Let's Talk About Sex Ed

When only 13 states in the nation require sex education to be medically accurate, a lot is left up to interpretation in teenage health literacy. Research published by the Public Library of Science shows that when sex education is comprehensive, students feel more informed, make safer choices and have healthier outcomes—resulting in fewer unplanned pregnancies and more protection against sexually transmitted diseases and infection.

Even when sex education is required, state policies still vary widely regarding the inclusion of critical information. In short, comprehensive sex ed, “includes age-appropriate, medically accurate information on a broad set of topics related to sexuality including human development, relationships, decision-making, abstinence, contraception, and disease prevention,” according to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.

Take Utah for example. Utah public high schools have the duty to teach contraception, because teens who do not have the full truth are at risk. Many parents do not discuss safe sex with their children, yet, “nearly two-thirds of Utahns want the option of comprehensive sex education for children in public schools,” according to a Utah Policy poll. However many public schools and some private schools, such as Judge Memorial Catholic High School in Salt Lake City, refuse to provide this option. Despite these poll results, the Utah Legislature refuses to speak for the majority of citizens in Utah.

Many believe that teens who receive a comprehensive sex education are more likely to have sex. However, studies from Guttmacher Institute state, “Receiving sex education actually delays teen sex.” In addition, many abstinence-only supporters rely on parents to teach their kids about sex, yet, studies have shown that, “parents of teens held misconceptions about both condoms and hormonal birth control.” The more teens can access accurate information from a trusted provider, the more prepared they can be when making decisions about their bodies and relationships. USC professor in the Department of Nursing, Dr. Theresa Granger said that, in her clinical experience, teens will make a decision to engage in sexual activity whether or not they feel adequately informed, leaving health professionals with an opportunity to promote sexual health literacy.

The impact of sex education policies becomes more clear when considering that in 2016, the United States had higher rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease than most other industrialized countries. What feels like progress at the state level can be seen as mere catch-up to the policies of other developed nations which require teachers to discuss sex ed as early as kindergarten. There is no question as to whether sex education in schools is a necessity. Ideally, programs would teach students how to use contraceptives, how to combat H.I.V. and S.T.I.s, teach basic reproductive anatomy, educate about different sexual orientations, and give teens the skills they need to make healthy decisions about their bodies. Adequate sex education in schools correlates to low teen pregnancy rates, so its merit is obvious.

Sex education is important. It's been proven time and time again. We know students who receive formal sex education in schools are shown to first have sexual intercourse later than students who have not had sex education. Sex education does not encourage teenagers to have sex, it does quite the opposite. Every teenager should have sex education incorporated into their schooling. It shouldn’t be opt-in or opt-out, but mandatory. Why should parents be able to opt their children in or out of a subject that they'll need later in life, one way or another? Sex education should be mandatory, comprehensive, medically accurate, and taught throughout student's school years, just like math. It's been shown to help students, not hurt. Not only is having access to comprehensive and medically accurate sex education a human right, it's our fundamental duty as a society to educate the next generation. Currently, we are failing.