Sex ed should be inclusive, accurate

Young people today can access pornography more easily than accurate and informative sex education, and Congress’ continued monetary support of abstinence-only sex ed programs does little to remedy the situation.

President Barack Obama’s 2017 budget proposes zero funding for a program run by the Department of Health and Human Services that previously awarded $10 million in grants a year to abstinence-only sex education programs, according to a Feb. 9 Vox article.

A 2007 study from the U.S. Sexuality Information and Education Council established the ineffectiveness of abstinence-only education programs, which the federal government has spent $1.5 billion on throughout the last 25 years.

The study found abstinence-only programs did not curb sexual behavior, pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease rates among teenagers.

Teaching abstinence as the only method of birth control deprives young people of valuable and informative sex education. People need to know how to have safe and healthy sex, even if they plan to abstain from sex until they are married.

Information about abstinence can still be taught as an option in sex education classes, as is the case in Illinois, but teaching abstinence does not require special funding from the government. The expectation that young people will wait until a milestone in their lives—like marriage—to have sex is unrealistic especially with marriage happening later and later.

Most people have their first sexual experience before age 15, according to the SIECUS study. In light of that finding, sex education needs to begin much earlier than age 15.

Discontinuing federal funding for abstinence-only sex education is a great first step toward reforming sex education in the United States so young people are educated about sex instead of being taught just to not have it.  

Sex education in the U.S. desperately needs standardization and reform. Abstinence-only sex education leaves no place for LGBT-inclusive sex education, education about using contraception or information on how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and infections.

Only 13 states require that sex information taught to students be medically accurate, according to a brief on state policies from the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit focused on advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights.

That young, impressionable people in the U.S. could be taught medically inaccurate information in their sex education classes is shocking. Inadequate or inaccurate sex education can have dangerous consequences.

If states want to continue to fund abstinence-only sex education, they are free to do so, but without the incentive of federal funding. This policy would be made even more effective if the federal government would take the money from the abstinence-only grant program and put it toward funding inclusive and medically accurate sex education. Grants for programs like these could motivate states and schools to start teaching more inclusive sex education.

Obama’s proposed cut cut, will still have to pass through Congress, and it seems unlikely that a Republican majority will support zero funding of these programs. However, those opposed to cutting this funding need to consider sex education a national public health issue and not part of a moral or religious debate.

The state of sex education in the United States has gone unaddressed for too long. In the interests of public health, young people should have the resources to make educated and informed decisions about sex.