Opinion

Schools need quality sexual health education | Johnson

Advocates for Youth, a respected national agency in regards to adolescent reproductive and sexual health, has published a best practices guide for “Youth-Friendly Sexual and Reproductive Health Services in Schools.”

Now, before you go all “OMG! Sexual health in schools,” consider that regardless of whether we are officially providing sexual health and reproductive services in schools, sex education is happening.

The quality of the education is what is in question.

Are our youth receiving comprehensive, inclusive, medically accurate and developmentally appropriate sexuality education from trained professionals who encourage discussion with parents?

Or are they gleaning this important knowledge from porn sites passed on to them by peers?

Do they have a safe place to acknowledge their sexual orientation, gender identity and preferred gender roles? Or are any deviations from heterosexuality and cisgender ignored in a hetero-centric environment where anyone “different” is ostracized, excluded, and looked at as someone who needs to be fixed?

Are youth respected, involved and included in deciding on programming that is relevant to them? Or are they dismissed as too young, too immature, too lacking in life experience to be of use in planning?

Are their questions and opinions truly listened to and considered? Or do the adults in charge decide they know best, or that sexuality shouldn’t be discussed in schools, or that kids will be kids and do it anyway, so why bother?

Either way, education is happening. It is happening with respect, care, involvement, training, compassion and information, or it is happening through Internet sites, pornography, misinformed peers, myths and ignorance.

It is our responsibility to make sure that our youth have access to the former. It is our responsibility to insist that our schools are safe places where youth can ask questions, receive informed answers and become educated, not only about algebra and history, but also about their own health, including reproductive and sexual health.

It is our responsibility to insist they have the opportunity to think about their values, learn about setting limits, and understand how to access the health care they need to stay safe when they do become sexually active — whether their sexual debut happens in high school, college, or after marriage.

The education we provide to our youth is an investment in the type of future we expect them to have.

To leave this education to chance is to abandon our youth. It is to ignore another fiscal cliff — the one where teen childbearing costs U.S. taxpayers $10.9 billion per year in increased health care costs, foster care, incarceration, and lost tax revenue, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

It is to condemn one in four girls ages 14-19 to a sexually transmitted disease, and millions of 13-24-year-olds to living with HIV, since half of all undiagnosed HIV cases are in this age group, according to the Office of Adolescent Health.

The Best Practices Guide includes four common strategies schools use to provide health services:

• School nurses

• School-based health centers

• School-linked health centers

• Partnerships with community based organizations or health departments

Within each of these strategies are multiple opportunities for continued improvement in services being provided right here in our community. Our school district has made huge strides in being recognized as “a leader in continual innovation among public schools in the state and nation."

Let us continue to move forward by embracing best practices for sexual and reproductive health for our youth.

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