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Lack of sex education in GOP states puts students at risk

An assortment of contraceptives such as Plan B and condoms provided by Planned Parenthood Generation Action at the Sex and Relationships photoshoot. Sex-ed is an important part of K-12 education, and the risk of losing the curriculum in schools can lead to an increase in unwanted teen pregnancies and STIs. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

Although it may be a cliche, there is some truth to the trope ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ — whether it be through teachers, pediatricians, athletic coaches or politicians who create laws directly affecting youth. But in some states across the U.S., the adults in charge of youth policies are not doing their part in ensuring quality education for all. 

According to an Associated Press article, GOP-led states are at risk of losing sex education curricula in their schools. This idea was amplified after the emergence of the “parents’ rights” movement, whose main concern is dismantling inclusive LGBTQ+ sex education. Republican leaders and parents are trying to ensure that it is the parents’ choice to allow their children to take part in any sex education. 

So what can we expect in the absence of sex education at K-12 institutions if these policies are implemented?

Lack of sex education for all youth may lead to an increase in unwanted teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Since GOP state leaders tend to oppose abortion rights, minimizing unwanted pregnancy is crucial in these states to protect teens from potential physical, emotional and financial harms. In fact, teen birth rates are much higher in states that ban abortion and have minimal sex education curricula.

Moreover, the number of contracted sexually transmitted disease (STD) cases has risen again since the COVID-19 pandemic — reaching more than 2.5 million cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia according to the CDC’s 2022 statistics

GOP-led states are especially at higher risk; out of the top 10 states with the highest rate of STDs, eight are Republican-controlled states. 

Many of the Republican voters who oppose mandatory sex education argue that it is the parents’ responsibility to determine what constitutes appropriate sex education for their children. But this begs the question: is sex education really taught at home?

According to OnePoll, one in five parents are not willing to have conversations about sexual matters with their kids at all. Even the parents who discuss sex education with their kids tend to avoid more complex topics, such as birth control and consent.

While sex education in schools is taught by qualified instructors, parents may not have the same level of professional expertise. Not only do they tend to avoid harder topics, but their own lack of education can lead to misinformation. For instance, older generations who are more socially conservative may be more likely to still believe in myths regarding sexual assault, such as victim-blaming for dressing or acting in a “sexually provoking way,” or believing that victims could have prevented it if they wanted to. A study from the International Society for the Study of Individual Differences’ journal proves that individuals with sexually conservative views are more likely to accept these myths.

Furthermore, teenagers are more likely to seek sexual information from peers and teachers than parents. We must keep these resources open, allowing for spaces where minors feel comfortable participating in honest outreach discussions.

The controversy surrounding sex education in public schools has been a longstanding issue, but it significantly escalated recently in GOP-led states due to opposition from parents and politicians who are reluctant to incorporate LGBTQ+ topics. The “Don’t Say Gay Bill” in Florida exemplifies the strong aversion for such discussions in politically conservative states. Given that the inclusion of LGBTQ+ sexual health in the curricula is the biggest concern among Republican-controlled states, should schools offer LGBTQ+ exclusive sex education to satisfy everyone?

The main reason why LGBTQ-inclusive sex education is important is that gender and sexually-marginalized youth are at a higher risk for sexual health issues such as STIs, sexual activity under the influence and dating violence. 

LGBTQ+ youth are also far less likely to have open sex discussions with their parents. Even if they do, unless their parents are part of the community themselves, it is often difficult for kids to receive useful and accurate information specifically concerning their sexual health. It is important that schools protect LGBTQ+ youth by providing adequate education to prevent against poor health outcomes and lack of support within their homes.

Sex education is a shared responsibility between schools and parents. While schools need to provide children with quality health education, they also need a welcoming environment at home to seek answers. Instead, youth are struggling to find proper information in a world where open discussions about sex and sexual diversity are considered taboo. In each of our villages, adults and educators are responsible for ensuring safe environments and comprehensive education for all youth, including the LGBTQ+ community. 

Since not everyone is privileged enough to receive quality sex education at home, K-12 schools provide necessary education for everyone regardless of socioeconomic status, family background and sexual orientation. When giving equal educational opportunities is the main function of primary and secondary schools, how is it acceptable to exclude one of the most important subjects? 

Sex education is directly related to a person’s physical, emotional and social well-being. The World Health Organization defines sexual health as “a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality.” Teaching adolescents about sexual health ensures a better quality of life overall. 

According to a study from the Journal of Adolescent Health conducted with adolescent women, better sexual health is associated with better social integration, higher self-esteem, less substance use and lower self-reported depression. Another study from the Frontiers in Reproductive Health Journal suggests that among male adolescents, mental and reproductive health are intertwined; poor sexual health leads to poor mental health and vice versa.

Hence, comprehensive sex education can prevent many health issues and encourage healthy habits in various aspects of life. Minimizing sex education curricula means young people who are not fortunate enough to have sexually accepting and knowledgeable parents will have to learn on their own while risking their sexual health.

Conservatives’ irrational fear of healthy relationships being formed between members of same sex and non-binary gender identities, along with their false beliefs of comprehensive sex education encouraging reckless sex, are putting children at risk — including their own. What may hurt their kids is delaying essential education, as well as restricting exposure to healthy homosexual love or confident transgender people. The exclusion of proper sex education may leave people with irreversible consequences, such as unwanted pregnancy, HIV or sexual trauma. 

Children should be set up for success, not put in a position where they have to rely on misinformation or the internet to be taught healthy sexual habits.

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