Sex Education in Schools: What Parents Need to Know

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Do you know what your child’s school is teaching about sex and sexual relationships? Sex education in school varies depending on where you live. What is taught and even if it is required to be taught is mandated by each state. While some have or are working toward more stringent rules, such as New York, where legislation is pending to require all public and charter schools to teach comprehensive and medically accurate, age-appropriate information in grades 1 through 12 [1], other states leave it up to local school boards to decide whether sex education is taught at all.

     

    Why Sex Education is Needed

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    According to a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2009, 46 percent of high school students said they have had sex and 14 percent indicated they have had sex with four or more partners. The United States has the highest rate of teen pregnancy of any industrialized nation, even though the rate has continued to decline in recent years. Teen mothers are more likely to drop out of high school and their children are more likely to have health and cognitive problems.

     

    Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are also a problem. Teens and young adults are diagnosed with one half of all new STIs each year. Teenage girls have the highest rate of Gonorrhea and the second highest rate of Chlamydia. Approximately 20 percent of all new diagnoses of HIV/AIDS in 2009 were in teens and young adults between the ages of 13 and 24.

     

    While there is no data to indicate whether sex education will help prevent either teen pregnancy or the spread of STIs, including HIV, there is also not statistics to show that sex education promotes teen sex. Sex education which includes information on pregnancy, STIs, including HIV and contraception gives teens the ability to make informed decisions about their sex life.

     

    Different Philosophies

     

    There are a number of different philosophies which drive sex education curriculums. What is taught can range from teaching abstinence to giving information on condoms and other contraception methods. According to one poll conducted in 2004, 15 percent of Americans believe that abstinence only should be taught by schools. Thirty six percent believe that sex education in schools should focus on teaching teens to make responsible decisions about sex. Most Americans are in the middle, with 46 percent believing that “abstinence plus” programs are the best. These programs teach that abstinence is the best approach for teens but also accepts that some teens will not choose to be abstinent and different methods of contraception, including condoms, should be introduced and explained.

     

    You can find out what the laws in your state are regarding sex education:  State Policies on Sex Education in Schools

     

    Why Parents Need to Be Aware of Their School’s Policy on Sex Education

     

    Sex education isn’t like other subjects. Throughout the country, math curriculums, although they may be somewhat different, are still basically the same. Parents can look through the math, science, social studies or English books to find out what their child is learning in any given year. But sex education usually doesn’t have a text book and may be taught as an elective class or as part of health. Your child probably won’t have homework for you to review.

  • Even so, parents need to know. You want to know that you child is being taught complete and accurate information. You want to know that what your child is taught matches up with your own family values and you want to be able to fill in the blanks. For example, if you believe that abstinence until marriage is the only approach and your child is being taught about contraception, you need to explain your own philosophy and the reasons you feel it is best. On the other hand, if your child is in a school district which refrains from teaching anything except abstinence and you want your child to have more information to better make decisions, you will need to fill in the blanks and provide information on contraception and safe sex.

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    Some of the information you may want to discuss with your child:

    • Safe sex practices, including talking about STIs and HIV
    • Contraception
    • Healthy relationships
    • Peer pressure
    • Risks of sexual behavior
    • Sexual orientation

    It is important for your teen to know he or she has someone to talk to and ask questions. If you  don’t feel comfortable discussing these issues, find a trusted adult – maybe a family friend, relative or teacher – who your teen can go to with questions.

     

    References:

     

    “Sex Education in America,” 2004, Feb 24, Staff Writer,NPR

     

    “Sex Education that Works,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Avert.org

     

    [1] “State Policies on Sex Education in Schools,” 2012,March, Staff Writer, National Conference on State Legislatures

     

Published On: August 16, 2012