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Sex Education in Schools

Sex education is taught mainly in public schools on topics ranging from abstinence and reproduction to sexually orientation and sexually transmitted diseases. Sex education is primarily introduced in grades seven through 12 -- although some schools have addressed sexuality topics as early as the fourth grade.

State Sex Education Laws

Sex education laws vary greatly among the states. Most states have laws that address some form of sexual education in schools, differing between what may or may not be taught and whether a parent may prevent a child from receiving sexual education.

The majority of states allow parents to remove their child or "opt out" of sexually-related instruction, while other states require parental consent for a child to take sexual education classes or participate in any school-based health clinic services.

Of the states that do not currently have sexual education laws on the books, sexual education policies can typical be found in district codes or other education department manuals. Still other states allow local authorities to decide whether parents may opt-out or provide consent for a child's participation in sex education classes.

Of the states addressing sex education in schools, topics may include:

  • HIV/AIDS STD-related information
  • Abstinence
  • Reproduction, including description of the male and female genitalia
  • Contraception, including the instruction on the proper use of a condom and diaphragm
  • Pregnancy and the financial responsibilities of raising a child
  • Adoption
  • Sexual orientation

Because the laws vary, it's important to check the sex education laws of your particular state and/or school district.

Purpose of Sex Education Laws

Sex education in schools was meant to curb unwanted pregnancies and address public health concerns, such as teen pregnancy and STDs. Even so, the idea of teaching young people about sex in schools caused a backlash among those who believed it was best left to the parents.

State laws tried to address these concerns by allowing parents to exempt their children from sex education courses or by including abstinence methods within its curriculum.

Still, some critics argue that state laws don't always solve the tension between the state's interest and a parent's perspective to sex education. Some have even argued that teaching about the use of contraceptives (including instruction on the proper use of a condom) may contribute to a minor's delinquency.

Pros and Cons of Teaching Sex Education in the Schools

There are several arguments for and against the teaching of sex education in schools. Supporters claim that exposure to such information, including STDs and the proper use of contraceptives, lowers teen pregnancy and STD infection rates. In addition, they argue that most teenagers are either already sexually active or are curious and that many of them are not receiving such information from their parents, claiming public schools are a proper venue for sex education. As such, these supporters typically favor a more comprehensive approach that includes detailed description of a female and mail genitals, for example.

Opponents of sex education in schools, on the other hand, claim that the state has no business teaching their children about sex, either because they prefer to teach their children according to their own values or because they object to certain controversial subjects, such as sexual orientation. However, opponents of sex education in schools typically favor an abstinence-only approach (for example, the idea that you should wait until marriage before having sex) if there is to be any sex education taught at all.

Much of the debate today is centered on whether schools should teach abstinence-only or comprehensive sex education. Those favoring an abstinence-only approach correctly point out that abstinence is the only way to prevent pregnancy and STDs with 100 percent certainty. They also point out the emotional complexities that often accompany an active sex life.

Conclusion

Recent polls by various media, health, and social organizations have concluded that most families support the idea of teaching sex education in schools to some extent. Although there are still pockets of parents who adamantly reject the idea that schools teach their children anything about sex, there is generally little debate that some form of sex education should be taught -- even if abstinence-only.

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