Opponents of sex education for teens have long argued that providing sex education in schools encourages teens to engage in sexual activity. Research has conclusively refuted this and has effectively proven the opposite: sex education in schools makes it more likely that teens will delay sexual initiation.
A 2007 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that male and female teens who received some sort of sex education in school were 71 and 59 percent less likely to have sex before the age of 15, respectively. Research has also suggested that, in order to be successful, sex education should take place before teens become sexually active. And, given that (1) middle school youth as young as 12 are engaging in sexual activity, and (2) teens who start having sex before the age of 14 are much more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors (e.g., unprotected sex), the importance of providing teens with comprehensive sex education early and consistently cannot be overstated.
Of course, to be effective, the knowledge imparted to teens must not be misleading or actually false. Washington legislators explicitly recognized this in 2007 by passing the Healthy Youth Act, which requires sex education curricula offered by public schools to be medically and scientifically accurate.
Unfortunately, even with the Healthy Youth Act, the ACLU-WA has confirmed that some schools still are using inaccurate sex education curricula. Students there are being told that condoms fail 30% of the time; that undergoing an abortion can put you at a greater risk for developing breast cancer; and that AIDS can be transmitted by skin-to-skin contact. None of these propositions has any scientific basis.
Giving students inaccurate information undermines the purpose of the Act and puts students’ health at risk. The ACLU-WA plans to work with local school districts to bring sex education curricula into compliance with the Healthy Youth Act. Sex education has been shown to change the lives of those teens exposed to it; let’s all work together to make sure that this change is only for the better.