Want to prevent sexually transmitted diseases? Stay rested!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

by Shanelle Matthews

Forward Together Youth
At the beginning of each school year we prep our young people with the supplies they need to be successful: pens, notebooks, calculators, backpacks, and so on. We do our best to make sure they have access to clothes and shoes that fit, as well as the nutritious food experts say, “boosts their brainpower.” We send them off, insisting that they do their best, pay attention in class, respect their teachers, and study hard. We only want the best for our kids. But imagine that despite all our preparation, our kids’ teachers only cover half the material they need to know, and as a result our children only do half as well as they could have. That’s exactly what’s happening in some California schools—and in many schools nationwide.

Let’s Get it On, a report by Forward Together’s youth participants, has found that some educational facilities refuse to give our children the most comprehensive tools to make the best decisions about their health. Every school year we are faced with the recurrent arduous conversation about sex education and how best to prepare our young people. Even though California state law mandates that sexual health education in public schools be comprehensive, medically accurate, science-based, and bias-free, some teachers and school districts are still denying our children the tools they need to be safe.

The report, which was created and conducted by Forward Together’s high-school-aged participants in Oakland, assesses student experiences with sex education and determines whether they are satisfied with the sex ed in their schools. Their research found that in Oakland Unified School District, both middle school and high school students received little to no sex education. In addition, it was discovered that LGBTQ students, students with disabilities, and students who are English language learners are not receiving sex ed information that is relevant to them.

These problems aren’t isolated to Oakland. In the Central Valley of California, where there are high incidences of unintended teenage pregnancy, Clovis Unified School District’s high schools are telling their students that in order to prevent STIs, they should “stay rested.” This kind of irresponsible, draconian teaching only leaves teenagers vulnerable and susceptible to dangerous and deadly diseases, and they deserve to learn how to protect themselves. The implementation of comprehensive sex education in all schools is essential to achieving our vision of strong families, thriving students, and healthy communities.

When schools and teachers refuse to teach sex ed in a comprehensive way, state laws that mandate comprehensive sex education become just as dangerous as those that don’t. What good are policies if they’re not implemented?

We teach our children that preparation is key. Prepare for a test, a chess match, a musical performance, or a track meet, and you have a better chance at doing well. Yet far too often our schools are not preparing our youth for sexual activity, and that impacts students with the least access to reproductive health care—in particular those from low-income families and families of color—the most. This vicious cycle of refusing comprehensive sex ed and then exposing “unprecedented” rates of HIV/AIDS among teenagers and shaming youth about becoming pregnant must be interrupted.

We begin each school year with the highest hopes that our kids will excel to the best of their ability, but what good is all that preparation if we can’t trust educators to prepare our youth with the sexual health education they need to be healthy and safe? We must hold schools and teachers accountable for doing their part. Give a gift of support to Forward Together today to support our youth leaders in improving sex education. Students who have more knowledge have more options to protect themselves—and we own them at least that.

Shanelle Matthews is the Communications Manager at Forward Together