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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Casual Death of Education: The failures of American sex education

Sex-ed can be scary, but teaching it shouldn't be optional.

The Casual Death of Education Column graphic (UPDATED)
Graphic by Bex Povill

Public education isn’t all about math and reading. Students need to study many other topics to become healthy and functioning members of society. With discourse around and rejection of sex education becoming increasingly widespread, we must understand what adequate and competent education concerning sex looks like for America’s youth. The current state of sex education in our public education system is in shambles, and the public must take notice and address the ever-expanding problem.

The most important issue concerning sex education is that there are no universal guides or curriculum regulations within the United States. In theory, every state and local municipality should have to create a curriculum for its own students. However, in practice, only 39 states mandate sex education, and only 22 require medically accurate forms of sex education. Despite this lack of education, a 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that nearly 55% of U.S. teens have sexual intercourse by age 18. This contrast means that many students are slipping through the cracks and have never been exposed to safe sex practices before having sex for the first time.

The effects of this failure in basic sex education can be found everywhere. In a 2016 study of 21 countries, the U.S. had the highest rate of teen pregnancy. According to most recent data, rates of sexually transmitted infections are on the rise in the U.S.

In addition to the states that have no mandated sex education, many of the states that do mandate it have inadequate curricula or teach medically inaccurate information. For example, only 19 states require any information about condoms or contraception, while only 10 states require the importance of consent to be covered. The statistics are even more terrifying when expanded to include education on sexual orientation. Only 10 states require inclusive content on sexual orientation while four actively require that only negative information be provided about homosexuality.

This patchwork of localized laws and regional decision-making results in generations of kids who are ill-informed about sex, protection and healthy relationships. Despite all the lackluster lessons and inadequate education, teens continue to have sex regardless. The least our government can do is provide them with the necessary details on safe practices and allow teens to make their own decisions.

This problem affects all of us, and change is going to be difficult. However, meaningful change can be made if the public becomes aware of this issue. Here in Massachusetts, sex education is not mandatory, meaning that any sex education that does occur does not need to be medically accurate or involve contraception. Massachusetts also does not mandate the teaching of consent or sexual orientation. We need to call our local representatives to pressure them to implement adequate and accurate sex education curricula while advocating for national legislation concerning national guidelines. Sex education is beneficial to us all in preventing sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancies and other risky behaviors. It is unacceptable that the world’s richest nation cannot provide the bare minimum of sex education to its students.