New guidelines on sexuality education were released this week by a coalition of groups, including the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), Advocates for Youth, and Answer. The ground-breaking National Sexuality Education Standards: Core Content and Skills, K-12 are designed to “provide clear, consistent, and straightforward guidance on the essential minimum, core content for sexuality education that is developmentally and age-appropriate for students in grades Kindergarten through grade 12.” The standards focus on seven topics as the minimum content: Anatomy and Physiology, Puberty and Adolescent Development, Identity, Pregnancy and Reproduction, Sexually Transmitted Diseases and HIV, Healthy Relationships, and Personal Safety. Each topic includes performance indicators – what students should know and be to do by the end of grades 2, 5, 8, and 12.
The National Sexuality Education Standards were created in an effort to address the inconsistent implementation of sexuality education across the country. Health education is usually given very little time in school curriculum and covers a broad range of topics. According to Debra Hauser, president of Advocates for Youth, many schools do not cover sensitive issues, such as sexual orientation or gender identity, where a lot of bullying occurs. The guidelines are based on research related to school-based sexuality education and developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts in the field.
For years, research has indicated that effective, comprehensive sexuality education is essential for young people’s health. As a nation with one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the industrialized country (75,000 pregnancies a year among women aged 15-19), the need for standard curriculum on sexuality is evident. There is also an obligation to address violence, harassment, and bullying in schools, which can have a major impact on student’s well-being and academic success.
I’m absolutely thrilled about these new standards. My sexuality education in school was between five and ten hours total. We watched a video in seventh grade about reproduction, discussed contraception for about two classes in high school, and had one class devoted to HIV/AIDS. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. I hope these new guidelines will encourage schools to provide comprehensive sexuality education and improve the quality of that education. I also think it brings up some very important questions, which are discussed on the Motherlode in the NYT: should sex education be a national endeavor or a local one? While my gut reaction is to establish national curricula, I fear every presidential election will bring about changes and only end up hurting our youth. What are your thoughts? What was your sexuality education in school? I’d love to hear from you.