OP-ED: Back to School: Do You Know What Your Kids Learned in Sex Ed Today?

It’s that time of year again – all across the country kids are back in school. Parents have dutifully equipped their children with everything they might need to succeed – from backpacks to binders. And in turn, most parents assume that schools will do their best to equip their children with everything they need to succeed in life.

Unfortunately, when it comes to sex education, there is little guarantee that your sons or daughters will get the information they need to help them make healthy decisions. Instead of providing medically accurate, age-appropriate, unbiased information about the benefits of abstinence, proper contraceptive use, and ways to prevent STDs, many schools teach abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula that include misinformation about the effectiveness of condoms in preventing pregnancy and the spread of STDs.

A.C. Green’s Game Plan, for example, falsely tells teachers: “The popular claim that ‘condoms help prevent the spread of STDs is not supported by the data.” And both Why kNOw and Choosing the Best rely on a scientifically discredited study to dramatically understate the effectiveness of condoms in preventing HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Many of these programs also misstate the effectiveness of condoms in preventing pregnancy. Such misinformation has no place in our schools.

Failing to provide students with factual and complete information about sexual health can have lifelong consequences. Just think about it: each year in the United States, more than 800,000 teenagers become pregnant, and nearly 9.1 million 15-24-year-olds are infected with an STD, accounting for almost half of the total new STDs occurring annually in this country. Moreover, an estimated one-half of all new HIV infections occur among people under age 25, with the majority contracted through sexual intercourse.

Today, to keep dangerous abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula from harming young people, ACLU affiliates across the country have launched a letter-writing campaign asking schools and state health departments to reject these unsafe programs and replace them with proven effective, medically accurate, age-appropriate sexuality education.

While the idea of teaching abstinence-only-until-marriage may sound good, in the real world, it doesn’t work. Here’s what the research shows: these programs don’t stop the overwhelming majority of participants from having sex before marriage, and they can deter teens from using condoms when they start having sex.

On the other hand, ample evidence indicates that programs that include information about the importance of abstinence and proper contraceptive use help teens prevent pregnancy and reduce the spread of STDs.

So why do so many sex education programs teach some of the most problematic abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula, including Choosing the Best; A.C. Green’s Game Plan; WAIT Training; Sexual Health Today; Me, My World, My Future; Friends First; Why kNOw; Project Reality’s Navigator; and FACTS?

Almost everyone can agree that abstinence is the only way to 100 percent protect against unintended pregnancy and STDs. No program, however, is ever going to succeed in keeping all kids abstinent. Just as students need tools to solve a math problem, they also need tools to make healthy choices when it comes to sex.

None of us wants students misled in the classroom. It is time for schools across the country to just say no to unsafe abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and focus on arming our kids with the skills and information they need to lead healthy lives.

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