Schools must focus on sex education

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The New York City Department of Education, as of 2011, has mandated compulsory sex education classes for both middle school and high school students. The classes, based on safe sex and HIV/AIDS prevention, provide students with the information needed to protect themselves in the scenario that they decide to become sexually active. The National Conference of State Legislature, however, reports that almost 40 U.S. states allow students to opt out of sex education if their parents allow it.

While parents should have the freedom to monitor what their children are exposed to as they grow older, mature and hit puberty, this freedom should be curbed, especially in the case of families that strictly discourage premarital sex. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites that at least 47 percent of high school students participate in sexual activity. Not all of these students use contraception. These statistics are troubling when accounting for students who fail to receive an adequate sex education or are exposed to misinformation in the interest of abstinence propaganda.

The absence of a proper sex education class may be one of the biggest contributors of rising sexually transmitted infections in adolescents and young adults, as well as an abnormally high, although declining, teen pregnancy rates. The stigma perpetuated by both the lack of sex education classes and intolerant communities may discourage teens and young adults from reaching out to get the help that they need in order to diagnose and treat STIs and other serious issues brought on by having unsafe sex. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “24 percent of new HIV diagnoses were young people age 13 to 24.”

Sex education classes that revolve around promoting methods of safe sex, rather than abstinence only, serve as effective learning tools for youth. In states where abstinence is the only “method” taught, students miss out on learning what to do in situations where they decide not to be abstinent. Adopting an abstinence-based curriculum simply turns a blind eye to premarital sex in an attempt to deter it, without acknowledging that students may ultimately choose to have sex anyway. It only harms the students when they do not know what to do to make sex safer.

While New York City does not have a perfect sex education curriculum, young adults are still encouraged to learn more about what they can do to protect themselves. They are also encouraged to talk openly about various challenges they may have witnessed.

Many of the problems regarding inadequate sex education classes, however, have to do with bills that have failed to pass. Georgia, for example, started an initiative that would facilitate “age-appropriate sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention education,” acknowledging one of the many facets of sex education. This, unfortunately, failed and was later adjourned.

Initiatives like this are necessary in not only promoting safer sex habits in the future, but helping to create safe spaces where children are able to identify harmful behavior and speak up in cases of abuse. Pretending that something does not exist does not get rid of the problem. The only real way to take a stand against sexual abuse and promote sexual safety is to enforce proper and thorough education from a young age. Starting sex education at younger ages also helps to destigmatize sex and promote healthier ways of expressing sexual desires as children mature into adults.

In situations where young adults decide to participate in sex but lack the knowledge of how to protect themselves from diseases and pregnancy, they increase the risk of potentially irreversible consequences. When states and communities ignore these possibilities, they ignore one of the only avenues they have to protect these children—compulsory and factual education.

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