The “Talk”: Are Schools Doing It Right?

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By Anonymous, 17 

NEW YOUTH CONNECTIONS, NEW YORK

Have your parents ever tried to give you “the talk”? My dad tried once. When I was 16 years old, he awkwardly bumped into the topic of sex and handed me a pack of condoms, hoping I knew what to do with them. He was worried about my sexual health, but, as is the case with a lot of kids, my dad was a little late, and my contribution to the whole conversation was a series of uncooperative “uh-huhs.”

Fortunately for me, I’d already received thorough sex ed in school. But many kids miss out on this—a reality that Planned Parenthood of New York, a nonprofit that promotes reproductive health, wants to change.

“Parents should be kids’ primary source of sex ed and information on these issues,” said Dana Czuczka, the organization’s associate vice president of government affairs. “But we know that parents need help, so we want to make sure every kid has the information they need to make good decisions about their bodies and their relationships.”

As things stand, many New York City students will graduate high school without ever learning about sexual health, aside from state-mandated lessons on HIV/AIDS. They’re missing vital information about healthy relationships, decision-making, and sexual risk-taking that can directly affect their lives. This is because – wait for it – there is no requirement that sex ed programs be included in our curricula.

Although 21 states require schools to teach sex ed, New York does not. Instead, the decision is left up to individual principals, who, facing limited resources and test preparation pressure, can choose to forsake sex ed. Although the city’s Department of Education provides free sex ed curricula and training to 5,000 teachers and administrators each year and “strongly recommends” that schools put these resources to use, it does not track how many students actually receive sex ed lessons.

A recent poll published by Planned Parenthood shows 85 percent of registered voters want sex ed to be taught in school, and 77 percent mistakenly believe that it’s already part of the curriculum. As a response to those findings, Planned Parenthood launched the “We’re Going to the Principal’s Office” campaign, which encourages teens and their parents to advocate for sex ed in their schools.

“It should have its rightful place in the day, the same way math and science and social studies do,” Czuczka said. A good sex ed class, she added, should cover not only the basics of anatomy, but also pregnancy and STD prevention, healthy and unhealthy relationships, communication skills, and decision-making.

I went to middle school in another state, where I was treated to hours of STD slide shows. Years later, I remember a lot of those pictures and facts (probably because they were terrifying), and some of that information factors into my decision-making process now.

I’m not alone. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy reports that the most effective sex-ed programs can reduce sexual risk-taking; participants report that they waited longer before having sex, were more likely to use contraception, and had fewer partners.

It’s time to bring those results to New York. Planned Parenthood wants to see students take charge and advocate for sex education in their own schools.

“When we talk to young people, they get really passionate about this, because it’s information that y’all need,” Czuczka said. “The kids say they want it, the parents say they want it, the research shows that it works, so what are we waiting for?”

© 2010 Youth Communication/New York Center Inc., http://www.youthcomm.org.