Despite learning human anatomy in school, 18-year-old Elisha Morgan was astounded to hear a classmate describe the latest pregnancy-prevention method.
“She swore up and down that if you pee after you have sex, you can’t get pregnant,” said Morgan, a student at Veterans Tribute Career & Technical Academy. “She said you would pee out everything.”
Sorry, kids, it doesn’t work that way.
That isn’t the only health-related misconception circulating among students in Clark County. Another myth: If girls exercise right before sex, they can’t get pregnant. Or this one: To test a girl’s virginity, a boy can insert a green olive — not black but green, specifically, for reasons we’re still unclear about — into a girl’s vagina. If it stays, she is a virgin. Or this: A person can use earwax to test for chlamydia. Trust us, you don’t want the details.
It’s not necessarily a high-schooler’s fault, Morgan said.
Her ninth-grade health class — the one that was supposed to teach sex education — did not, in fact, touch on the subject, she said.
“We talked about AIDS,” Morgan recalled. “But we only talked about contraction through needles, not through sex.”
While high-schoolers fumble with the facts and fallacies of getting pregnant or sexually transmitted infections, Nevada debates the need for more thorough sex education.
Assembly Bill 230 would require the Council to Establish Academic Standards for Public Schools to set standards for comprehensive sex education based on medically accurate and age-appropriate materials.
According to Annette Magnus, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Southern Nevada, which sponsored the bill, Nevada’s standards have not been updated in 30 years.
Magnus herself is a product of the Clark County School District. “And I know what I did not get and what I was supposed to get [in regards to sex education],” Magnus said. She added that the information students get varies from school to school depending on the teachers’ confidence on the subject.
“I don’t think it is done on purpose,” she said. “But I think there is some confusion among teachers. I think some are afraid to overstep the boundaries. [The bill] would provide a really good framework.”
Changes to comprehensive sex education comes at a pivotal time in the state, Magnus said. According to a study done by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-health organization, Nevada ranks fourth highest in teen pregnancies. The Center for Disease Control, meanwhile, places Nevada eighth highest in teen birth rates. In 2011 in Nevada, 1,306 girls between the ages 13-17 got pregnant — 965 in Clark County — according to the state Health Division. Of those in Clark County, there were 765 live births, 198 abortions and two infant fatalities.
“There are studies that show if you have medically accurate sex education, it delays sexual activity because you no longer make it taboo,” Magnus said.
The bill was opposed by all Republicans in the Assembly. However, it passed 26-16 April 23 and is expected to be voted on in the Senate.
Politicians such as Janine Hansen, who ran for state senate in District 19, has been outspoken in opposing the bill. “Teen pregnancy is going down in the state,” she said. “The real problem is the rise in sexually transmitted diseases. And the only sure way to be protected is abstinence, which is the truth we should be teaching our children. This bill is designed to promote Planned Parenthood’s sex-indoctrination agenda and mine the schools for new clients.”
According to the Guttmacher study, released in February, teen pregnancies in Nevada decreased 9 percent between 2005 and 2008.
“But we are still fourth highest,” Magnus said. “We need to aim not to be.”
Hansen is concerned about a provision in the bill in which, instead of an opt-in measure, parents would have to sign permission for students to opt out. “This changes the parent’s right to decide,” Hansen said. “Students would automatically be in sex education without a parent’s consent.”
Magnus said that the opt-out measure, which has been implemented in other states, would still encourage parental interaction while also protecting students who might not have a trusted adult to sign them into the program. “If parents don’t want their children taking part because of religious beliefs, they still have the option, and we would honor that,” Magnus said.
Magnus said the education would include abstinence. “I agree it is the only 100 percent way to stay safe,” she said. But she also knows that by the time many seniors graduate, they are sexually active. Magnus said they need to be equipped with potentially life-saving information, including how to use contraceptives.
Hansen doesn’t believe Planned Parenthood is genuine about providing enough abstinence education. “They are the largest abortion and contraceptive provider,” Hansen said. “It doesn’t pay for them to teach abstinence.”
Other than sex education, the curriculum would address domestic violence, sexual assault, body image, gender stereotypes and human trafficking — teaching students more than how to put rubbers on cucumbers.
On Senior Day at her school, Morgan said, her class had to do a workshop on dating violence. Magnus added that students don’t necessarily understand the parameters of what qualifies as a sexual assault. Hansen said school districts already have the ability to add those components if they feel it’s necessary.
The bill would also encourage friendlier language toward LGBT communities.
Many former and current students of school districts throughout the state have testified on the bill.
Being on the ground level, it is Morgan and students like her who will deal with the aftermath of the decisions the state makes about sex education.
“A lot of people opposed went through the system 30 years ago,” she said. “People think they know what’s going on, but they don’t. They should spend a day or two with high-school students just to hear the crazy things they come up with.”