September 21, 2018

Sex Ed is About Way More than Sex

“The politics of sex ed are complicated, and the idea of children getting sex ed in elementary school makes some parents uncomfortable, said Leslie Kantor, chair of the Department of Urban-Global Public Health at the Rutgers School of Public Health. But children already start learning about sex and sexuality at very young ages, it’s just that most of what they learn isn’t being taught intentionally — they are learning, among other things, through highly sexualized media and porn. We usually evaluate whether sex ed “works” by measuring when kids start to have sex or by tracking rates of teenage pregnancy. But pediatricians and psychologists say learning about the body is a worthy goal in its own right.

What are elementary schoolers learning? The short answer: not enough. “This is a topic that is taught by some really amazing professionals using really great best practices. And yet, nationwide in our schools, it is taught so haphazardly,” said Elizabeth Schroeder, an expert on how to teach sexuality education, which is the name some experts use to describe sex ed that covers not only the mechanics of sex and puberty but also issues like bodily autonomy and healthy relationships.

A survey conducted every few years by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asks schools about the health education they are providing. The survey varies from year to year, but in 2014, it included in-depth questions about whether human development — which covers topics like anatomy and puberty — was taught in a required class. Just under half of middle schools and 66 percent of high schools said it was. Only 21 percent of elementary schools said they were teaching about things like puberty in required courses.”

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