Change Comes to Washington and a Sex Ed Class Near You
Originally Published: October 15, 2009
Revised: September 5, 2012
The students stand by their desks and chat, getting ready to enjoy their “free period.” A phys ed teacher strides in and finishes up some paperwork before finally settling the class down and beginning a token, half-embarrassed speech about the dangers of sex, complete with graphic depictions of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and pregnancy.
Sound familiar? When I speak to teens from around the country, I find that one thing a lot of us have in common is an inadequate sex ed class. Sometimes it’s not even a class, it’s a part of a health class that’s a part of a physical education class.
It doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, it’s not even supposed to be this way. Many states, like New Jersey, have laws that make comprehensive sexuality education mandatory. Can you imagine having a comprehensive sex ed class that teaches about contraception, including abstinence; pregnancy; STDs; healthy relationships; sexual orientation; gender identity and many of the other things teens are often left wondering about? This is the kind of comprehensive sexuality education that many states support, but the federal government hasn’t supported comprehensive sex ed—until now.
For more than 15 years, the federal government has funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs to the tune of more than $1 billion, with no funding provided for comprehensive sex ed. While abstinence is a great choice for teens and the only 100-percent effective way to prevent STDs and unplanned pregnancy, abstinence-only-until-marriage programs leave out a lot of important information about condoms and birth control that teens who do choose to have sex need to know in order to protect themselves from pregnancy or STDs, or both.
The truth is that we need much more than to be told “don’t have sex.” That’s like having a driver’s ed class that teaches nothing more than “don’t get into an accident.”
When I speak to teens from around the country, I find that one thing a lot of us have in common is an inadequate sex ed class.
Getting REAL About Sex Ed
Our federal government is now getting serious about educating young people about sexuality and giving them the tools to make healthy decisions. Last spring, Congress reintroduced the Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act. The REAL Act would mean that for the first time ever comprehensive sexuality education would receive federal funding.
In a press release, one of the bill’s sponsors—my own representative, Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey—had this to say about this historic legislation: “Growing up isn’t easy, and our young people find themselves in tough situations every day. They need all the information to make smart choices, and ‘abstinence-only’ programs simply aren’t working…It’s time for our nation’s young people to get the education they need to take on the real life situations facing them every day.”
President Obama has also supported comprehensive sex education. He was an original co-sponsor of the REAL Act, while he was a senator, and he proposed the new budget that cuts funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.
Demand the Change You Want
Not all leaders respect the value of comprehensive sex education, and even with the ones who do, it’s not enough. Now is the time for you to demand the change you want in schools. What happens in the nation’s capital may seem distant and removed from your own backyard, but changes made in Washington, D.C., can play a huge part in improving your education.
Ultimately it’s up to students like you and me to make sure that our legislators know what we want to be taught. Even if you’re too young to vote, you and your parents can still write, call or e-mail your congressperson to demand the sex ed you want, need and deserve! You can find out who your congressperson is and how to reach them.
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