I hope you had a fabulous summer and are ready for the school year to begin! Some of you have children who will be starting sex-ed this year. I thought you might be curious to know more about sex-ed in our schools.
Recently, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver highlighted the “weird patchwork system” of sex-ed in the United States. SIECUS, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, helped create the content of the segment, so what John Oliver presents is factually accurate. It’s really funny – if you haven’t seen it yet, click to watch the segment! – and also really sad. No wonder the US has the highest rate of teen pregnancy of any first world country.
The thing is, sex education is done differently in every school – when it is done at all. Here in California, teaching sex-ed is actually not required. I found that shocking! Public high-schools in California don’t have to teach sex-ed at all. That’s true for a whole lot of other states too.
Here’s the law itself: the California Comprehensive Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Prevention Education Act. What it says is that IF a school teaches sex-ed, it must be comprehensive. Schools have to teach about HIV/AIDS, but they don’t have to teach sex education.
How can this be? Isn’t it obvious that teens need sex-ed?
It is obvious, but school officials often say that there is parent or community opposition. If the school leadership decides not to include one aspect of sex-ed (like explaining contraception to a predominantly Catholic population), then the school isn’t providing comprehensive sex-ed, and therefore, by law, can’t provide sex-ed at all. It’s all or nothing.
The thing is, this line of thinking is totally false. Parents overwhelmingly support sex-ed instruction which includes abstinence and contraception. A 2007 survey of California parents conducted by the Public Health Institute found that 89% of California parents—including 86% of evangelical Christians and 71% of people who self-identify as “very conservative”—support sex education that includes instruction about both abstinence and contraception. This support is consistent across racial groups, ethnic groups, religious affiliations, and California regions.
I like that the law requires sex-ed to be comprehensive. Too many schools (and too many states!) limit sex-ed to abstinence-only programs. That’s what Texas has done, and I think that fact alone explains why Texas has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the US. Lots of people support teaching kids to abstain from sex, but if that’s all you teach, it doesn’t actually work. A fundamental part of puberty is maturing into one’s sexuality, and that’s just human nature. This 2008 study found that students who received comprehensive sex education were half as likely to become pregnant as students who received abstinence-only sex education.
Even the ACLU is interested in this issue. They conducted a study in 2003 on Sex Ed in CA Public Schools and have recently coauthored the California Healthy Youth Act, which was introduced last February. If it passes, this act would make it mandatory that comprehensive sex education is taught in grades 7-12 in all California public schools. I support this legislation 100%, and if you agree, sign this petition. Then start a letter writing campaign in support of the California Healthy Youth Act and ask teachers, administrators, and others affiliated with your district to participate.
In the meantime, we’re stuck with the all-or-nothing law, and your child’s school might not be following it. A Diablo Magazine article examined Bay Area schools which were in violation of California law. It also tells the story of how BACHE began.
BACHE, Bay Area Communities for Health Education, is a nonprofit that helps parents organize and influence their local school boards. I found their Questions and Answers document very helpful in understanding the issues. They have worked on the curriculum and textbook issues in Sonoma County, which are examined in detail in this article from the Sonoma West Times & News. If you’re in the Bay Area, know that BACHE exists to help get your school in compliance with the California sex-ed law.
So what should you do?
- Be your child’s first and best source of information about sex and relationships.
- Find out what your child’s school offers in the way of sex education.
- If it isn’t comprehensive sex-ed, start educating and organizing the parents at your school. If you’re in the Bay Area, BACHE can support you in talking to your child’s school or district. As those talks progress, they can also help the district implement high-quality sex-ed.
- If you’re in CA, sign this petition and start a letter writing campaign in support of the California Healthy Youth Act. Ask teachers, administrators, and others affiliated with your district to write letters explaining why we need comprehensive sex education in every middle school and high school.
As John Oliver said, “there is no way we’d allow any other academic program to consistently fail to prepare students for life after school, and human sexuality, unlike calculus, is something you actually need to know about for the rest of your life.” Please help get your child’s school on track teaching comprehensive sex education.
In support of you,
P.S. While you’re talking to your child’s school about what sex-ed they offer, please tell them about me! I’d love to do a parent ed event for your community.