It s never comfortable to talk birds and bees with kids. Luckily schools are a good fall-back option for those parents or caregivers squeamish about the idea of their youngsters having premarital intercourse. The only problem with this: schools are not doing such a great job of it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that fewer than half of high schools --and only one fifth of middle schools -- teach all of the 16 topics that make up the sexual education curriculum. The topics were chosen based on earlier data that determined which would be the most helpful, such as information on HIV and other sexually-transmitted infections (STIs), avoiding untimely pregnancies and other health topics.
What is glaringly obvious is reflected by the CDC statistics. One quarter of all HIV infections, and half of sexually transmitted infections, occur in individuals 25 or younger. This means that 10 million adolescents and young adults become infected with diseases that are 100 percent avoidable. Also the estimated medical costs of treating young people with STIs was $6.5 billion annually (excluding costs associated with HIV/AIDS).
State policies regarding sex education vary:
- Twenty two states and the District of Columbia require public schools teach sex education (20 of which mandate sex education and HIV education)
- Thirty three states and the District of Columbia require students receive instruction about HIV/AIDS
- Nineteen states require that if provided, sex education must be medically, factually or technically accurate. Definitions of medically accurate" vary, from requiring that the department of health review curriculum for accuracy, to mandating that curriculum be based on information from published material
These laws can conflict with parents' views of what they want their children to hear:
- Thirty seven states and the District of Columbia require school districts to allow parental involvement in sexual education programs
- Three states require parental consent before a child can receive instruction
- Thirty five states and the District of Columbia allow parents to opt-out on behalf of their children
Curricula must be medically accurate? What would be the alternative? Medically inaccurate?
It is time to get real. STIs are a public health crisis, and as is the case with childhood vaccines parents, should not have the luxury to opt out. It is time to create and implement a (age-appropriate) curriculum that is uniform, comprehensive, easily understood and mandatory for all middle schools and high schools. It's time to take the taboo out of sex.
It should be no surprise that there are bureaucratic hurdles. The task is left to the individual states which pass it along to individual school districts. At the end of the day what gets passed off as sex ed is really anyone s guess.
The degree of complacency among parents, among schools and among society in general is terrifying. Billions of dollars have been spent developing breakthrough medications to treat diseases like HIV, once considered a death sentence. What has the response been?Unabated, irresponsible and promiscuous behavior. There will possibly come a day, very soon, where we run out of treatment options.
In the face of antibiotic resistance, many STIs, which were easily curable, are becoming increasingly difficult to treat. Too many of our public health concerns are preventable and we cannot afford to sit back any longer.