The Department of Education (DOE) has finally decided to adapt to the times. Starting this fall, New York City Public School health educators will be able to show students how to properly put on a condom. This, after years of preaching to students the importance of practicing abstinence or safe sex.
The news was first reported by The Classic, Townsend Harris High School's accredited student newspaper. As their story reveals:
On the reasoning behind the policy change, DOE Deputy Press Secretary Jason Fink said, 'Condom demonstrations have long been part of the high school condom availability programs and have been shown to increase rates of condom use. Allowing condom demonstrations in high school health education class will provide students with medically accurate information that can help them stay healthy.'
As a NYC public high school graduate, or more specifically, as an alumna of Townsend Harris, I recognize the significance of this policy change. Despite having learned about the dangers of having unprotected sex and about a host of preventative measures for STIs, pregnancy and HIV/AIDS, I was never taught how to put on a condom in my health class.
This disconnect, between the textbook how-to and the hands-on experience, motivated me to overcome this shortcoming in my education.
No, I did not go out and buy a bunch condoms to try to put on my boyfriend at the time. Nor did I attempt to put on one of those weird female condoms that my textbook went on and on about. Instead, I signed up to be a peer HIV/AIDS educator through a program at the North Shore Hospital in Manhasset, NY, during my sophomore year in high school. In this program, I, alongside one of my fellow classmates, Shelley, practiced putting a strawberry flavored condom on by using a zucchini. After what felt like two hours of failed attempts, we managed to put one on just right.
Although the half hour of practice which we got did not necessarily make me a condom expert, it did add to my knowledge of healthy sexual choices. More importantly, it empowered me to confidently advocate the use of condoms among my peers when I finally taught a class at my school.
However, without that holistic, first-hand and medically accurate experience, I am not sure when or even how I would have learned how to use this form of protection correctly. Perhaps I would have simply relied on my 16-year-old boyfriend, another under-informed NYC high school student, for guidance. Or maybe I would have given in and bought one of the more complex female condoms that come with the black and white diagrams and oversimplified instructions. Who knows?
Without a doubt, the value of practice-based learning has been underestimated in health classes across the United States. Comprehensive sex education should not be limited to anatomical drawings, pictures of STI's and detailed textbook instructions of how to use protection. We're talking about a preventative method which can possibly save an individual's life, if used properly. For this reason, although quite overdue, the DOE's policy change is undoubtedly welcomed by me, NYC public high school educators and students, into next fall's sex education curriculum.