Nearly half of all high school students in the United States are sexually active — but the public school system is doing little to provide crucial education on the topic. In fact, a new report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that abstinence education far outweighs disease and pregnancy prevention education in most middle and high schools’ curriculum.
In general, the CDC found that less than half of U.S. high schools and a fifth of middle schools adequate cover the CDC’s recommended sexual health education topics. In no state did more than half of middle schools meet the CDC’s guidelines for “essential components of sexual health education.”
In some states, as few as 8 percent of schools told middle school students how to obtain condoms — which only increased to 30 percent when the students reached high school. In the same states, a majority of the public schools taught the importance of abstinence from middle school onward.
The CDC surveyed students in 44 participating states to produce the 2014 report, ranging from 6th to 12th grades. While sex education critics often argue middle school is too early for integrating the topic into the classroom, the government disagrees.
“We need to do a better job of giving our young people the skills and knowledge they need to protect their own health,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and Tuberculosis Prevention, in a press release. “It’s important to teach students about healthy relationships and how to reduce sexual risk before they start to have sex.”
A recent Georgetown University report said that middle school may not even be early enough to start children’s sex education. Instead, researchers stressed that children should start receiving formal instruction about sexual health as early as age 10. And public health researchers have been telling schools for years that abstinence-only sex education, which often includes inaccurate medical information that doesn’t equip students to protect themselves once they do become sexually active, is deeply detrimental to a state’s sexual health.
“We hope that the new CDC data serves as a wake-up call,” said Leslie Kantor, Vice President of Education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America in a press statement following the report’s release.
“We can and must do better in giving young people the sex education they need.”