This iconic Mean Girls quote is so funny because it’s sounds so familiar: young people are often told that if they have sex they will get pregnant, they will get STDs and their lives will be ruined. So how effective is scare-mongering in sex education?
“We use scare tactics around pregnancy and STIs,” Justin says, “but we know that scare tactics don’t work. In fact, they have the opposite effect, because young people don’t believe us anymore,”
“We need to give young people agency, to be able to choose what kind of sex they want to have and what kind of relationships they want to have,” he continues.
Why don’t scare tactics work? Justin gives us one example: “A lot of people might think: ‘I’ve had unprotected sex ten times, so I must be infertile, so I’m never going to bother with contraception’. We’re not teaching young people the facts about pregnancy.”
Your likelihood of getting pregnant varies depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle – you are most fertile at the time of ovulation – but some Sex Ed teachers are not clear about how it all works, which leads to its own problems.
Not telling young people the realities of pregnancy means that if they do have unprotected sex a few times and do not get pregnant, they assume they never will because they believe it is a guarantee.
“If we teach young people: ‘if you have unprotected sex, you will get pregnant’, they might think: ‘well there’s obviously something wrong with me, so why bother?” says Justin.
How can we tread the line of giving young people the facts and promoting safe sex without misleading them? “We need to say: ‘these are the actual risks’. How you negotiate the sex is up to you, but it’s a negotiation you need to have and here are the tools you need to do that,” Justin says.