Students Deserve Real Sex Ed

Thursday, August 30, 2012
Sex Education

Health education includes a lot of topics — nutrition, fitness, substance use, mental health, violence prevention and communication skills, to name a few — but the one that always gets the most attention is sex ed. And lately it’s not just been getting attention in class. It’s been all over the news.

My state, California, expects us to teach comprehensive sexuality lessons. That means that we provide young people with medically accurate information about human anatomy and talk frankly about birth control options, sexually transmitted infections, safer sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and sexual choices (including, but not limited to, abstinence).

When I started teaching 11 years ago, we were right in the middle of the “abstinence-only” years, and most students in the United States were getting very little in the way of real sex education in schools. Thankfully, in the wake of the overwhelming evidence that “abstinence-only” programs fail to keep anyone abstinent or safe, more states are now offering at least some real sexuality education.

I have to admit the first time I met parents at a “back-to-school” night and told them that I would soon be teaching their 14-and 15-year-olds about condoms and pregnancy prevention, I expected that some of them might be upset. I didn’t expect what actually happened, which is that a bunch of parents came up to shake my hand, saying things like “Thank you so much for teaching my daughter about that stuff. I know she needs to learn it, but I just don’t know what to say.”

The truth is that most parents in our country want their kids to learn about abstinence and birth control in the classroom, as shown in this new report from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Furthermore, 7 in 10 adults believe that teen pregnancy prevention programs that are federally funded should primarily support those programs that have been “proven to change behavior related to teen pregnancy” — just the opposite of the abstinence-only programs, which have been repeatedly proven not to work.

Some parents aren’t waiting around for things to get better. Mica Ghimenti, a parent in the Clovis Unified school district, is joining the ACLU in suing to change that district’s sex education curriculum. She says that her daughter got no information about condoms, birth control or preventing STIs in health class. She told the L.A. Times, “I want there to be medically accurate, scientifically based education for all youth in Clovis Unified. If we don’t give them the information, they won’t be able to make good, healthy decisions.”

When I first introduce myself to students, I make a pledge to them – I will never lie to them, I won’t exaggerate things to make them seem worse than they are, and if they ask about something I don’t know about, I will do my best to get them a real answer.

Like Ghimenti, I don’t think it’s fair to expect students to make responsible decisions unless they have truthful, reliable information on which to base those decisions.

Can we all agree on that?

One Comment

  1. tashamo says:

    Agree!