As of Jan. 1, 2015, all states are somehow involved in sex education for public school children. In particular, 22 states and the District of Columbia require public schools to teach sex education. But is this really best for our kids? And, if so, is the material taught adequate and appropriate for today’s fast paced society.
You see, adolescents are disproportionately affected by sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Young people ages 15 to 24 represent 25 percent of the sexually active population, but acquire half of all new STIs. Furthermore, an estimated 3.2 million adolescent females are infected with at least one of the most common STIs. (www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-policies-on-sex-education-in-schools.aspx)
The United States still has the highest teen birth rate in the industrialized world. Roughly one in four girls will become pregnant at least once by their 20th birthday. Sadly, teenage mothers are less likely to finish high school and more likely than their peers to live in poverty, depend on public assistance, and experience overall poor health. (http://sex-education-magnom.blogspot.com)
The main point: sexual activity has consequences. Just as we are taught to say “no” to drugs, our kids need to be taught to practice safe sex, act responsibly and be aware of related consequences.
A recent poll by National Public Radio, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government found that only 7 percent of Americans believe that sex education should not be taught in schools. Moreover, in most places there is even little debate about what kind of sex education should be taught.
While sex education is now required in our schools, we must improve and revamp exactly what is taught in schools. With so much content easily accessible through online video, cell phones and social media, our kids are often over-stimulated and faced with different challenges that previous generations. For example, more than one in ten (13%) 14 to 24 year olds have shared a naked photo or video of themselves via digital communication such as the Internet or text messaging. This type of exchange of explicit sexual messages or images, by mobile phone or email, is known as “sexting”. (http://www.athinline.org/)
As such, educators must ensure that sex education is relatable to today’s kids. Karen, a high school junior from San Francisco, said the video shown in her class was too long, boring and contained an unnecessary amount of shock value. “I think our sex education class would have been much more effective if it was more realistic, younger people other than their regular teachers were leading the discussion, and real life students were interviewed or featured in the video,” stated Karen. Click here to view 7th-graders’ reactions to watching a sex education video.
According to a 2011 Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey, more than 47 percent of all high school students say they have had sex, and 15 percent of high school students have had sex with four or more partners during their lifetime. Among students who had sex in the three months prior to the survey, 60 percent reported condom use and 23 percent reported birth control pill use during their last sexual encounter.
“I absolutely think that sexual education and sexual health should be taught in school. If our kids don’t get the information from school, they will get it elsewhere and it may not always be accurate,” said Michele Blackburn, a mother of a 20-year old daughter in college. “In addition, today’s popular culture makes sex not only the norm, but also glamorizes and minimizes it all together.”
Just as some parents rely on schools to teach their kids core subjects, they must also look to schools to impart thorough and accurate knowledge around sexual activity and sexual health while recommending additional resources for support, if needed. This will, in turn, create opportunities for honest dialogue.
That is not to say that parents shouldn’t play a role in educating their own kids about sex and sexual health. As with academics, it is vital that parents reinforce and discuss this delicate subject with their kids as home. Providing students with age-appropriate comprehensive sexual health education is instrumental as we strive to teach them to take personal responsibility for their health and well-being.
All kids must be armed with the critical skills and tools they need to make healthy decisions about sex, sexual health and relationships. After all, it is far more effective than denying them information altogether and telling them to simply say “no” to sex.
Chavous is executive counsel for the American Federation for Children.