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Sex Health Blog

Real Education for Healthy Youth AcT

Jan 19, 2012

How do kids learn about sex these days?

You might say their education comes from their parents, their school programs, their peers, and their own experimentation. Kids likely learn about sex from a variety of sources.

Sex education is often controversial. You’ve probably heard some of these comments and opinions before:

·         Sex education is the parents’ responsibility. It doesn’t belong in the schools.

·         Sex education needs to be part of the school curriculum. Parents aren’t discussing it with their kids.

·         Sex education just encourages kids to have more sex.

·         Abstinence-only programs don’t work. Kids are having sex anyway.

·         I can’t believe my son learned how to use condoms at school!

·         I’m glad my daughter is learning how to say “no” to sex if she feels she isn’t ready.

In the midst of this controversy comes a bill before the U.S. Congress – the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act - which aims to expand comprehensive sex education with federal funding.

Introduced by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-California) and Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-New Jersey) in early November, the bill’s main goal is “to provide for the reduction of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, and the promotion of healthy relationships, and for other purposes.”

Today, we’re going to look at the bill in more detail. We’ll explain what’s intended, what isn’t, and what the bill’s current status is.

What would federal funds pay for?

If this bill is passed, federal grants would be available in three different areas:

·         Programs for adolescents (from age 10 to 19). Such programs could be run by schools, departments of health, non-profit organizations, and community agencies.

·         Programs for young adults. Colleges and universities would be eligible to apply for grants to support comprehensive sex education programs.

·         Programs for teachers. Funding could be used to train teachers and staff on teaching sex education in elementary and secondary schools.

What would be taught?

One of the bill’s broader goals is helping adolescents and young adults make good decisions about sex and relationships. To that end, the bill proposes to include these topics:

·         Anatomy and physiology

·         Growth and development

·         Safe, healthy relationships

·         Preventing unintended pregnancy

·         Preventing transmission of sexually-transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. Pros and cons of different contraceptive and barrier methods would also be discussed.

·         Preventing sexual abuse, dating violence, bullying, harassment, and suicide

·         Abstinence and waiting to start having sex

·         Influence of drugs and alcohol on decision-making

·         Communication skills (for example, how to avoid making an unwanted sexual advance or how to decline a sexual invitation)

·         Understanding gender identity, sexual orientation, and racial/ethnic diversity

Programs would also be able to refer students to health clinics that could answer further questions.

How would topics be presented?

The nuts and bolts of sex education are important. But programs funded by the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act would need to be respectful and sensitive to the needs of all students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered students. Programs would also need to consider students’ cultures, language, age, and stage of development.

The bill also notes that information and materials would need to be medically accurate and evidence-based. This means that the information should be verified by careful research and generally accepted by experts in the field. Information would also need to be “complete.” For example, a program couldn’t leave out a discussion of condoms when covering different methods of contraception.

What restrictions does the bill make?

As written, the bill is very clear about how federal funds will not be used. Funding will not be provided for health education programs that:

·         “Deliberately withhold life-saving information about HIV;

·         Are medically inaccurate or have been scientifically shown to be ineffective;

·         Promote gender stereotypes;

·         Are insensitive and unresponsive to the needs of sexually active adolescents;

·         Are insensitive and unresponsive to the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender youth; or

·         Are inconsistent with the ethical imperatives of medicine and public health.”

Where does the bill stand now?

The Real Education for Healthy Youth Act was introduced in both the House (H.R. 3324) and the Senate (S. 1782) on November 2, 2011.

Since then, it has been read twice by the Senate and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

In the House, it has been referred to the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training.

What do you think?

What are your thoughts on the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act? Do you think it will pass? What are your thoughts on sex education in general? Feel free to leave us a comment below.