Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sex Ed, Or Lack of It, In the United States

Did you see the news story this week about New York finally requiring sex-ed? It was a real eye-opener to find out that the students in that state have not been learning about reproduction and responsible sexual behavior for all these years. I mean, that's a big state, that's a lot of kids who don't know what's going on!

Salon had a brief rundown this weekend of the state of sex-ed across the country. The situation is much worse than you probably realized.
This week people were abuzz over news that New York City had mandated sex education -- and some were simply scratching their heads at the realization that this wasn't already the case. Seriously, it took this long?

Well, seriously, there are still 24 states that haven't mandated sex education, including New York state.

That's too many states to cover in any detail, so I'll narrow it down to the worst of them. These are states that not only fail to mandate sex ed, but require that when it is taught, abstinence and the "importance of sex only within marriage" are stressed. These states make sure to defend "traditional" values, but they don't protect scientific ones: Unlike some states, they don't require that classes provide medically accurate information. The sex ed hall of shame

Some scientists define life in terms of organisms' ability to reproduce themselves. The moment a strand of proto-RNA first created a copy of itself is the moment that life began. There are very simple life-forms that do not use sexual reproduction, these are organisms where an individual produces exact and mutated copies of itself, and the offspring do the same, and evolution can proceed in diverging paths as there is no genetic interaction among individuals.

But all of the more complex forms of life implement sexual reproduction. It means that the offspring's DNA is composed of the combined elements of two parents. The result of this is convergence of forms into species, and the interdependent species can reliably form ecosystems that persist over time.

Sex, in other words, is fundamental to the world as we know it.

For some odd reason in America sex is sin, it is dirty, and it is best not to talk about it, especially to young people, who make take the information as permission or even encouragement to engage in dirty acts. Of course biology trumps culture, and people do those things anyway, but they do them in ignorance.

I mean, really -- New York?

This article goes through a bulleted list of states that epically fail to provide a good education, which I will not reproduce here. They do have a map though:

You're not really surprised to see the Bible Belt well represented in black on this map, and even Indiana. But New York up there does seem to stand alone.

The good news is that there are 20 states, along with the District of Columbia, that currently mandate sex education. But that's a very basic achievement -- it says nothing of the requirements and restrictions that are made on curricula across the country. Guttmacher reports that "26 states require that abstinence be stressed" in sex ed classes; meanwhile only 19 states insist on any mention of contraceptives. And we wonder why the U.S. has the highest teen birth rate in the developed world.


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