Comprehensive sex education is hard work but it’s completely necessary, especially now. At NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, I spend my whole day surrounded by sex education. It’s all I’ve worked on since I started the job seven months ago and one of the most interesting things I’ve learned is that many parents don’t even realize that their kids aren’t getting comprehensive sex ed. They assume nothing has changed since they went through grades 5-12. Unfortunately, they are wrong.
Somehow, in the late 90s and early 2000s, there was a shift and abstinence-only education became much more popular. The Guttmacher Institute released a study and found that in 2002, 62% of sexually experienced female teens had received some education on contraception prior to having sex. This is generally a good number. Obviously it’s not ideal but if more than half of these teens know what to do to protect themselves, that’s great. However, when you compare it to the fact that just 7 years earlier, 3/4s of sexually experienced females had received the same comprehensive information, it is a little shocking. Abstinence-only took hold of this country that quickly.
Now, not five years later, we have been feeling the effects of this incomplete education. The teenage birthrate increased in 2007 for the second year in a row. With these alarming statistics, the idea of comprehensive sex education is starting to gain momentum. Even Texas, who led the nation for the highest teen birth rate in 2006 and was 3rd in 2007, had a bill calling for comprehensive sex education put before their legislature. As one can imagine, it didn’t get very far (it was left pending in committee) BUT the effectiveness of their abstinence-only programs was obviously questioned (and for good reason I think. Being number one in teen pregnancies isn’t exactly a title you want to be proud of).
Getting a comprehensive sex ed bill passed through a state legislature is not easy. Currently there are only 8 states that mandate sex education and require both abstinence and contraception to be covered. Even as a “blue” state, it still took the Washington state legislature 5 years to get our sex ed bill passed and, in the end, it wasn’t even as forceful a law as it could have been. By the end of the process, all that could be passed was an “if…then” bill. This means that if a school district teaches or decides to teach sex education, then it must be medically and scientifically accurate and include information beyond abstinence. It is not mandated in the state of Washington that a district has to include comprehensive sex education into their curriculum. There is too much want for local control for that kind of “state intrusion” to exist, especially unfunded.
So, how do we get real change in this country regarding this issue? As usual, the task falls on organizations who are passionate about comprehensive sex ed to rally their communities for support. So this is what I say to the general public: HELP THEM OUT! Help out your local nonprofits. Independently call you legislators and find out why they haven’t done anything about sex education. Or, even better, set a face-to-face meeting with them. They were elected to serve you so they will want to hear what you have to say. Statistics about your state (and sometimes you county) can usually be found online and bring them to the meeting. Legislators will find your argument more powerful if you have data to back it up.
The bottom line is, if you want to see comprehensive sex education given to your kids, brothers, sisters, cousins, then you have to GET INVOLVED! I promise it’s completely worth it. Believe me, I’m a professional at it.