As of January 1, 2015, only 19 states in the U.S. require sex education in public schools to be factually accurate. Let that sink in for a moment. The 31 other states who do not require sex education to be medically accurate could lie to your face and you would never know. How can we live in a world where sex is constantly bombarding us, and not have a sensible and decent conversation about it? The impacts of not teaching sex ed can have disastrous consequences.
Public sex education is still considered a taboo in the United States. If students are unable to learn about it in the classroom, where will they learn it? Questions like these are left to the states for them to decide. Individual school districts also have the right to decide if they want to include sex education in their schools.
Statistics from the Guttmacher Institute show that only 22 states and the District of Columbia require public schools to teach sex education. 33 states require students to receive instruction about HIV and AIDS. As previously mentioned, only 19 states require that the information be medically accurate. Three states require parental consent before such instruction. 35 states and the District of Columbia allow parents to opt out on behalf of their children. Meanwhile, a 2011 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey showed that more than 47 percent of all high school students said that they have had sex and fifteen percent of high school students have had sex with four or more partners in their lifetime. Young people from 15 to 24 years old represent 25 percent of the sexually active population. With a high proportion of students admitting to having sex, the risk that they are practicing unsafe sex remains rather high.
One of the arguments that opponents of sex education use is that is that preventing discussions about sex from happening will help curb unwanted pregnancies and address public health concerns such as STDs. Supporters of sex education state that exposure to sex education with information such as STDs and proper use of contraceptives would lower the rate of teen pregnancy and STD infection rates. Many argue that most teenagers are either already sexually active or are curious and many of them are not receiving information from their parents. These supporters favor a more comprehensive method involving more detailed lessons in sex education. They also support the idea that sex education in schools can help children understand the impact of sex in their lives. Sex education in schools can answer questions students have about the topic. The supporters also believe that it helps students become responsible, sexually active people.
Opponents to sex education in public schools feel that states have no claim to teach their children about sex because they have their own values. One method that they usually prefer is the abstinence only approach, or the idea that a person should wait until marriage before having sex at all. Abstinence only education comprises 23 percent of sex education in public schools.
There are some cons to sex education. Some teachers who teach sex education to students are not experts and have vague ideas about sexual health themselves. Some opponents state that sex education in schools is at odds with some religious ideologies.
Public school health teacher Todd Kwiatowski from upstate New York discussed school mandates of sex education. Kwiatowski said that while state regulations are very loose on the topic,it is mandatory that health teachers and instructors cover HIV/AIDS prevention. Kwiatowski personally thought that the district should have the final say in what is covered on the topic and include some parental input as it is their children that he is educating. He sees that with a state or federal mandate, politics always influences the final product and no two school districts are alike. Situations that may be typical in one part of the state or country may not be in another. Kwiatowski believes that the fact that New York State requires mandatory health education is a step in the right direction and that students in New York State are ahead of many students in other states with no mandatory health or sex education program. The more information educators provide students at the appropriate age, the greater the likelihood they would make better decisions.
"There are students who are still getting the 'have sex and die,' very fear based education," Associate Director for the Center for Women and Gender Cha Ron Sattler-LeBlanc said. "But the thing is that, when you're asking students about their sex education [before college], there's so much diversity. Whether it was horrible, or they're from another country or it was really great, there's so many factors that come into play."
Due to these differences in education, Sattler-LeBlanc urged for a stronger push on communication in sexual relationships.
"That can be hard, especially in this day and age with Tinder and other dating apps," Sattler-LeBlanc said. "It can be easy to make the assumption that everyone's on the same page, everyone's having sex in college and everyone's on the same page. But in reality, when I tell students that some people aren't ready, and that's okay, I see relief."
Sattler-LeBlanc emphasized a variety of factors that play into the stigma surrounding proper sex education, including the Puritan roots of America and immigrant cultures as well as how allowing pornography to be more easily accessible than proper education results in gross misunderstandings of sexuality. At its essence, the issue boils down to a need for real, quality information.
"We do a couple of these large scale programs, which do work well, but students are busy," Sattler-LeBlanc said. "So when a sorority, or a fraternity, or a group or a club reach out to me to do a course on sexuality or safety, they feel comfortable because they're in a group with people they know, and that can be great in really discussing the hard issues."