“What did you learn about in school today honey?” “Oh, we did some proofs in Geometry, practiced past tense verbs in Spanish, and learned about sexually transmitted diseases in Health class.” Suddenly, all goes silent, and the subject is quickly changed to something else. One of the most controversial issues facing today’s schools is whether or not sexual education, or “sex ed,” should continue to be taught to children. On one hand, some argue that it should, because children need to be properly educated on this topic and the potential consequences that can result from it.
However, many others oppose this viewpoint, arguing that sex ed is a personal subject for parents to discuss with their children, and therefore does not belong in an academic setting. While both of these viewpoints have their strengths as well as their limitations, it is extremely important for sex ed to continue to be taught in today’s schools. Not only will students be properly educated on how to prevent negative sexual outcomes, such as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and unintended pregnancies, but also on the wide range of topics related to sexual health, such as communication, relationships, and decision-making.
Overall, sex education has both physical as well as emotional benefits for school-aged children.
Of course, there are several reasonable objections to sexuality education curriculum being taught in today’s schools. First, it is argued that sexuality is an inappropriate topic to be taught in schools, for schools are a place to learn “typical” academic subjects such as Math, Science, or English. In addition, those who are against sex ed assert that sex is a personal matter and should only be taught to children by their parents. In other words, it is the parents’ responsibility to provide sexuality education for their own children (Goldman 5). This would be a reasonable point to make. After all, parents are the “first and most readily accessible of all the teachers from whom children learn” (Goldman 6). Further, children “consistently report” that they want to receive information from their parents regarding sex (Goldman 6), suggesting that they would rather learn about sexual activity from their parents than from teachers. Finally, opponents of sexuality education curriculum argue that teaching this topic in schools essentially condones teenage sex, and thus will result in more teens engaging in sexual activity.
However, these opposing positions have their limitations. Researchers point out that sex ed is “after all, an academic subject,” so it is appropriate that it is included in schools’ curriculum (Hamilton, Sanders, and Anderman 3). Sex ed is not a class taught on its own, but rather a component of school’s health classes. The problem is, people mistakenly believe that sex ed only refers to sexual behavior, such as sexual intercourse, and not the “full array of topics that comprise sexuality” (“Implementing,” par. 4). These topics include information on: abstinence, body image, contraception, gender, human growth and development, human reproduction, pregnancy, relationships, safer sex (prevention of sexually transmitted infections), sexual attitudes and values, sexual anatomy and physiology, sexual behavior, sexual health, sexual orientation, and sexual pleasure. (“Implementing,” par. 4)
From this information, it can be concluded that sex ed does not just discuss sexual activity as critics claim. Rather, it teaches students about several important life topics regarding sexual health and human relationships.
The argument that parents should be the sole educators on sexuality has its limitations as well. The fact is, not all parents are talking to their children about sex. A nationally representative survey commissioned by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health (CLAFH) revealed that 57% of parents either feel only slightly comfortable or uncomfortable talking to their children about sex and sexual health (“Parents,” par. 6). Also, additional research has shown that many parents do not provide “relevant, timely, developmentally appropriate or even enough sexuality education for their own children,” and the education they do provide is perceived by their children as “infrequent and of poor quality” (Goldman 6). So even if parents are talking to their children about sex, they may not be giving their children a proper or complete education.
A study conducted on the “salience and utility of school sexuality education for young men” found that for most young men, “school sex education appeared to be the only substantive source of information they had received on sexual matters” (Goldman 8). Finally, if parents really feel that they are the best educators regarding sexuality and do not want schools teaching their children this topic, they have the right to pull their children out of the program. According to the California Department of Education, the law recognizes that parents have the “ultimate responsibility for teaching their children about human sexuality” and may choose to “withdraw their children from this instruction” (California Department of Education #15). Schools are required to notify parents at the beginning of the school year about “planned comprehensive sexual health education and HIV/AIDS prevention education” and give parents the opportunity to review materials as well as the opportunity to request in writing that their child not participate in the instruction (California Department of Education #15). In closing, sexual education is a vital component in today’s academic curriculum, for it may be the only source from which some children receive accurate information regarding sexual health.
