Just this week, the CDC released new data pointing to the United States’ “ongoing, severe epidemic” of sexually transmitted infections, which incur the country an estimate $16 billion each year in medical costs. That public health crisis is partly fueled by the lack of comprehensive, medically accurate sexual health instruction in classrooms across the country — but some lawmakers are seeking to change that with a sex ed bill that would overhaul the outdated health classes in America’s public schools.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and 32 other Democratic politicians re-introduced the “Real Education for Healthy Youth Act” on Thursday, legislation that would “expand comprehensive sex education programs in schools and ensure that federal funds are spent on effective, age-appropriate, medically accurate programs.”
“The bill does a lot of important things — it’s a big bill,” Sarah Audelo, the Domestic Policy Director for Advocates for Youth, explained to ThinkProgress. “There’s a lot to be covered, and a lot of resources that young people need that they’re not currently getting.” In particular, the legislation would ensure that federal funding is allocated only to the sexual health programs that include inclusive language about LGBT issues, don’t rely on outdated gender stereotypes, and impart accurate information about HIV.
Right now, sexual education standards vary widely across states. Just 12 states mandate that sexual health curricula must be medically accurate — which means that young people across the country are receiving false information about birth control’s effectiveness, the right way to prevent STDs, and the way that HIV is transmitted.
“Ultimately, we have a long way to go when it comes to sex ed,” Audelo pointed out. “The United States has some of the worst sexual health outcomes in the developed world, and we can’t blame young people for their poor decisions when we don’t teach them how to make the right choices for their bodies.”
And there is concrete evidence to back up Audelo’s claims. The states that push abstinence-only education programs in their public schools — which don’t trust teens enough to teach them facts about their bodies — have the highest rates of teen pregnancies, while adolescents who actually receive instruction about prevention methods are 60 percent less likely to get someone else pregnant or get pregnant themselves. Nevertheless, right-wing politicians continue to do exactly what Audelo cautions against — and blame teenagers themselves for failed abstinence-only policies.