In classrooms across the United States, abstinence-only sex education programs are misinforming millions of students. These programs leave out lifesaving information about birth control and safer sex and may contain false or misleading information.
Fortunately, students can take action to improve the status of sex ed in their schools. Across the country, young people are joining together, working with local groups, concerned community members, teachers, and parents, to advocate for comprehensive, medically accurate sex education. Here are a few examples of effective sex ed advocacy and some resources on how you can become a sex education advocate.
Find the Condoms
In New York City, district policy requires high schools to make condoms available to students. But many high school students have reported being unable to get condoms, and some received condoms that had expired – which can decrease effectiveness.
Frustrated with the lack of condom access, a group of teens partnered with the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP), organizing a citywide “Find the Condom in Your School Campaign” to evaluate condom distribution in schools and raise awareness of the issue. Their research found that most students didn’t know how or where to find condoms in their school, and many students were told by administrators or teachers that their schools had no condoms or didn’t distribute them for “moral reasons.”
The group held a press conference to report their findings and continues to advocate for better condom access. To find out how you can take action, check out the Find the Condoms Campaign.
“The Condom Girl”
Julienne, a high school student in Staten Island, NY, was furious that her school’s sex education program wasn’t teaching medically accurate, comprehensive sex education. She brought her complaint to school administrators, but they refused to take action. So she decided to take matters into her own hands: She started carrying condoms around and giving them to her fellow students, along with a quick lesson on safer sex. (Note: Some schools may have rules against this, so it’s a good idea to investigate your school’s policy.)
“At first it kind of seems overwhelming, battling the policies you don’t have control over,” says Julienne, “but it’s amazing how fast you see results.” While Julienne wasn’t able to change her school’s sex-ed program, she was able to share vital information about safer sex with her classmates and give them easier access to condoms.
Parents Speak Out
Most parents in the United States believe that young people deserve comprehensive, medically accurate sex education. And parents can be excellent partners in sex ed advocacy.
Renee, the mother of a middle-school student in Concord, CA, first became concerned about her son’s sex education class during dinner, when he shared some startling misinformation he learned in sex ed: that abortion “tears the arms and legs off [the fetus].” After researching the sex-ed program, Renee learned that it was an abstinence-only curriculum taught by a local anti-abortion extremist group.
Renee decided to turn her outrage into action. With help from other concerned parents and students, she started a community organization called Bay Area Communities for Health Education (BACHE) to advocate for unbiased sex education. Her hard work paid off, and the abstinence-only program was ultimately eliminated from area schools.
Renee continues to fight other biased, abstinence-only programs in California, and has even initiated a new advocacy method: She created a profile on MySpace that provides sex education information and advocacy tips for young people.
You Can Be an Advocate!
“Young people deserve comprehensive sexuality education that provides unbiased, accurate information about sexuality and relationships, including vital information on lifesaving topics such as STIs [sexually transmitted infections], HIV, and pregnancy prevention,” says Rebecca Fox, the assistant director of public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS).
For information on how you can fight for your right to good sex ed, check out the following resources and toolkits. Many give you step-by-step instructions on how to get your school to improve its sex education program. For additional assistance, contact the groups below for more information.
- Planned Parenthood Federation of America: R.E.A.L. Kit