Finally, there is the false belief that providing comprehensive sexual education in schools endorses sexual activity and will lead to more teenagers having sex. However, research shows just the opposite: knowledge of sexuality is much more likely to lead to “informed decision making, delayed sexual intercourse, responsible interpersonal behavior, and self-protection strategies” (Goldman 7). In addition, a study that examined sex education in California public schools revealed that “curriculum-based, comprehensive sexuality education, which involves instruction that includes a focus on abstinence, as well as inclusive information about contraception and sexually transmitted diseases, has been shown to delay sexual activity” (Combellick and Brindis 3). The belief that teaching children about sexual education endorses premarital sex is erroneous because school-based sex education has been shown to delay, “rather than hasten, the onset of sexual activity” (Goldman 7). It can now be seen that these three common objections to sexual education curriculum being included in today’s schools have their limitations.
Comprehensive sexual education programs can greatly benefit school-aged children. With this curriculum in place, children will receive a complete education on the risks associated with sex, such as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and unintentional pregnancies, and how to avoid these outcomes. This knowledge has been shown to decrease the number of unintentional teenage pregnancies as well as STDs. One study revealed that teenagers who received a “comprehensive sex education were significantly less likely to report a teen pregnancy compared to those who received no sex education” (Kohler, Manhart, and Lafferty).
According to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), this likelihood is about 50 percent lower, a tremendous finding. In addition, school-based sex education “efficiently reduces the incidence of negative sexual outcomes” as well as increases teenagers’ intentions “to adopt safer sex behaviors” (Kumar, Lim, Langford, Seabrook, Speechley, and Linch; Goldman 7). Thus, sexual education programs can play a tremendous role in reducing the number of teenage pregnancies and STD cases.
In addition, sex education programs are necessary in today’s schools because children are undergoing sexual development at much younger ages than in previous generations. Over the past decade or so, the age at which children start puberty has gone down considerably. According to WebMD.com, American boys are starting puberty at an average age of ten; two years earlier than the average age from twenty years ago (DeNoon par. 1). Similarly, girls tend to start puberty around age eleven, but some can start as young as eight or nine years old (Watson). With the onset of puberty, children undergo many hormonal and physical changes that they may not fully understand without proper instruction.
Furthermore, adolescence, defined as the ages between 10 and 19 years (Goldman 4), is a “crucial stage in sexual development” as well as for learning about healthy sexuality (Kumar; Goldman 20). In Goldman’s study, surveyed children viewed “puberty and its implications for the maturation of human development” as a major part of their body, self-identity, and “social and interpersonal norms” (20). In other words, children are aware of the important role puberty plays in their physical, emotional, and social development. Thus, sexual education should remain a part of today’s schools’ curriculum, so children will continue to be fully educated on the rapid physical and emotional changes they are undergoing.
However, as is the case with all arguments, this position has its limitations. Students being educated about sexuality at school may feel like they do not need to discuss this topic with their parents. As a result, sexual education programs could indirectly discourage students from talking to their parents about sex. Additionally, even if schools are teaching comprehensive sexual education programs, some students may not retain all of the information they receive.
One study found that a majority of the surveyed adolescents demonstrated “significant gaps in sexual knowledge” even though they had successfully completed their high school sex ed requirements (Kumar et al.). Finally, despite the fact that 22 states require public schools to teach sex ed, the United States still has the highest teen birth rate in the industrialized world: three out of ten girls in the U.S. will become pregnant at least once before their 20th birthday (“State”). In addition, about nine million cases of STDs occur among teenagers and young adults in the United States every year (Weinstock) even though 33 states require HIV/AIDS instruction in schools (“State”).
However, these limitations do not take into account that 28 U.S. states do not require sexual education to be taught in public schools. As a result, not all students are receiving a complete education on sexuality, which includes instruction on how to prevent pregnancies and STDs. After all, only about five percent of young people in the United States get a complete and comprehensive sexuality education (Goldman 19). In addition, only 14% of school districts in the U.S. permit comprehensive sexuality education to be offered to students (Goldman 15). Therefore, the high number of teen pregnancies and STD cases in the U.S. could be attributed to a lack of comprehensive sex education programs, not an overabundance of them.
