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Is educating children on sexuality the responsibility of parents or the public school system? This debate has been raging for far too long — and unfortunately, the only losers are the children. Many Americans still consider sexuality to be a “private” matter, and even where implemented, most sexual education curriculums reflect our dominant cultural values. Some parents (typically those who are religious conservatives) wish to teach their children about sexuality from an angle that emphasizes their own personal beliefs and values. This is what allowed misguided and ineffective “abstinence-only” sex education programs to dominate much of the country in past decades. Other parents choose to avoid the conversation entirely — which can be just as damaging.Kids get a lot of their information about sex from friends, the media, and pornography. Unfortunately, the information on sexuality from these sources is often sensationalized and unrealistic. The cold hard truth is, in an era when small children are browsing YouTube unsupervised, we have to be proactive about sex education. Because we can’t guarantee children are receiving comprehensive education on human sexuality in the home, it becomes the public’s responsibility step up and provide correct and accurate information for the purposes of community health and well-being.Why Sex Education Is So ImportantComprehensive sexual education programs (which include information on topics like contraceptives, STDs, anatomy, communication skills, and so on.) are incredibly effective. These programs often lead to teens delaying sexual activity until they are ready, and being more likely to use contraceptives when they do become sexually active. But the benefits don’t stop there. Comprehensive sexual education programs in schools help teens:Avoid STDsHere are some startling statistics: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), young people ages 15-24 account for 22 percent of all new HIV infections in the U.S. Furthemore, they make up one-half of the nearly 20 million new STD infections Americans acquire each year. Through comprehensive sex education, teens can learn the skills they need to protect themselves.  Avoid Unintended PregnanciesAlthough the teen birth rate in United States is at an all-time low, one in four girls will still become pregnant before they turn 20. Teen mothers are less likely than their peers to finish high school, and more likely to live in poverty, be in poor health, and depend on public assistance. Not only does teen pregnancy have negative consequences for the parents themselves, the children of teen parents also face significant setbacks. This includes a higher risk of health problems, dropping out of high school, living in poverty, being incarcerated during adolescence, and continuing the cycle by becoming teen parents themselves. Communicate ConsentLearning to candidly discuss their bodies, sexual activity, contraception, and consent protects young people’s health throughout their lives. Comprehensive sexual education teaches children and teens that they have the right to decide what behaviors they engage in as well as how to say no to unwanted sexual activity. Unfortunately, the teaching of affirmative consent is not as widespread as it needs to be, which is why it’s important we advocate for its inclusion in sex education programs. Furthermore, truly comprehensive sexual education should teach young people what constitutes sexual violence, that sexual violence is wrong, and how to find help if they have been assaulted. How Do We Get The Word Out?As of March 1, 2016, only 24 states and the District Columbia require public schools to teach sex education. Of those 24, only 21 require the combination of sexual health education and HIV education. What is truly upsetting is this: only 12 states require discussion of sexual orientation in sex education. Of those 12 states, 9 require discussion of sexual orientation to be inclusive, while 3 states demand LGBT-related sexual orientation to be represented in a negative light.Though public administrators are doing what they can to ensure that students get the information they need to live healthy lives, they need our help to continue making improvements. Here are just a few ways you can get involved:Reach out to your representatives and urge them to support the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act.Contact your school board and encourage them to adopt the National Sexuality Education Standards and require comprehensive sexual education programs.Join (or start) a School Health Advisory Council in your area.Outside of the public school system, there are other ways for young people to get the information they need to protect and advocate for their sexual health. For instance, in their role as providers of preventative care, nurses are qualified to talk to about a range of health-related topics that include safe sex practices. Nursing professionals often host informational sessions through community education programs. Planned Parenthood in particular is a great source of medically accurate comprehensive sex education.Of course, in the age of the smartphone, there is invariably “an app for that”. Apps such as “Juicebox” and “Real Talk” connect young people with the answers they need to an unending number of question regarding sex and sexuality. It’s time for the debate to end. It’s society’s job to provide children and teens with the information they need to manage their sexual health throughout life in a responsible and empowered way. And it’s our job as advocates to do everything humanly possible to destroy the barriers to sexual health.

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