Rare Find: Republicans And Democrats Both For Change In Sex Ed Policies

Valerie Huber President/CEO, Ascend
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It’s a rarity these days. Agreement across party lines, that is.

But new research, from the Americans Speak Out II Survey, finds that when it comes to sex education, Americans, both Republicans and Democrats, agree that major changes need to take place in federal sex education policy. And they agree about what the changes should look like.

Most Americans concur that the focus of sex education should be to help youth successfully navigate adolescence by providing the practical skills they need to wait for sex. The risks associated with teen sex are not just to their physical health: it is now clear that their emotional health, their careers, and their future relationships are also at stake.

For 8 years, youth have received the green light for sex under a purportedly “evidence-based” scheme paid for with tax dollars. Now, however, we know from government data that more than 80% of the students in these programs fared either worse or no better than their peers. Those who fared worse were more likely to get pregnant, more likely to begin having sex, more likely to have oral sex, and more likely to have multiple partners.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise. When teens are given the green light for risky behavior, risk results.

Currently, the majority of federally funded programs tell teens that sex is okay so long as consent is obtained and contraception is used.  But most Americans say consent, even with the use of contraception does not make teen sexual activity wise or risk-free.

In fact, Americans of all stripes go even farther and specifically say that teens should learn that the use of contraception does not make sex “safe.” Many people are surprised to learn that birth control pills, the Patch, IUD’s and other long-acting-reversible-contraception (LARC) offer no protection against STDs. Zero protection. And of course, they offer no protection against possible emotional consequences of sex.  It is no surprise, then, that Americans say they want youth to know that risk remains, even with the use of contraception.

It is not by mistake that the CDC designates “teen sex” as a risk behavior for teens. And just because a teen dodges a pregnancy doesn’t mean it is not a risk behavior.  Just like smoking and underage drinking, research shows that teen sexual activity is associated with a lot of other factors that can compromise the bright future every teen deserves. And waiting for sex has the opposite effect – increasing the chances of finishing school, pursing goals and dreams while building healthy relationships that can eventually turn into healthy marriages. The skills needed for self-regulation can also help to develop the qualities that make a person a positive asset to his or her community. It’s no wonder that most Americans want teens to be encouraged to avoid sex, not just pregnancy.

For the past 8 years, at least 90 cents out of every dollar spent on sex education went to an approach that normalizes teen sex. Most Americans think federal policy should offer communities more of a choice in sex education. They say at least half of sex education funds should go to Sexual Risk Avoidance (SRA) education, an approach that gives youth the skills to wait for sex.

This new research voices a consistent concern for the health of America’s youth. Support for the SRA approach is evident in the survey results. And the support transcends racial or political party lines.

We hope policymakers listen.  They have a unique opportunity to change sex education policy so it returns a focus on health and leaves ideology and political gamesmanship behind. It is time to finally move beyond the archaic and toxic “sexual liberation” ideology in sex education classes across the nation. It increased sexual risk in the ‘60s and it is doing the same in 2017.

The good news is that the 115th Congress can end this harmful experiment, peel back the façade of “evidence-based” and make sure that the focus in federal sex education policies is on health. Physical health. Emotional health. Optimal, risk-free health for youth. So they are afforded every opportunity to thrive. SRA education offers that opportunity.

When it comes to giving youth the tools to succeed, both now and in the future – Americans agree. Youth deserve the information and skills that best prepare them for a healthy adolescence, avoiding all sexual risks so that they are in the best place to pursue their dreams and to truly thrive.