Although more than three fourths of New York residents support teaching comprehensive sex education in public schools, the state does not currently mandate this type of curriculum. However, after surveying over 80 school districts across the state to assess their health programs and discovering “glaring inaccuracies” in dozens of schools’ sex ed materials, the New York Civil Liberties Union is recommending that the state reconsider its position to “reverse this failure.”
The NYCLU compiled their findings in a report that points out the potentially devastating consequences of failing to provide comprehensive sexuality education to New York’s students:
According to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, 44.5 percent of New York’s male high school students and 39.6 percent of female students are sexually active — but a third of sexually active boys report that they don’t use condoms, and nearly 80 percent of sexually active girls say they don’t use oral contraceptives. The need for comprehensive sex education is explicit and urgent — but New York does not require sex education in public schools. […]
The physical health and sexual and emotional well-being of New York’s youngest residents is being compromised daily in its schoolrooms. Low sex-ed literacy results in unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections including HIV and a lowered well-being for the state’s youth. All of these factors together limit young people’s education, hobbling their potential for personal and economic independence, and adding significant costs to the state.
As one of the co-authors of the report put it, the study revealed that what currently passes for sex ed in some New York schools is “shocking.” The report found that lessons on reproduction and human anatomy were often inaccurate and incomplete, especially because nearly 2 in 3 school districts excluded any mention of female genitalia in their instruction. One school district referred to the vagina as a “sperm deposit.” The courses also lacked practical instruction — while 80 percent of the districts included in the study included some mention of condoms, only about one in three districts taught students how to use them. And a heterosexual and religious bias runs throughout the states’ sex ed curricula, either ignoring or stigmatizing LGBT relationships and emphasizing shame-based messages about sexuality and abstinence.
With the exception of New York City — which enacted a comprehensive sex ed policy just last year and was therefore excluded from the study — New York State has broad guidelines on sexual health that do not currently require general sexuality education in every school district or specifically approved, medically accurate instruction materials in classrooms. In light of its findings, the NYCLU is calling on the State Education Department to update its regulations immediately.