Sex Ed In School: The Basics

Straight talk about "the talk."

The facts of life. The birds and the bees. The talk.

While some refer to sex education by these cute euphemisms or age-old idiomatic expressions, the fact is children will reach a point in their educational careers when they will be in a sex education class, and clarity and upfront discussion will be essential.

But when will your child’s school talk “the talk” and bring sex to the forefront?

With nearly half of all high school students in 2013 saying they have had sex intercourse, proper education about sex is more important than ever.

But sex education varies among states in almost all aspects and is rarely uniform.

Policies and rights differ on a state-by-state basis

Each state in the U.S. is individually responsible for sex education policy in their schools.

As of July, twenty-two states and Washington D.C. required public schools to teach sex ed, thirty-three states required students to receive instruction about HIV and AIDS, and nineteen states required that a school’s sex education must be “medically, factually or technically accurate,” according to numbers from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

As for parental involvement, thirty-seven states allow for parental involvement in sex education programs, thirty-five states allow parents to opt children out of sex education, and three states require parental consent before any child can receive instruction.

Look up your state’s policies on sex education to know what your rights as a parent or guardian are when it comes to sex ed.

Curriculum and type of sex education

Because laws differ by state, sex education curricula vary, often even by individual school district.

Most public schools teach one of two types of sex education: comprehensive or abstinence-only.

Comprehensive

Comprehensive sex ed acknowledges abstinence as a viable option, but delves into greater detail about how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases, as well as the different types of contraception available.

The easiest way to know exactly what your child is being taught is to contact your school district directly and read up on your state’s laws.

Abstinence-only

With abstinence-only, restraint of all sex activity is cited as the only effective method for birth control and avoiding disease. This form of education often doesn’t include teaching about available contraceptive devices and emphasizes waiting until marriage for sex.

Since 1996, the federal government has offered funding to states for abstinence-only education; modifications to the Social Security Act for welfare reform led to $50 million a year being set aside for abstinence-only funding. To date, twenty-three states have rejected the funding from the federal government.

The When

Exactly when children are taught lessons in sex education varies as much as the type of education.

For example, California has varying times when specifics about sex and disease are taught. State law requires that HIV and AIDS education be taught at least once in middle school and once in high school, but doesn’t provide specifics for course material; it says only that “a school district may provide comprehensive sex health education consisting of age-appropriate instruction in any grade from kindergarten through grade twelve.”

The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States says that comprehensive sex education can have programs that start in kindergarten until 12th grade, but also doesn’t specify an average age when programs begin.

The easiest way to find out the when, what, and why of your child’s sex education is to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to consult your school district officials, board of education members, or administration heads for answers.

Sources:

“Sexual Risk Behavior: HIV, STD, & Teen Pregnancy Prevention.” CDC. Web. 20 Aug. 2014. Retrieved from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The World Factbook birth rate. CIA. Web. 20 Aug. 2014. Retrieved from the Central Intelligence Agency.

“State Policies on Sex Education in Schools.” 11 July 2014. Web. 20 Aug. 2014. Retrieved from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“Abstinence and U.S. Abstinence-Only Education Policies: Ethical and Human Rights Concerns.” 8 Nov. 2006. Web. 20 Aug. 2014. Retrieved from the American Public Health Association.

“The History of Federal Abstinence-Only Funding.” July 2007. Web. 20 Aug. 2014. Retrieved from Advocates for Youth.

Sexuality Education Q & A. Retrieved from the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.

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