The White House’s updated strategy to address HIV/AIDS includes a goal of reducing the number of new diagnoses by at least 25 percent by 2020 in part through effective education programs in schools and communities.
One in five new HIV diagnoses in 2013 were among 13- to 24-year-olds, and rates of infection continue to increase among young gay and bisexual men, says a report on the strategy released this week.
The report, which drew praise from advocates for comprehensive sex education, calls for accessible information and education resources about transmission and prevention for people of all sexual orientations and ages, including school-aged youth.
“Young people, no matter their circumstance, need spaces to access accurate information for their own health,” the report says. “In addition, schools play a fundamental role in providing current and accurate information about the biological and scientific aspects of health education. It is vital to create learning environments that are safe, inclusive, and destigmatizing, while providing access to a baseline of health information grounded in the benefits of abstinence and delaying or limiting sexual activity, and ensuring that young people who are sexually active have the information and tools they need to prevent infections.”
It is “without question” the role of parents “to instill values and to provide the moral and ethical foundation for their children,” the report says, but officials must acknowledge a broad range of family structures, including single-parent and foster families, to ensure that all children have access to the information they need.
The report stops short of making prescriptive recommendations for school-based sex education programs, which are largely guided by state and district-level policies.
Sex Education Programs Fall Short, Advocates Say
Advocates for comprehensive sex education have said the information many students receive about contraception and sex in schools falls short of what’s needed to ensure they remain healthy into adulthood. Here are some Rules for Engagement posts outlining their concerns:
- In some states, including Alabama, state sex education policies require educators to teach exclusively about heterosexual sex or to advise against even consensual gay sex. Many of those policies are grounded in now-invalidated state laws prohibiting anal sex.
- A recent survey found that while sex education in public schools is widely supported among young adults, about 4 in 10 said this instruction wasn’t useful when they made decisions about sex or relationships.
- Many teachers of sex education courses weren’t required to take courses on human sexuality in college, leaving them ill-equipped to address some student concerns or ill-informed about sex-related issues, advocates say.
- Some state sex education laws and policies prohibit the demonstration of contraceptives and condoms.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.