Honest, Age-appropriate Sexual Health Education For Responsible Decision Making
The Real Education for Healthy Youth Act (S. 1782/H.R. 3324), introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA), would ensure that federal funding is allocated to comprehensive sexual health education programs that provide young people with the skills and information they need to make informed, responsible, and healthy decisions. This legislation sets forth a vision for comprehensive sexual health education programs in the United States.
What would the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act do?
The Real Education for Healthy Youth Act outlines criteria for content in federally-funded sex education programs. The bill outlines a holistic approach to sexual health and provides funding for comprehensive sexual health education programs which:
- Recognize young people’s right to sexual health information;
- Define comprehensive sexual health education programs as those which include information on-
- anatomy and physiology
- growth and development
- healthy relationships
- prevention of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, through abstinence and contraception
- gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation
- protection from dating violence, sexual assault, bullying, and harassment;
- Are evidence-based, or include characteristics of effective programs that have proven effective in changing the sexual behavior of young people;
- Provide medically accurate and age-appropriate information; and
- Are inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth.
Who is provided funding under the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act?
Federal funding would be provided to institutions teaching comprehensive sexual health education to adolescents and college students, including departments of education; non-profit organizations; state, local and tribal organizations; departments of health; and institutions of higher education. Priority in funding is given to communities with high rates of health disparities in unintended pregnancy, STIs, and dating violence and sexual assault, as well as institutions of higher education that serve a large number of students of color and Pell grant recipients. In addition to grants for educating young people, funding is directed to pre-service and in-service teacher training for K-12 sex educators to increase effective teaching of comprehensive sexual health education.
Why is the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act Necessary?
Sixty-three percent of young people will have sex before they graduate high school ; and 95 percent will have sex before they are married.  For young people to make healthy decisions about sex, we need to provide them the skills and information they need.
Young people are disproportionately impacted by STIs, including HIV, and unintended pregnancy.
- Approximately 40 percent of sexually active students reported not using condoms at last intercourse. 
- It is estimated that close to 750,000 teens become pregnant each year. 
- The United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate (72 pregnancies per 1000 young women ages 15-19) of developed nations, with a teen pregnancy rate over four times that of the Netherlands (14), over three times that of Germany (19), and almost three times that of France (26). 
- Approximately 400,000 teens every year give birth in the U.S. Of those who gave birth, 50 percent were not using birth control and 31 percent of these believed they could not get pregnant. 
- The CDC reports that young people ages 15-24 account for almost half of the 19 million new STIs every year. 
- Young people ages 13-29 account for 39 percent of new HIV infections. 
- Youth of color are disproportionately affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Young African Americans accounted for 65 percent of HIV diagnoses among those 13-24.  African American/Black young men who have sex with men (YMSM) accounted for nearly 63 percent of all YMSM ages 13–24 with HIV infection in 2009, followed by white YMSM (18 percent) and Hispanic/Latino YMSM (16 percent). 
Comprehensive sexual health education helps reduce the rates of STIs and unintended pregnancy among young people by providing complete and accurate information to help young people make responsible, informed decisions about sex and healthy relationships. Research has shown effective sex education programs have positive outcomes among young people such as delaying the initiation of sex, decreasing the number of sexual partners, and increasing the use of contraception and condoms.  Yet, the government still allocates millions of dollars to abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.  In fact, research has shown that young people in abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that promote “virginity pledges” still engage in sexual activity before marriage and are less likely to protect themselves when they do have sex. 
Surveys on research of youth around our nation have also reported high rates of bullying, harassment and dating violence.
- Eight out of ten LGBT students reported being harassed in the last year, three-fifths reported feeling unsafe, and one-third skipped at least one day of school in the past month because of concerns about their safety. 
- Surveys show that 8 percent of high school students have been forced to have intercourse and 9 percent have experienced dating violence. 
Comprehensive sex education can help combat the rise in dating violence and bullying among youth. Studies have led researchers to recommend that information on healthy relationships be integrated into sex education programs.  One study reported that students were 60 percent less likely to perpetrate forms of dating violence against a partner after being taught a safe dating curriculum.  Research has also demonstrated that students positively benefit from an LGBT inclusive curriculum. Furthermore, students who attend LGBT inclusive schools are less likely to feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation (42 percent vs. 64 percent) or gender expression (28 percent vs. 41 percent) and about half as likely to miss school because of feeling unsafe or uncomfortable (17 percent vs. 31 percent). 
Public Opinion on Comprehensive Sexual Health Education
Public opinion polls have consistently demonstrated that the majority of Americans support the teaching of comprehensive sex education to our nation’s young people. Over 80 percent of Americans favor courses that teach contraception and disease prevention in addition to abstinence, and close to 70 percent oppose federal funding for programs that do not teach about condoms and contraception.  Furthermore, studies show that 90 percent of the engaged public supports age-appropriate and medically accurate sex education for all students beginning in early grades and up into high schools and close to 70 percent oppose federal funding for programs that do not teach about condoms and contraception. 
Support exists across party lines for comprehensive sex education. According to a recent poll, 75 percent of Republicans, 79 percent of Independents, and 85 percent of Democrats support it. Of those who identify with the Tea Party, 54 percent favor the teaching of comprehensive sex education. There is also strong support across religious groups with 78 percent of Catholics, 74 percent of black Protestants, and 62 percent of white evangelicals in favor of teaching comprehensive sex education in public schools. 
Co-Sponsor the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act
Young people have the right to lead healthy lives. Providing them with honest, age appropriate comprehensive sexual health education is an integral part of helping them take personal responsibility for their health and well-being.
For more information, please contact Sarah Audelo at
or 202-419-3420 x14.
Advocates for Youth © September 2012
Written by Jendayi Phillip
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