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February 1, 2015

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Why sex education in Nevada needs to be updated

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Over the past decade as president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southern Nevada, I have heard countless stories from parents who struggle having “the talk” with their teens. Through the work of PPSN’s Responsible Sex Education Institute, I also hear stories from teachers and principals about wanting more support to equip students with appropriate information about sexual health. And from the many teens our educators speak to on a weekly and daily basis, we know that teens are curious — they want real answers and real information about sexual health and what’s going on with their bodies.

Sex education is required in Nevada schools, but the curriculum is outdated and failing to meet the needs of our state’s youths.

Sadly, that’s reflected in our state’s statistics on teen pregnancy and STDs. Nevada has the fourth-highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation. There were over 7,000 teen pregnancies in Nevada in 2008. Just this week, a study showed that Nevada ranks among the top eight states for rapid repeat teen pregnancy. It also ranks 16th-highest for new HIV infections ages 13-29. We can do better.

Thankfully, members of the Legislature, led by Assemblyman David Bobzien, are taking proactive steps to strengthen our state law through the introduction of AB230. Supported by PPSN and Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates (NAPPA), the proposed legislation would require that all school districts offer a comprehensive, age-appropriate and medically accurate sexual health curriculum.

AB230 will specifically define core components that must be included in sexual health curricula. For example, the term “comprehensive” will be fully defined as “age-appropriate” and “culturally sensitive.” The latter will ensure that sexual health information that denigrates gay and transgender youths, as well as religious youths, will not be permitted. AB230 maintains local control for school districts and counties to make decisions about the curriculum and all materials that are used in the classroom. Parents maintain the ability to opt their student out of sex education (with no penalty) if they teach sex ed at home. Parental involvement is a key component of this bill and is an essential part of any good comprehensive sexual education program.

This bill will not cost our state money to implement because the school districts are required to update their curricula on this topic regularly. AB230 will actually save Nevada money. In 2008 alone, births from teen parents cost the state $84 million. Being a teen parent is a primary reason adolescent women drop out of school — we must not overlook or underestimate the link between educational success and teen pregnancy.

It is imperative that we pass AB230; and we know comprehensive sex education works. Sexuality education that is evidence-based, medically accurate, age-appropriate and comprehensive has been proven to reduce the rate of teenage pregnancies, increase use of contraception, delay the start of sexual interactions and help decrease the number of STDs. By not providing students with the proper, comprehensive sexuality education they need, we, as adults and educators, are failing them. While it is expected of our students to succeed in reading, writing and math in order to graduate, medically accurate, potentially life-saving information about sexual health education remains optional for schools and is often removed from curricula.

Parents also overwhelmingly support school-based sex education programs and believe that school-based programs should cover a range of topics, including birth control. According to a survey by Planned Parenthood, Family Circle Magazine, the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health, 93 percent of parents believe birth control should be covered in high school sex-ed programs, and 78 percent believe this information should be provided in middle school. Over 95 percent of parents said STDs should be covered in both middle and high school programs.

I look forward to working with our coalition partners in the next few weeks as the bill moves forward. I am optimistic that everyone can put aside any political differences and look at this issue from a public health standpoint. I think we can all agree that reducing teen pregnancy and STD rates should and can be a common goal.

Vicki Cowart is the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southern Nevada.

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  1. I wholehearted support sex education for middle and high school students. We live in a world where children are growing up FAST and there is little a parent can do once their child hits their teens, but hope, pray, and be vigilent about their child's interactions with their peers.

    Nearly two decades ago, I was teaching sex education in California as a part of my teaching assignments with the county pregnant minor programs and correctional education programs, until the county office hired someone to solely do that around the entire county. Being proactive is far better than the other possibilities, to say the least.

    When I moved to rural Northern Nevada over a decade ago, and sat through a yearly held sex education class, I was horrified over what was omitted in the instruction. So yes, Nevada needs to update with the changing times on a regular basis, staying with current and latest information, and continue to allow those who wish their child exempted, have that right as a parent.

    But for the many, this is life changing information that can save each individual a lifetime of grief, in both preventing unplanned pregnancy and preventing sexually transmitted diseases.

    There are few things that are of more importance, and we certainly owe it to our young people to prepare them for real life!

    Blessings and Peace,

  2. I support upgrading and continuing sex education is schools. But the author is wrong if she believes that the lack of "Sex Ed" is the primary reason for increased teen pregnancies in Nevada or any other state for that matter. It's the break down of the family unit in our society and an emphasis on secularism versus spiritualism in our family households.

    Carmine D

  3. I agree that a lack of education is a major factor, just as it is for many of the things that are wrong in the world (think middle-east). However to blame anything on a lack of religious belief shows a personal, unrealistic agenda. Religion teaches "don't do this because god says so, no questions" which, of course, leads to pregnancy, guilt and psychological trauma. Secularism teaches "this is natural and okay, but be safe because you don't want to ruin your life in these specific ways..." If religion could embrace the reality that kids are going to have sex, like it or not, and so decide to accept and educate on the matter, then it would be better for everyone.

  4. When a parent defers a parental responsibility...a very important a third party...a lot of things can go wrong. Parents need to be at the forefront of sex education with their kids -- whether they like it or not. It's part of being a parent. Since the government is going to force sex education on their kids at school, parents must stay involved with the schools.

  5. Better stop that birth control . Got to make sure that there are plenty of unwed mothers to collect welfare and plenty of aids infected children to spread it around

  6. The teens in this town know plenty about sex, just go to a high school football game and see all the teen moms. Educating them will not even compete with all the teen mom shows and MTV glorifying it. When you make a TV show about 15 16 or 17 and pregnant and make it look like it's the thing to do you have trouble. In order to get these teens to listen you'll have to bring in the MTV stars to do the speaking, if they're capable of doing that.

  7. For Commenter Kenny Rogers: Giving birth to a child hardly makes one an expert to relie upon for accurate information on how to prevent pregnancy. Would you absolutely relie on the accuracy of YouTube content on the internet? The same is true about "reality" fad television shows. With so much illiteracy, such individuals are not too likely to pick up a "self help" book either.

    Parents DO have the right to not have their child attend/participate in public school sex education courses. With everything a child does, their parent should always be in the equation on decision making and what goes on in their life, until they reach adulthood. Power to the Parents!

    Blessings and Peace,