Require sexual education

New education policy would give all students control over their own sexual health.

Teens in Minnesota learn about sex everywhere: watching television, exploring online and from talking and interacting with each other. A small part of a new, broad education policy bill that was passed by the Senate and House last week would add a more academic – and reliable – source of information to that mix: teachers and a classroom. As more teens are expressing their sexuality, it’s imperative to shift from the conservative and out-dated trend of abstinence-only education.

The sex education measures of the bill would mandate that all schools include information on abstinence, sexually transmitted diseases and contraception for students in grades seven through 12. The bill would also allow parents to pull their children from the courses if they don’t like their children learning about the realities of sex outside the home.

Right now, Minnesota school districts make their own decisions about what they offer students with regard to sex education. Not all schools are teaching teens about how to protect themselves if they choose to have sex – it’s estimated only about five in six schools come close to a comprehensive sex ed program.

Minnesota teens are having sex with or without these programs. The Minnesota Department of Health reported this spring that the state has seen a rise of the teen pregnancy rate for the first time in 14 years, mirroring a national trend.

More teenagers in Minnesota are also saying they are sexually active – and one in seven of them never uses birth control, according to the same health study. On the national level, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced this year that one in four teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease. These alarming rises in poor sexual health point to the failure of the $1.5 billion push for abstinence-only programs by the U.S. government.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty thinks state government should keep their hands off decisions he believes should be made by individual schools, and he’s threatened to veto the bill. But keeping our teens in the dark on sexual health is the last thing they need as they confront these important mature decisions.