All Indiana students should receive quality education on sexual health that enables them to make informed, safe decisions about any sexual activity they might engage in.
Sexual education is a requirement in 24 states, but not Indiana. The state does not track the number of schools that actually teach sexual education, and state law requires any school that does provide this information to emphasize abstinence over other forms of contraception.
These facts establish an already problematic foundation upon which further mistakes could be made.
A bill that passed the state senate Jan. 30 will require any Indiana school with a curriculum addressing human sexuality to obtain approval from parents or guardians of children under age 18 in order for those students to participate. Concepts including “sexual activity, sexual orientation and gender identity,” are all included under the category of human sexuality.
Senate Bill 65 passed 37-12 Jan. 30 and has now been referred to the House Education Committee following a preliminary House reading on Feb. 6. The bill’s most significant failure, and the point on which representatives should concentrate their attention, is its implication that sexual behavior or attitudes belong in the same category as political beliefs or affiliations, religious beliefs or practices, and other areas in which schools should not interfere.
Unlike politics or religion, which are unlikely to affect students’ health, sexual activity is an area where accurate and comprehensive education protects students from sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies.
Research from the National Center for Biotechnology Information shows a positive correlation between states with abstinence-only education and teenage pregnancy. While correlation does not guarantee causation, we can still assume focusing solely on abstinence does not do students any favors.
Indiana does mandate education about HIV, but the quality of this education is questionable. Our state received a failing grade in a 2016 evaluation from the Population Institute, a nonprofit promoting access to family planning resources, which reports that condoms are not a required part of Indiana’s curriculum despite their proven ability to reduce the risk of HIV.
Supporters of the bill and of abstinence-only education might worry comprehensive programs will encourage students to initiate or increase sexual activity and this will subsequently increase teenage pregnancy.
Research from the Journal of Adolescent Health suggests, however, students who received comprehensive sex education were less likely to become pregnant and no more likely to have sex.
Whether or not Indiana lawmakers consult scientific literature when writing health-related policy – and, of course, they should – the reality is 41.7 percent of Indiana high school students have had sex at least once, according to a 2015 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sex is a sensitive subject, and parents may have concerns about the manner in which information about sexual health and behavior is presented to their children.
The truth about comprehensive sex education, though, is that it does not encourage students to have sex. It simply provides them with information that is vital to their health.
If we can agree that our students’ health is a priority, then we need to be willing to prove that with our education policy.
Students are having sex, and we need to prepare them to do so safely.