A new video described as an “edgy, true-to-life program” is slated to become part of the family-life curriculum for eighth-graders at Frederick County Public Schools, replacing a 1992 film with dated references and slang, according to school officials.
If approved by the Frederick County Board of Education at an upcoming meeting, the new video, “Am I Ready? Making Healthy Sexual Decisions,” will be used beginning in the next school year to remind students that more than half of all students do not have sex before graduating from high school.
The video, which also addresses the risks of sexually transmitted infections and the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy, would replace “Teenage Sex: Resisting the Pressure.”
“We need updated resources,” said Brett Stark, a curriculum specialist with county schools. “The characters [in the 1992 video] are hard to believe.”
In addition to dated material, including characters speaking on cordless phones with long antennas, the older film also uses outdated clinical terms such as “sexually-transmitted disease” instead of the current term of “sexually-transmitted infections.”
“You lose the kids instantly ... so we really need a more modern video,” Stark said.
Although the new video, which uses real teenagers discussing sex, might surprise some with the frankness of their language, it helps teach students ways to say no if they feel pressured to have sex, stresses the importance of speaking to parents and presents data that can lead to conversations in the classroom, according to Stark.
Sex education, which falls under Family Life classes for middle and high school students, ranges from abstinence-only in some school jurisdictions to comprehensive sex education programs at others.
Frederick County Public Schools “sort of fall in the middle,” with a program known as “abstinence-plus,” in which students are taught that the safest course is to abstain from sexual activity but are also informed about the use of condoms and other contraceptives, Stark said.
“In our county we’ve done a great job of teaching a balanced approach,” he said.
Parents have the opportunity to prohibit their children from seeing the videos, but 1 percent or less do, Stark said.
School board member Kathryn B. Groth, the board’s liaison to the curriculum committee, said the lack of controversy about the Family Life curriculum is a sign the people of the county trust the decisions that have been made by the board and school staff.
The Family Life Advisory Committee that also reviews the curriculum and materials is made up of parents and others in the community with a varied background who applied to serve on the panel, Groth said.
Although it is difficult to say whether there is a direct connection to what is taught in Family Life, the percentage of teens sexually active in Frederick County has declined from 54 percent in 1991 to 46 percent in 2009, Stark said.
During the same time frame, contraceptive use has increased, with 16 percent of teenagers reporting they had unprotected sex within the prior three months in 1991 compared to 12 percent reporting unprotected sex within the prior three months in 2009, according to a survey.
Abstinence is the only way to protect against unwanted pregnancies and sexually-transmitted infections, said Mary Anne Mosack, the national director for state initiatives at the National Abstinence Education Association, a Washington, D.C.-based group that supports “abstinence-only” education programs.
Despite her group’s efforts, even at the height of “abstinence-only” education programs during the administration of President George W. Bush, only one-third of school systems embraced it, while two thirds were contraceptive-based, Mosack said.
Teens are engaging in oral and anal sexual activities at younger ages than before, Mosack said.
“That’s on the radar screen and been normalized,” she said, a trend she blames on social media sites.
“All sex or innuendo is a constant theme [there],” Mosack said.