Few things make parents, a school board, a principal and a community squirm more than the discussion of sex education in its public school system. Earlier this week, The Sheridan Press reported concerns from local parents that the education given to students regarding sexual health was lacking. We, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, agree.
The issue arose after a small group of parents voiced concern that field trips to area health care providers and advocates went too far. When parents on the other side of the coin got wind of the complaints, they pushed back, saying that the education doesn’t go near far enough in explaining sexual health to teens.
In December 2015, the CDC reported that fewer than half of high schools and only one-fifth of middle schools teach all 16 topics recommended as essential components of sexual health education. The basics from CDC:
• The benefits of being sexually abstinent.
• How to access valid and reliable health information, products and services.
• The influences of family, peers, media, technology and others on sexual risk behavior.
• The communication and negotiation skills related to reducing risk for HIV, STDs and pregnancy.
• Goal-setting and decision-making skills related to eliminating or reducing risks.
• Influencing and supporting others to avoid or reduce sexual risk behaviors.
• The importance of using condoms correctly and consistently; how to obtain them and their effectiveness. The importance of using a condom at the same time as another form of contraception.
• How to create and sustain healthy, respectful relationships.
• The importance of limiting the number of sexual partners.
• Preventative care to maintain reproductive and sexual health.
• How HIV and STDs are transmitted.
• Health consequences of HIV, STDs and pregnancy.
In addition to having parents start “the talk” with their kids, the education provided in high school health classes is meant to be a supplement. Interactions with health professionals or counselors offers teens the opportunity to ask questions they may feel uncomfortable asking their parents. It gives them access to valid, scientifically based facts about sexual health. It gives them another point of view besides what they absorb from social media, the Internet or their friends.
If parents do not want their children to participate in these parts of the curriculum, they should be allowed to opt out — and in the case of the Sheridan High School class, they can.