Overall, sexual education programs are an integral component of school-aged children’s academic curriculum, as much as the public has come to realize. More than 90% of parents of junior high and high school students believe that it is important for sex ed to be taught in the classroom (“Facts” #10). Moreover, teachers, parents, and students all agree that schools should provide quality sex ed, including knowledge, skills, and values, that will enable school-aged children to make timely choices and thought-out decisions for themselves (Goldman 20). Thus, it can be seen that sex education is already a widely supported component of elementary and secondary academic curriculum.
Finally, sex education should continue to be taught in schools because it educates children on many important life skills. Sexuality has several different topics associated with it, such as human development, relationships, communication and decision making (Siecus par. 5.). When people think of sex ed, they generally do not think of these life skills. However, sex involves numerous life decisions, from choosing to abstain to choosing a birth control method.
In addition, communication and relationships are an integral part of sexuality, because it is a union that involves two separate people. Plus, students who received a comprehensive sex education were more likely to report having better communication with their parents (Hamilton 5). Due to this wide array of topics covered, it is no wonder that high school sexual education classes received the highest average rating of usefulness among all listed sources (Kumar et al.). Sex education programs truly benefit today’s school-age children in countless ways.
There is no doubt that sex education in today’s schools is a controversial issue, however, it must continue to be taught. Children who do not receive proper instruction on this topic at home need a place where they can receive accurate information regarding sexuality. Furthermore, this academic subject will help students learn the skills necessary to make informed decisions regarding their sexual health and avoid negative sexual outcomes. Finally, it is so important for sex education to be taught in schools so that developing children can learn about their changing bodies as well as numerous important life skills. Sex education should no longer be viewed as an inappropriate topic to be taught in schools, but rather as an essential component of school-aged children’s education.
California Department of Education. “Frequently Asked Questions.” _CDE.CA.GOV._ California Department of Education, 19 Sep. 2013. Web. 3 Nov. 2013.
Combellick, Sarah, MPH and Claire Brindis, DrPh. “Uneven Progress: Sex Education in California Public Schools.” _Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health,_ Nov. 2011. Web. 3 Nov. 2013.
DeNoon, Daniel J. “Earlier Puberty: Age 9 or 10 for Average U.S. Boy.” _Children.WebMD.com._ WebMD LLC., 12 Oct. 2012. Web. 5 Nov. 2013.
Goldman, Juliette D. G. “Responding To Parental Objections To School Sexuality Education: A Selection Of 12 Objections.” _Sex Education_ 8.4 (2008): 415-438. _Education Research Complete_. Web. 2 Nov. 2013
Hamilton, Rashea, Megan Sanders, and Eric M. Anderman. “The Multiple Choices Of Sex Education.” _Phi Delta Kappan_ 94.5 (2013): 34-39. _ERIC_. Web. 1 Nov. 2013.
Kohler, Pamela, et al., “Abstinence-Only and Comprehensive Sex Education and the Initiation of Sexual Activity and Teen Pregnancy,” _Journal of Adolescent Health_ 42.4 (March 2008); 344-351. Web. 4 Nov. 2013.
Kumar, Maya M., et al. “Sexual Knowledge Of Canadian Adolescents After Completion Of High School Sexual Education Requirements.” _Paediatrics & Child Health (1205-7088)_ 18.2 (2013): 74-80. _Academic Search Complete._ Web. 1 Nov. 2013.
National Conference of State Legislatures. “State Policies on Sex Education in Schools.” National Conference of State Legislatures, 1 July 2013. Web. 6 Nov. 2013.
Planned Parenthood. _Implementing Sex Education._ Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc, 2013. Web. 3 Nov. 2013.
Planned Parenthood. _New Poll: Parents are Talking With Their Kids About Sex but Often Not Tackling Harder Issues.”_ Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc, 3 Oct. 2011. Web. 3 Nov 2013.
_Support the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act._ Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, n.d. Web. 4 Nov. 2013.
Watson, Stephanie. “Dealing with Early Puberty.” _Teens.WebMD.com._ WebMD LLC., 17 Nov. 2011. Web. 5 Nov. 2013.
Weinstock, H., et al., “Sexually Transmitted Diseases Among American Youth: Incidence and Prevalence Estimates,” 2000, _Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health_, 2004, 36(1):6-10. Web. 7 Nov. 2013