Teen Spotlight: Aspen High School’s sex education must be modernized

Neglecting key information about sexual health leaves students in the dark

Océane Jones
Special to the Snowmass Sun
Teen Spotlight columnist Océane Jones
Courtesy photo

I’m new to Aspen High School this year — I moved here as a sophomore from sunny California.

I love AHS: the teachers are caring, students welcoming and facilities top-notch, but reflecting on my time here with open eyes and comparing it to my previous high school, one thing seems to be amiss: sex education.

I have encountered a series of students who are rape victims or sexual assault victims, students who overuse Plan B, and students with very little knowledge about sexual health.

This was not the case at my previous school, where we received a thorough education in the matter; to me, the problem here seems to stem from Aspen School District’s abstinence-based sex education.

According to Aspen High School’s website and Administrative Policies, the underlying principle of the sex education policy is based on abstinence. As it states in the Policy IHAMB: Family Life/Sex Education, sex education in the Aspen School District “… shall give primary emphasis to abstinence by school-aged children.”

In other words, the current sex education curriculum at the Aspen School District teaches students to say no to sex, encouraging abstinence. But it leaves students in the dark once they say yes.

Sex education based on abstinence is a flawed method for preventing teen pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted infections and diseases, according to Planned Parenthood. A report by the reproductive health care organization notes that “Teens who have sex education are half as likely to experience a pregnancy as those who attend abstinence-only programs.”

And although teen pregnancy rates are at a historical low in the United States, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists attributes this to increased contraceptive use, not decreased sexual intercourse among adolescents.

If Aspen High School were to teach students how to have sex safely instead of discouraging it altogether, the number of unwanted sexual experiences would likely decrease.

The bulk of the sex education taught at Aspen High School starts in freshman year Health class. Yet, science suggests that students are more sexually active in their later years of high school, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So, how will students get the information they need without a class to teach them when they truly need it? Logically, students might next go to their peers, or counselors.

Josh Berro, a counselor at Aspen High School, said in an interview that students lack the support system to ask questions and get the information they need to perform responsible — and safe — sexual activities.

“Kids don’t really always talk to me about stuff,” he said. “Yeah, I get a lot of drugs stuff and suicide stuff (but) … not so much the sex stuff.”

Colorado state law does not require schools to have sex ed or HIV/sexually transmitted disease instruction, but it does refer to young people’s right to such information and mentions the need for expanded access to sex ed.

According to Planned Parenthood, a third of American teens are unaware that having a sexually transmitted infection increases the risk of getting HIV.

And nationwide, more than three-quarters of teens aged 15 to 17 report that they need more information about birth control, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Yet 6.2% of students nationwide report having sex before the age of 13, 43.8% by grade 10, and 63.1% by grade 12, according to the CDC.

According to Aspen High School Assistant Principal Becky Oliver, there are always opportunities to improve our education system; she mentioned making the freshman health class “more applicable to young people” in an interview.

But as for whether she thinks the current sex education though the ninth-grade health class is effective, she said that “there’s a lot of sexual promiscuity and experimenting happening that may or may not be healthy for kids.”

This could be avoided if kids were properly informed though a more modern and expansive sex education course that evolves as teens grow emotionally though high school.

Aspen High School should use its platform and access to our local teenagers to educate them on how to have safe sex and other knowledge necessary to become responsible, sexually active adults who practice consent and are aware of the dangers and consequences of sex.

Teens can learn more about reproductive health by calling 1-800-230-PLAN (7526) for the nearest Planned Parenthood.

But Aspen High School also has the responsibility to educate the next generation to the best of their ability, and the sex education curriculum should mirror that aspiration. Let’s work together to give teens the education they deserve to make responsible choices and modernizing our sex education.

Océane Jones is a sophomore at Aspen High School and a staff writer for the Skier Scribbler school newspaper. This is her first year with the paper.

Editor’s note: The headline of this column has been updated to reflect the writer’s intended message. Stay tuned for a follow-up story from columnist Océane Jones in an upcoming edition of the Snowmass Sun with updates on the school’s current sex education policies from Aspen High School health teachers; the district’s family life and sex education policies posted online were last revised in 2013, documents show.