An animated condom holding a pile of books and giving a thumbs-up.

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Okay, everyone. We need to talk about sex.

Specifically, we need to talk about sex education in America’s public schools, because right now it’s terrible. The school system is failing our youngest people by not giving them the information and the education about sex they need. Even though close to half of all high school students around the country are sexually active, less than half of schools cover topics recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Almost every school preaches the power of abstinence, and it’s hurting our students.

Many places, like Ontario, struggle to decide when the right time to begin teaching sexual education is. Many people, including some religious groups, don’t want sex ed to be too detailed or even to cover anything but abstinence. But it’s unfair to deny children the education they need to protect their own health and the health of others. Abstinence-only education often provides inaccurate or incomplete information to students, and rates of teen pregnancy and STI infections rocket in places where no actually useful sex ed is taught.

Some places are advocating for sex ed to begin as early as age 10, arguing that middle school is too late to begin the process. By the time students reach middle school age, they’re already beginning to experiment with sex—and it makes more sense to equip them for that inevitability earlier than it does to try and catch up with incorrect information.

New maps from the CDC show that most states teach the benefits of remaining abstinent in 75-100% of schools, and in as few as 8 percent of schools middle schoolers were taught how to obtain condoms—and only 30 perfect of high schoolers were given that information.

“We need to do a better job of giving our young people the skills and knowledge they need to protect their own health,” says Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS/ Viral Hepatitis, STD, and Tuberculosis prevention. “It’s important to teach students about healthy relationships and how to reduce sexual risk before they start to have sex.”

Abstinence-only education doesn’t work. We know it doesn’t work. We need to start teaching our children better, to provide a healthier, safer future for all of us.

About 

Mary Summers is a recent college grad and freelance writer residing in the Pacific Northwest. She loves writing about trending topics, health and beauty advice, music, film, and television.