Column: Sex education needs less fear, more information to be effective

December 27, 2019 5:09 am

Getty Images

I have only vague memories of my high school sex ed class. I remember sandwiched between a chapter on healthy eating and daily physical activity, a few pages of text and troubling photos highlighting the risks of untreated sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

That’s about it. Abstain or be afraid of what could happen.

Absent from my sex ed experience were topics such as: protective health behaviors, affirmative consent and how to form positive, communicative relationships. And because Michigan does not require school districts to offer comprehensive sexual health education, this may be true for many teens in our state.

This is unfortunate because there is substantial research to support that comprehensive, developmentally-appropriate sexual health education is the best strategy to reduce the likelihood of unintended pregnancy, HIV, and STIs among adolescents.

And notably, those who are younger than 25 make up half of all newly reported STIs. With more than 2.4 million STIs (i.e., combined cases of gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis) diagnosed in the U.S. in 2018 — a record high, it remains incredibly valuable to increase youth access to the kinds of sex education that cultivate informed youth, better able to identify healthy relationships and responsible sexual activity now and in the future.

At the Michigan League for Public Policy, we work to advance state laws, policies and initiatives proven to help Michiganders achieve the economic, educational and health outcomes they desire for their own lives. So we are very excited to announce a new project and partnership with the Michigan Organization for Adolescent Sexual Health (MOASH) that  fits perfectly with our mission.

Over the next year, MOASH and the League will research, write and engage with stakeholders (youth and lawmakers alike!) to promote greater understanding of the benefits of modernizing and expanding youth access to comprehensive sexual health education.

We hope sex education will move beyond fear and basic anatomy to something more affirming, inclusive and responsive to the complexities of sexual development. We look forward to learning more about the ways in which more young people in Michigan can gain the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to care for their health and the health of others.

If you or someone you know are seeking STI prevention or treatment resources, here are three local health departments offering such services at no to low cost:

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Amber Bellazaire
Amber Bellazaire

Amber Bellazaire joined the Michigan League for Public Policy as a policy analyst in June of 2019. Her work primarily focuses on state policy and budgets affecting Michigan’s Medicaid programs. Previously, Amber worked at the National Conference of State Legislatures tracking legislation and research related to injury and violence prevention, adolescent health, and maternal and child health.