Earlier this year, sex education made the news when President Obama proposed putting a stop to governmental funding for abstinence-only programs.
Instead, he promoted its alternative, the more progressive model known as comprehensive sex education.
According to Advocates For Youth, the US government has dolled out upwards of $1.5 billion dollars to fund abstinence-only education over the last 19 years. Over almost two decades, abstinence-only education – which omits important information about diseases, pregnancy, and healthy dating – has been proven as completely ineffective.
Comprehensive sex education is a more nuanced model that exposes students to information not only about sex, but also about methods of birth control, reproductive health and sexually transmitted diseases, domestic violence prevention, consent, and sexuality. The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) cites a study conducted in 2007 by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy as just one of many to determine that comprehensive education greatly reduces sexual “risk behaviors” in teenagers. The study found that comprehensive educational programs have delayed the onset of engagement in sexual behaviors and improved sexual health by increasing likelihood of condom or birth control usage and by encouraging fewer partners.
In schools where comprehensive curriculums have been adopted, sexuality education begins as early as kindergarten, where young students begin to be exposed to age-appropriate information as they develop. From this young age, children begin to learn how to respect other people’s bodies and how and where they shouldn’t be touched, and as a result are being exposed to the idea of consent early on. As they grow and continue in their education, the curriculum expands upon what they’ve already learned, and details about sexuality, health, birth control, and sex are layered in.
When a school begins the process of implementing comprehensive sex ed, they often involve the community as they seek ways to best support children; the more they work with and listen to the needs and concerns of parents, educators, and community members, the better equipped they are to create programming that will be most effective and will meet students where they are. Planned Parenthood, which provides resources to educators seeking to use a comprehensive curriculum, also encourages regular communication between teachers and parents. The hope being that parents will acquaint themselves with the lessons and topics being covered in their children’s classes and proceed to then create an open dialogue around the conversation at home.
The curriculum is based in goal-setting, so educators are able to track their achievements but are also able to remain flexible, and can budget the time throughout the school year as best as they see fit, allotting more time to certain lessons than to others. They’ll also work to develop a system by which to evaluate their year and seek feedback from students and parents. Schools receive support and guidance from organizations like Planned Parenthood and Advocates for Youth, so they’re also able to access information about best-practices and efficacy.
The idea for the program was developed carefully and over many years, with input and support from top-educators, healthcare providers, psychologists, and other experts. It grew out of an urgent need to better and more fully expose children to the information they deserve to know, and to prepare them for adolescence and adulthood by arming them with knowledge, confidence, and resources. Its proven strength is a testament to the importance and efficacy of speaking openly with children and allowing them access to critical information about their bodies. We have a responsibility to inform children as they grow, and to help create for them a positive and healthy sense of self and of sex – a responsibility that comprehensive sex ed takes seriously. As more schools continue to adopt comprehensive sex, we can hope to take a page out of their educators book – to become braver and more honest in our conversations about and approach to sex and sexuality.