Keeping teens completely abstinent is nearly impossible, and they deserve the right to know the possible consequences of their actions. Schools hardly touch on contraceptives and prevention methods, and instead preach that sex is terrible.

But why should you care?

Abstinence education does nothing for students other than make them fear the inevitable. Without proper STD and contraceptive education, kids are unaware of how serious (and preventable) these diseases are. Schools are turning a blind eye to teens that are already sexually active.

I'm a 16 year old who still can't explain what conception is.

Now that we have our main course, it's time to dive in. So what is so important about instructing sex ed over abstience? Well for starters, it's more effective. Studies have found that schools that only teach abstinence-ed experience higher teen pregnancy rates and contribute more to the rate of STDs in teens.

The main argument made against teaching sex eduation is that it would increase the amount of sexually active teens. However, this is simply not the case. In the article The Sexual Miseducation of America, Thomson-Deveaux writes, “...nonreligious students who sign ‘abstinence pledges’ don't actually wait until marriage and may end up having more sex partners than students who don't make pledges. Whereas multiple studies have found that factual knowledge discourages risky behavior and can even cause kids to wait longer.”

So the idea that learning about dangerous STDs and how easy it is to get pregnant would somehow encourage sexual activity is just not true. Sex ed’s sole purpose is to stress the importance of contraceptives and how to prevent pregnancy, and nowhere in the curriculumn does it “encourage” sex. The entire point is to keep kids educated and aware.

Finally, we've taken in all this knowledge and can walk away stuffed. So let's wrap this up. Sex ed brings a lot of valuable knowledge to students. Not everyone has parental figures to enlighten them about sex, and instead they turn to the school for instruction. Just because we have a mandatory health class does not mean that we are giving students everything that they need. If we want to lower teen pregnancy rates and STDs in teens, we must provide sex education.

Because I'm a 16 year old who still can't explain what conception is.

Ava Autrey is a sophomore at Truman High School and a member of the varsity speech and debate team.