Expert sound alarm for the crisis in sex education in the United States

Experts from the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine (SAHM) call for attention to the crisis in sex education, in particular the continued creation and validation of abstinence-only curricula taught in the United States. Adolescent Health Journal is a response to the recently issued K-12 standards for optimal sexual health of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, which the authors find deeply inadequate due to their scientific inaccuracies, missed topics and misdirected focus on marriage and abstinence as solutions to adolescent sexual health.

The authors warn of a decline in sex education across the country. Despite significant evidence that comprehensive sex education works to promote sexual health among adolescents, as well as strong support for its implementation by both health professionals and parents, the supply of sex education in the United States has declined over the past 25 years.

The trend of declining or stagnant sex education over the past two decades in the United States is worrying. We miss crucial opportunities to positively influence the sexual and reproductive health outcomes of adolescents both in adolescence and throughout their lives. “

Laura Lindbergh, Principal Investigator, Guttmacher Institute

When taught, comprehensive curricula provide adolescents with accurate information on essential topics about sexuality, opportunities to explore their identity and values, and skill sets in communication and decision-making. The National Standards for Sex Education (NSES) are cited in the document as an excellent example of standards that provide clear, age-appropriate instructions for reducing risky behavior among adolescents and improving their overall health and well-being.

The authors express concern about M-SOSH as it ignores science and instead promotes the ideological program of abstinence until marriage. Approaches to sex education only to abstinence until marriage have repeatedly proven to be not only ineffective but also harmful, as they often hide important information about the health of young people.

“It is our duty as adolescent health professionals to apply the tools we need to do better to ensure a comprehensive sexual education for young people,” said lead author John Santelli, Ph.D., a professor of public and family health at the school. Mailman of Columbia University of Public Health. “Promoting the curriculum only for abstinence contradicts the evidence and is unequivocally a step in the wrong direction.”

The commentary included a parallel comparison of NSES and M-SOSH dictionaries, highlighting critical topics missing in M-SOSH, such as sexual orientation and gender identity, social determinants of health; disabilities; reproductive justice; PrEP therapy for HIV infection; and laws on adolescent rights and minor consent.

“Sexual orientation and gender identity are fundamental to any sex education program,” said David Bell, MD, president of SAHM and professor of population and family health at Columbia Mailman School and professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center. “We can’t just talk in words, mentioning the terms. Adolescents need clear guidance to explore these topics both in exploring their own identity and to be able to navigate the world around them.”

“Young people have the right to information and skills that can help them protect their health and plan for their future,” said Debra Hauser, president of Youth Advocates, an organization that works with young people to fight sexual health. , rights, and justice. “It is wrong and harmful to exclude information about sexual orientation and gender identity or not to help young people think critically about the economic, social, political and environmental factors that affect sexual health when they teach sex education. Schools have the responsibility to provide a fair sex education that includes, affirms and educates all our students. “

The authors also provide detailed examples of M-SOSH’s medical inaccuracies, including misinformation about adolescents’ cognitive development and how this affects their decision-making abilities. The risk of sex outside of marriage for the physical and mental health of adolescents is also greatly exaggerated.

“The emphasis on marriage throughout M-SOSH is a cause for concern,” said Dr. Santelli. “Most Americans have sex before they get married. The idea that marriage is the ideal environment for sexual activity is unrealistic, lacks scientific support, and is downright outdated.”

The authors call on health professionals to recognize M-SOSH as a disadvantage and a harmful obstacle in the fight for improved sexual education of adolescents. The authors call on decision-makers to use NSES, which provides a comprehensive plan for states and local school districts to build their sex education programs.


Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health

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