Why are we abstaining from sex education?

In early August, Mayor Bloomberg unleashed a new initiative that would make sex education in New York City schools mandatory. That means for middle and high school students, things like condom use, the appropriate age for sexual activity, and specific information on STDs will now be readily available. It is part of an ongoing effort from the Bloomberg administration to improve the lives of poorer urban teenagers who are at a considerably higher risk for things like teen pregnancies and STDs. When you look at the data and see that five of the poorest neighborhoods have the highest rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia for those aged 15-19 or that girls in Brooklyn are twice as likely to have teen pregnancies than those in wealthier Manhattan, it’s obvious that some parents have dropped the ball when it comes to sex education. Which brings up the question, why isn’t sex education mandatory everywhere?

As it stands now, only 20 states have mandatory sex education in public schools. In most cases the local boards of education get to decide what their students learn (if anything) about the birds and the bees. Compare that to the fact that 33 states have mandated HIV education. That’s right, it’s more desirable for your child to learn about HIV/AIDS prevention than about safe sex. (Is it any wonder we’re the developed nation with the highest teen birth rate?) Another thing to take under consideration is that in many states, laws have been passed to dictate the content of the sex education students are taught, even when the curriculum isn’t mandatory. 36 states have laws requiring that abstinence be either covered or heavily stressed in sex education. Only 13 states are required to talk about the negatives of teen pregnancy. It’s obvious that there is a huge common sense gap in our nation’s sex education.

Now the fault shouldn’t be entirely thrust upon our education systems. We live in a society that glamorizes sex and there are a slew of highly publicized teenage mothers (Bristol Palin, Jamie Lynn Spears, MTV’s 16 & Pregnant) who make it seem like a normal rite of passage. I’m not saying we should publicly shame those people, I’m saying we should reevaluate our priorities and make good sexual education & healthy sex habits higher on the list. Parents should be involved as well as the schools. We need to get comfortable talking about contraceptives and abstinence. It’s the only realistic way to decrease the spread of STDs and lower teenage pregnancy rates.

If you’re curious about how sexual education is handled in your state, the Guttmacher Institute has a list of what is mandated and where.

Photo credit: Tomizak @Flickr Creative Commons