If you’ve been following the headlines related to sex education in recent months, you may have a rather bleak picture of the (mis)education of American teens when it comes to sexuality and relationships. To be sure, abstinence-only programs are still commonplace in U.S. schools, despite having been discredited over and over and over, and too many young people receive sex education that is too little, too late.
While those of us who implement and advocate for comprehensive sexuality education still have our work cut out for us, at Answer, we remain optimistic about the state of sex ed in America. In fact, we see progress and possibilities nearly everywhere we look. What keeps us so optimistic? Here are our top five reasons to be hopeful about sex education in the U.S.
1. We know that comprehensive sex education works. Study after study has affirmed the effectiveness of comprehensive programs at helping teens to make healthy decisions about sex and relationships. What is more, sex education has been credited with contributing to historic declines in U.S. teen pregnancy and birth rates by increasing use of condoms and birth control. In fact, 85.6 percent of teen girls report using some method of contraception (including condoms) the last time they had sex.
2. Parents, teens and the public support comprehensive sex education. Every state, local, and national poll affirms that the overwhelming majority of Americans support sex education that covers a wide range of topics, including birth control, abstinence and healthy relationships. While a small minority of people opposed to sex education can create some very big roadblocks to implementing comprehensive programs, we feel emboldened by the support of parents and young people across the country.
3. Young people have virtually unfettered access to the Internet. You may ask why this is a good thing for sex education. To be sure, the Internet is rife with misinformation and explicit content that can confuse and mislead young people. It can also act as an equalizing force that provides access to sorely needed information and resources to those who don’t get their questions answered at school or at home. At Answer, we launched the web version of our magazine Sex, Etc. way back in 1999. Sex, Etc. is a resource written by teens, for teens, exemplifying the power of technology to lift up youth voices. We’re proud of our commitment to leveraging technology to reach more and more young people, and we’re thrilled to be joined online by many colleague organizations.
4. We’ve made tremendous progress in supporting LGBTQ youth. While there is certainly a long way to go in addressing the needs of queer youth, anti-discrimination and anti-bullying laws in many states protect young people from harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Federal funding for sex education now requires programs to be inclusive of all youth and implemented in a safe and supportive environment, and the number of gay-straight alliances (GSAs), which have been shown to contribute to safer school environments for LGBTQ students, is increasing on campuses across the country.
5. Young people across the country are advocating for better sex ed. Perhaps most inspiring of all are the groups of young people who are organizing to demand comprehensive sex education in their schools. Recently, The Daily Show highlighted the efforts of teens in Clark County, Nevada to push for curriculum reform in what has become a highly contentious debate. While the outcome in Las Vegas is still undetermined, these teens give me hope that we are moving in the right direction.
I don’t mean to be flippant or pollyanna about the very real and persistent challenges to improving sex education in this country. We face those challenges head-on every day at Answer. That’s part of what keeps us committed to providing top-notch training and capacity building for educators and youth-driven sexuality education directly to young people. We have the privilege of working with dedicated educators and inspiring teens from all over the U.S., and when we look at them, we don’t see doom and gloom; we see hope and possibility.