By Christopher Spicer
No responsible adult would ever dream of putting a young person behind the wheel of a car without teaching him the information and skills he needs to drive safely. Yet, as a new report from the New York Civil Liberties Union shows, too many communities and schools across New York State are doing the equivalent of that when it comes to preparing our teens to make informed, responsible decisions about sex.
The NYCLU report analyzed sex education curricula taught at 82 of the state's 697 school districts and found them to be riddled with medical inaccuracies, ineffective abstinence-only instruction and other problematic teachings that are putting our teens' health and lives at risk. Equally as concerning is that students are being taught information that is often incomplete and grounded in gender biases.
The current dearth of accurate and effective sex education in our schools bodes poorly for our teens. Locally, according to the Buffalo Public Schools 2011 Youth Risk Behaviors Survey, the percentage of Buffalo Public School students reporting having sexual intercourse is 20 percent higher than the New York State average, and those students reporting having had four or more sexual partners is 41 percent higher than the New York State average.
Almost half of all Buffalo Public School students say they did not learn about HIV/AIDS in school. A staggering number of very young teens and preteens are engaged in risky behavior: nearly 16 percent of Buffalo middle school students report having had sexual intercourse and nearly half of those students report having had three or more sexual partners.
Planned Parenthood has long advocated for sex education that includes information about healthy relationships, prevention of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections and abstinence. Multiple studies have shown that such comprehensive sex education is effective in helping teens delay sex and use condoms and birth control when they do have sex. What's more, parents overwhelmingly support comprehensive sex education in schools.
That's why Planned Parenthood is working with the Buffalo Public Schools, the Buffalo Community Council on Comprehensive Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, the Erie County Department of Health and other community partners to host community forums addressing youth sex in Buffalo.
The forums will be held in high school auditoriums this fall. We need a community solution to the inadequacy of the state of sex education - and that will take a community conversation.
We have the power to make sure our teens get the education and reproductive health services they need. We owe it to our teens to do better by them.
Christopher Spicer is Community Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Coordinator for Planned Parenthood of Western New York.