Let’s Talk About Sex Education Policy

Claire Killian

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Sex tends to be taboo. As a society, we don’t really encourage open conversation about such topics, as they are often deemed inappropriate. While it may not make polite conversation, it is something which has, at one point, directly impacted everyone’s lives. The vast majority of people will have sex at one point in their lives, but that same majority will have wildly different amounts of information on it. Government mandated sex education is a relatively new phenomena, and differs widely by state. I assumed that New York State, being home to the endlessly liberal New York City, would have comprehensive laws requiring complete and fact based education. That’s apparently not the case. We need to talk about the policy surrounding sex education.

Comprehensive is the name of the game when it comes to laws pertaining to sex ed. Requiring that curriculum cover STIs, contraception, sexuality, consent, and overall sexual health in a nonthreatening, fact-based way has been proven to effectively reduce teen pregnancies, and create generally more sexually aware adults. Unfortunately, New York State doesn’t mandate sexual education in public schools at all. While most kids get an incomplete or heavily biased education, some kids in New York are getting none at all. What makes this weirder is that HIV education is required in public schools. It seems absolutely unreasonable to teach kids about HIV, but not about sex. You’re only giving them half the information they need! You’re asking students to solve one of the most deeply personal puzzles, but taking away key pieces.

The sex ed that we do actually get in New York State is not required to be medically accurate or unbiased. While HIV education is required to be ‘age appropriate’ it also does not have to be accurate, unbiased, or without religious influence. Because there are no laws mandating sex ed for teens in our state, nobody can require schools to teach more progressive subjects like sexual orientation, contraception, and abortion or the more conservtive approaches like abstinence. However, when pertaining to HIV, public schools are required to preach abstinence only.

Sex education not only affects the sexual health, confidence, and safety of teens, but on a much larger scale it affects policy. Just as sex education is determined by state, as are the majorities of regulations on sexual health. It is no coincidence that the states which have the least comprehensive and most religious/conservative bias also have the highest rates of teen pregnancy, and the strictest abortion laws. Regardless of how you feel towards abortion, it is an undeniable fact that it is a majority of men writing these laws, men who know shockingly little about female anatomy or bodily functions. Sex education failed them, and now those failures are going on to impact women nationwide. 

While we are moving in the right direction, with Gov. Cuomo signing a law which will require public schools to provide lessons on healthy and unhealthy relationships. The law will take effect in July of this year. Overall it just seems odd that a state which would codify Roe v. Wade into state law has such hesitancy to provide comprehensive sexual education? While this school may handle sex ed well, because of the lack of legislation there can be such an overwhelming discrepancy in the education individuals receive. There is shockingly little regulation, especially when the proven outcomes of sex education are so positive. In the MeToo era, and when a woman’s right to bodily autonomy is under fire, it is more important now than ever that the youth fully understand the topics that they will have to grapple with when they come of voting age.