This week, students across New York City are back in school – but whether they will be learning sex education in their classes is doubtful.
According to a report released today by the Comptroller, New York City schools are not complying with the minimum standards set by New York State for sex education. Many students are not receiving sex education from a certified health instructor, and it’s unclear if others are receiving sex education at all.
These findings are consistent with the results of a survey conducted by the Sexuality Education Alliance of New York City (SEANYC), in which 64.5 percent of over 300 students reported receiving any sexuality education classes in school, despite a New York City mandate that requires schools to teach at least one class in middle school and high school.
We can’t afford to let another school year go by without implementing comprehensive, medically-accurate sex education. Here are five reasons why:
1. When sex ed isn’t taught, students receive the wrong information. Young people who do not receive sex education depend on unreliable sources, like the internet or their friends—which makes them more likely to receive inaccurate information. Even when sex education is taught in New York City schools, it is too little and too late, and leaves young people vulnerable to negative health outcomes. “The majority of us had been in relationships by the time sex ed was taught,” said Léa, a New York City high school student, in SEANYC’s report.
2. STD rates are rising in NYC. A study that was released this month show that STD rates are rising, specifically in the Bronx. Syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea are increasing among young people, and New York City students are reporting using contraception during intercourse at a lower rate than the national average. Sex education is necessary to teach young people about STD prevention and safer sex. Students also need to know where to receive confidential, judgment-free sexual and reproductive health services like STD testing and treatment.
3. Hate crimes in schools threaten student safety. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, hate crimes in schools have increased since the presidential election. We need sex education to help teach inclusivity and acceptance, especially for LBGTQ students, who face disproportionately high rates of harassment and violence and are more likely to drop out. “Young people are coming out as LGBTQ at earlier ages than ever before,” said Lisa Sloan, of the LGBTQ Pride Center, in a report conducted by SEANYC. Inclusive and affirming sex education can keep LGBTQ students and gender variant students safe from violence.
4. Young people are experiencing sexual assault and violence. At a time when Betsy DeVos is threatening to overhaul university policies to undermine victims of sexual assault, it is more important than ever that students learn about consent and healthy relationships. The Comptroller’s report highlights data collected from the 2015 NYC Youth Risk Behavior Survey that shows that 11.4 percent of young people in grades 9-12 reported experiencing sexual dating violence. “Sex ed can help combat the sexual violence that has affected me and thousands of students,” said Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, of the Carry That Weight Campaign.
5. The benefits of sex education are multifold, and last well into adulthood. Comprehensive sex education can help keep students healthy well after they’ve graduated high school. By teaching young people what a healthy relationship looks like, how to navigate consent, LGBTQ sexual health, and how to have respect for one’s own body and the bodies of others, among other topics, educators can help teens mature into safer and healthier adults.
The school year has started, and we can’t afford to wait another year. Young people deserve healthy, bright futures; they deserve sex education now.
Louise Marchena is Senior Director of Youth Programs at Planned Parenthood of New York City.