Let’s face it, even though sexuality is a normal part of being human, talking with teens about sex and relationships can be tough. Parents cite awkwardness and feeling ill equipped for the conversation as two reasons why they want support from sex education experts. In fact, not only do more than 90 percent of both parents and teens support sex education in schools, but they are joined by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and a majority of Americans. That’s because high-quality sex education plays a critical role in helping teens get the information and care they need to stay safe and to postpone parenthood until adulthood. The question is: Are teens getting the honest sex education they need at school?
When a Fresno County Superior Court judge recently called out a Clovis Unified School District for failing to provide “comprehensive, medically accurate” sex education according to state law, advocates saw the ruling as a real breakthrough in efforts to address the gaps in sex education. Unfortunately, sex education beyond HIV instruction is optional in California, and the Clovis Unified School District isn’t the only district breaking the rules.
Last fall, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund conducted an audit of school districts in Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo counties to determine the content of sex education currently delivered to young people in our area. All 22 secondary school districts in the region were encouraged to submit current sexuality health education materials for evaluation. Twenty districts participated, and the audit showed that the majority of the districts met the requirements of California’s sex education code. The code outlines a set of standards to follow and mandates medically accurate instruction—but only if they choose to teach sex education. Three school districts failed to meet the criteria set out in the code, and at least one of these school districts used medically inaccurate information to shame students who had been sexually active. You can request a copy of the Public Schools Project by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting ppsbvslo.org.
In California, more than 60 percent of teens are sexually active by age 18, and California’s growing sexually transmitted infections rates are highest in young people ages 15 to 24. Without high-quality sex education in the classroom, teens are left without the tools they need to make healthy decisions. There is a clear gap in current law that allows schools to opt out of teaching sex education, and it leaves our teens in the dark.
It’s time for California law to reflect the clear mandate of public health research and institutions and provide teens with high-quality, medically accurate sex education in the classroom. Our schools serve as an important environment for equipping young people with the knowledge and skills they need to live healthy lives. It’s time to pass Assemblymember Shirley Weber’s bill, AB 329, which would mandate comprehensive sex education in public schools and make California’s students healthier and safer.
-- Anna Lopez - Director of Education Planned Parenthood of Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo Counties