Sex Ed – then and now, and what parents should know

We all assume our kids are learning about sex in school but most of us don’t have a great idea of what the curriculum is or how the information is presented.  It’s a pretty big topic and how sex is presented and talked about can have a lot of long-term ramifications for how our kids feel about their bodies.  So today…let’s talk about it!

First…a little history. 

Sex Ed wasn’t formalized in schools until the 1960s.  Early focus of sex ed topics included anatomy, hygiene, and prevention of sex outside of marriage.  In the 1980s there began to be a divide between comprehensive sex education and “abstinence only education”.  MANY studies have come out showing us that comprehensive sex ed is what really works to influence our kids to delay first sexual activity, and use protection when they do.  Goals that most of us likely have for our kids.  Since this time we’ve seen much more of a trend toward comprehensive education that includes information on birth control and prevention of STIs.  In the 1990s National guidelines were first developed to help standardize the curriculum across school districts.   This was a huge step to ensure kids in California were learning similar things to kids in Connecticut.  These guidelines are revised and updated every few years with the last update in 2020.  Unfortunately, not all districts follow these standards.  To date, they have been adopted by 41% of districts nationwide.  If you are interested to see if your state follows these guidelines – or what your specific state requirements for sex ed are – check out the Guttmacher Institute.  They are a great non-profit that does research on public policy as it relates to sexual health. 

So when does this education start you may be interested to know? 

In most districts education on sexual health starts in elementary school.  Not to say they are discussing sex with your 8 year old, but they often will start discussions on healthy relationships and consent, body positivity, safety, etc.

What other topics are covered??

The standard curriculum that goes from elementary school through high school includes:

  • Prevention and treatment of HIV and STIs
  • Value of delaying sexual activity
  • Info about pregnancy, birth control, prenatal care, and the newborn safe surrender law
  • Sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual abuse, and human trafficking

Other goals of the curriculum are for the information to be:

  • Medically accurate and age appropriate
  • Appropriate for use with pupils of all races, genders, sexual orientations, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, English-language learners, and pupils with disabilities
  • Affirming of different sexual orientations

How much time is spent on this?

As you can imagine, especially in public school settings, there is pretty limited time devoted to all these topics. And not to blame educators for this – there are so many guidelines they are trying to follow and required curriculum in other topics that sex ed often gets the short end of the stick.  In addition, while standardized curriculum for sex ed can be great, it also adds a lot of material that is expected to be covered which forces instructors to breeze over some important topics in order to get to everything.  On average 1.9 hours is spent on sex ed in all of elementary school, 5.4 hours in middle school, and 6.2 hours in high school.

So what is the take home here??

Sex Ed has come a long way and is teaching our kids about some really important topics.  The standardization of the curriculum across many districts has created a much more robust program.  But there just isn’t enough time to adequately cover all the topics our kids need to know – or to do it in a way they’ll really learn.  So we should expect our kids to go elsewhere for this information – their friends, family, social media and the internet.  Helping guide our kids and not being afraid to have these tough conversations can make a difference.  For tips on how to start these conversations, check out this recent post!  Or better yet, if you have a daughter, enroll her in one of our sex ed courses!  Either way, remembering that you have more influence than you may even think you do in this area. 

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