In 2007, Washington state passed the Healthy Youth Act which placed certain requirements on public schools that offer sex education programs. Although public schools are not required to offer sex education to their students, the Act makes clear that public schools offering such education must do so in line with Washington Department of Health guidelines—in a nutshell, the education must be comprehensive (i.e., discuss both abstinence and contraception) and “medically and scientifically accurate” (i.e., supported by research, published in peer-review journals, and objective). Unfortunately,not all Washington public schools’ sex education programs are complying with this law.
Providing comprehensive and medically accurate sex education to our youth is critical—and effective. Research has demonstrated convincingly that such sex education programs succeed at helping youth delay sexual initiation and at using contraception when they do become sexually active. Furthermore, 30 years of public health studies have indicated clearly that exposure to information about contraception neither increases sexual activity among teens nor lowers the age of sexual initiation.
Why would we would want to withhold this information from our youth? Part of the problem may be misguided public perceptions; for example, a recent study concluded that parents wrongly believe their teen children are not interested in having (and, therefore, are not actually having) sex. In reality, nearly half of all 15-19-year-olds nationwide have had sex at least once.
In passing the Healthy Youth Act in 2007, Washington’s legislature recognized that our youth need comprehensive and accurate sex education. It is now up to all of us to make sure that the spirit of the law is honored in our communities.