Sex Education in Schools Today

Sex Education in Schools Today

While the type and scope of sex education provided in schools would seem a community choice based on values and mores, sex education curriculum and policy is increasingly tied to school funding.

In 1996, President Clinton's welfare reform package included nationally instituted abstinence-only programs. The Title V abstinence education program was a central part of the original 1996 welfare reform act officially called the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). Title V distributes money to states that adhere to certain requirements such as barring teachers from discussing contraception and requiring all public school teachers to say that sex within marriage is the expected standard of sexual activity.

Additionally, the federal government has invested millions of dollars in abstinence-only curricula through such programs as the Adolescent Family Life Act (1981). Some states, such as Maine and California, have refused federal funding because accepting some forms of funding limits the type of sex education schools can offer to abstinence-only programs, and mandates that schools discourage students from engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage.

At the same time, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided large sums of funding for sex education that focuses on HIV/AIDS prevention; states and schools that accept this funding are supposed to follow CDC guidelines that lean toward comprehensive sex education.

Despite the control that the Title V abstinence program exerts on sex education in public schools across the country, the federal government does provide funds for a wide range of sex education and contraception. The federal government currently supports contraceptive programs to prevent pregnancy and STDs through eight separate funding streams: Medicaid; Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; Title X Family Planning; Indian Health Service funding; the Division of Adolescent School Health of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the Social Services Block Grant; the Community Coalition Partnership Program for the Prevention of Teen Pregnancy; and the Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant.

The overall picture of sex education policy in the United States is extremely complex because specific curricula differ widely from state to state, district to district, and even school to school. Contemporary debates over the issue often focus more on specific points of controversy within sex education curricula, such as what to teach students about issues like sexual orientation and abortion.

The United States differs from Europe in its approach to sex education. In countries such as the United Kingdom and France, sex education is a compulsory part of school curricula (although parents in the U.K. have the right to withdraw their children from these classes). The Netherlands offers its students a particularly open and informative curriculum on sexuality and contraception, and has one of the lowest rates of teenage pregnancy in the world.

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