Not only do states have complete freedom to decide the content of sex education, but also the ability to choose whether or not sex education is taught at all in their schools. Only 22 states and the District of Columbia require sex education in public schools, yet amongst and even within these states there is a lot of variety in what and how sex ed is taught (NCLS, 2016).
Inadequate sex education has many negative direct and trickle-down effects. For example, excluding information about contraceptives can lead to more unplanned pregnancies and higher rates of STIs. The exclusion of information about consent and healthy relationships is linked to higher rates of sexual harassment, assault, and domestic abuse (Noughani & Mohtashami, 2011).
Critics of sexual education often argue that sex is a topic that should be left to parental discretion and be addressed in the home. However, sex education is about more than just “the birds and the bees” or the mechanics of how to reproduce. Part of comprehensive sex education teaches students about the basic biology of sexuality, helping them understand their bodies and what is happening as they go through puberty and experience changes that can be confusing or unsettling. The curriculum educates students about being responsible for their actions both sexually and socially. It teaches students about consent, healthy relationships, respect for yourself and those around you, bullying, cyberbullying, risks of drug and alcohol use, and good decision making (SIECUS, 2009).
- National Conference of State Legislatures. (2016). State Policies on Sex Education in Schools.
- Noughani F, Mohtashami J. (2011). Effect of Education on Prevention of Domestic Violence against Women. Iranian Journal of Psychiatry. 6(2):80-83.
- Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). (2009). What is Comprehensive Sex Education? Fact Sheet.
Take a look at the video below for a more light-hearted look at the issues in today’s sex education programs: