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Mandatory Sex Education for Grade Schoolers: How Young Is Too Young?

A new mandate will require public middle and high schools in New York City to teach sex education to their students. Will this encourage students to make smart decisions when it comes to having sex or will it instead only encourage them to try it sooner?

By Jessica Lyons

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Sex Ed Now Required

On August 9, 2011, The New York Times reported that, starting with the 2011/2012 school year, sex education classes will be taught to New York City's public middle and high school students. Students will first take a class when they are in sixth or seventh grade and will then take a second course when they are in ninth or tenth grade.

Some of the topics the classes, which will be co-ed, will address are condom use, at what age it's appropriate to be sexually active, puberty and what can happen when protection isn't used during sex. Whether or not a student takes the lessons on birth control will be up to their parents, according to The New York Times.

Too Young to Learn About Sex?

Some of the students in New York City's sex education classes could be only 11 years old. While that might seem too young to some, AVERT, an international charity focused on stopping the spread of HIV and AIDS, says that it's important that children start learning about sex before they go through puberty and 'before they have developed established patterns of behavior.' If students don't start to learn about sex until after they've started having it, it could be too late for the knowledge to make a positive difference.

Americans in Favor of Sex Education in Schools

According to a poll released by NPR in February of 2004, many Americans are comfortable with students being taught about sex as part of their school curriculums. The poll conducted a nationwide telephone survey with 1,759 individuals. Of these, 69% felt it was very important that sex ed be taught in schools, while only seven percent felt that it definitely should not be taught in schools. Additionally, 66% felt it should be a required course and 32% felt it should be optional.

The survey also looked at what respondents felt was appropriate to include in a sex education course. According to the results, 96% thought it was okay to address pregnancy, 98% felt it was appropriate to address HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases and 94% thought the course should cover how to get tested for such diseases. Also, 94% said it was appropriate to talk to the students about birth control and pregnancy prevention while 87% thought it was appropriate to include information on using and getting contraceptives.

Of the survey respondents, 39% felt that kids could be more likely to have sex sooner if they are taught about using condoms and contraceptives and 55% said it wouldn't influence the students to have sex earlier. These classes could increase the likelihood that students will practice safe sex, according to 77% of survey respondents.

A Tricky Subject for Schools

Teaching sex education can prove to be challenging for schools that need to find a balance between informing students while not sounding like they're recommending students engage in sexual activity. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2006 87% of U.S. high schools taught their students about abstinence while only 39% taught about using condoms. Even if the subject can be uncomfortable for adults to talk to kids about, students need to be presented with all the options and well-rounded information so, when the time comes, they'll be able to make the most informed decisions possible.

Another recent development in education in New York City has been the elimination of a bonus program for teachers.

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