Across the United States, sexual education offered to students enrolled in public schools varies wildly from state to state. All states require some form of sexual education to students in public schools; however, the content of this education varies greatly. A survey conducted in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that 47% of high school students in the United States have had sexual intercourse. Sexual activity during adolescence has been linked to an increased risk for sexually transmitted infections (STI) and unplanned pregnancy. There are two types of sexual education which may be offered to students; programs which stress abstinence and programs which are comprehensive. Education programs which stress abstinence encourage youth to delay sexual activity until marriage and often lack important information about human sexuality such as puberty, reproductive anatomy, and sexual health. In recent years, there has been a push to offer students comprehensive education programs (as opposed to programs which stress abstinence) as comprehensive education programs have been found to delay the onset of sexuality, reduce the number of sexual partners, and increase condom and contraceptive use (Kirbry, 2001). Additionally, there has been minimal evidence that programs which focuses heavily (or solely) on abstinence delay the onset of sexual activity (Mathematica, 2007). Some factors which have been linked with delayed onset include: peer relationships, views towards sex and abstinence, communication skills (with parents and partners), and knowledge of the potential consequences of sex. Importantly, youth who feel supported in their decision to abstain from sexual activity by their peers are more likely to abstain (Mathematica, 2007).
Currently, only twenty-two states and the District of Columbia mandate sexual education. Similarly, thirty-three states and the District of Columbia mandate HIV education.* The Guttmacher Institute has assembled a guide which can help parents understand the general requirements within their state for sexual and HIV education. This guide can help parents gain an understanding of several important items:
Although all states offer sexual education to students, in thirty-five states as well as the District of Columbia parents can choose to have their children not participate in sexual education (National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 2013). As a parent, you may struggle with the idea of your child learning about sexuality from someone other than yourself and/or your partner or co-parent. There are a few important points to consider.
*Of the thirty-three states which mandate HIV education, thirteen do not mandate sexual education.
Kirby, D. (2001). Emerging Answers: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Krafchick, J. & Biringen, Z. (2003). Parents as Sexuality Educators. Journal of Feminist Family Therapy, 14, 57-72. Trenholm, C., Devaney, B, Fortson, K., Quay, L., Wheeler, J, & Clark, M. (2007). Impacts of Four Title V, Section 510 Abstinence Education Programs. Princeton: Mathematica Policy Research, 2007. Accessed from https://www.mathematicampr.com/publications/PDFs/impactabstinence.pdf.