Sex Education in America: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

The debate over the best way to teach sexual health in the U.S. continues to rage on, but student voice is often left out of the conversation when schools are deciding on what to teach. So Myles and PBS NewsHour Student Reporters from Oakland Military Institute investigate the pros and cons of the various approaches to sex ed and talk to students to find out how they feel about their sexual health education.

TEACHERS: Get your students in the discussion on KQED Learn, a safe place for middle and high school students to investigate controversial topics and share their voices. Download lesson plan and get started on KQED Learn.

What is comprehensive sex education?

Comprehensive sex education teaches that not having sex is the best way to avoid STIs and unintended pregnancies, but it also includes medically accurate information about STI prevention, reproductive health, as well as discussions about healthy relationships, consent, gender identity, LGBTQ issues and more. What is sexual risk avoidance education? Sexual risk avoidance education is also known as abstinence only or abstinence-leaning education. It generally teaches that not having sex is the only morally acceptable, safe and effective way to prevent pregnancy and STIs -- some programs don’t talk about birth control or condoms-- unless it is to emphasize failure rates.

What are the main arguments for comprehensive sex education?

“Comprehensive sex ed” is based on the idea that public health improves when students have a right to learn about their sexuality and to make responsible decisions about it. Research shows it works to reduce teen pregnancies, delay when teens become sexually active and reduce the number of sexual partners teens have.

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What are the main arguments against comprehensive sex education?

Some people, particularly parents and religious groups, take issue with comprehensive sex ed because they believe it goes against their cultural or religious values, and think that it can have a corrupting influence on kids. They say that by providing teens with this kind of information you are endorsing and encouraging sex and risk taking. Some opponents also argue that this type of information should be left up to parents to teach their kids about and shouldn’t be taught in schools.

SOURCES

State Laws and Policies Across the US (SIECUS) 

STDs Adolescents and Young Adults (CDC) 

Myths and Facts about Comprehensive Sex Education (Advocates for Youth)

Abstinence-Only and Comprehensive Sex Education and the Initiation of Sexual Activity and Teen Pregnancy (Journal of Adolescent Health)

Abstinence-Only-Until Marriage: An Updated Review of US Policies and Programs and Their Impact (Journal of Adolescent Health) 

Sexual Risk Avoidance Education: What you need to know (ASCEND) 

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We partnered with PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs for this episode. Check out their journalism resources for students: https://studentreportinglabs.org/