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Guest Opinion: Support efforts for comprehensive sex education in schools

Minnesota does not have a standard or statewide curriculum for sexual health education and fewer students in the U.S. receive comprehensive sex education today than at any time in the past 20 years.

Comprehensive sex education is more than reproductive information, prevention of sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, and unintended pregnancy but includes learning about the cognitive, emotional, physical and social aspects of sexuality. Medical and education experts agree that effective comprehensive sex education aims to equip children and young people with knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that will empower them to realize their health and well-being; develop respectful social and sexual relationships; consider how their choices affect their own well-being and that of others; and understand and ensure the protection of their rights throughout their lives.

Lack of comprehensive sex education is linked to higher rates of adolescent (13-20 year olds) pregnancy and climbing rates of STIs that disproportionately affect youth and young adults (15-24 year olds. In fact, statistics in Crow Wing County are concerning:

● The teen birth rate for 18-19 year olds in Crow Wing County is more than twice the Minnesota state average: 51/1000 females compared to 23/1000 females (MN Dept of Health,2017) ● This pregnancy rate for 18-19 year olds ranks 11th of 87 counties (Minnesota Department of Health, 2017)

● Gonorrhea and Chlamydia rates are rising across Minnesota—over 30% of cases are in rural Minnesota.

Comprehensive sex education not only helps young people make informed decisions, prevents unwanted pregnancy, and reduces risks for STIs but a new study at Columbia University found that it may have protective effects for lowering risks of sexual assault. Researchers found that students who had comprehensive sex education that included specific refusal skills training in middle and high school, had a lower risk of sexual assault in later years.

A lack of inclusive sex education is especially difficult for LGBTQ youth, leaving them with feelings of isolation and shame. Inclusive programs are those that help all youth understand gender identity and sexual orientation, incorporate positive examples of LGBTQ individuals, romantic relationships and families, emphasize the need for protection during sex for people of all identities, and dispel common myths and stereotypes about behavior and identity.

Some may argue that lessons in sexuality and relationships are best provided by parents. However many parents or guardians feel uncomfortable or ill-equipped in talking with their children about sexuality. Failure or refusal to provide children with medically accurate information about their own sexual development doesn't stop sex, and it certainly doesn't keep kids safe. In Minnesota, 14% of youth report violence in their dating relationships, and over 4% report sexual abuse. Kids who lack information and ownership over their bodies are more likely to be taken advantage of. The abuser counts on a culture of silence and the sense of shame.

There is currently legislation that aims to support sexuality education for all youth. HF 1414/SF 2065, introduced by Rep. Todd Lippert, DFL-Northfield, and Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, would require Minnesota schools to teach medically-accurate and age-appropriate comprehensive sex education.

Now is the time to stand up for our young people, stand up for our community, contact your politicians and support HF1414/SF 2065.

Twamley is executive director of Advocates for Reproductive Education (WeARE)

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