Taking #SexEdAction in New York City

The NYC Council held a press conference today in advance of a public hearing on the state of sexuality education in NYC public schools.

“If you expect us to make healthy decisions, we need sex ed.” -Sexuality Education Alliance of New York City (SEANYC)

Every Mother Counts stood with SEANYC on the steps of City Hall this morning, where a number of advocates, supporters, and Council Members gathered to address the critical need for comprehensive K-12 sexuality education for all students; education that is medically accurate, gender inclusive, age appropriate, respectful, and culturally competent.

Comprehensive sex education includes anatomy and physiology, puberty, identity and gender, pregnancy and reproduction, STDs and HIV prevention and treatment, healthy relationships, consent, and respect.

Why is Sex Ed more important than ever in New York City?

Despite the fact that comprehensive sex education is proven to effectively reduce teen pregnancy, HIV, and STI rates, New York City still does NOT have comprehensive sex education in grades K-12 as recommended by national standards.

In fact, NYC’s Department of Education says that sex ed should be taught once a semester in middle school and once in high school — but this is a bare minimum that many students don’t receive.

And, as stated by SEANYC, “whether a student receives sex education all depends on where they go to school, their principles commitment, and the school’s resources.”

In fact…

  • 1/3 of high school students in NYC have never received sex ed or are unsure if they have.
  • 32% of students who have had sex ed have only had one or two sessions in total.*

What does a lack of Sex Ed policy mean for NYC’s teens?

  • Every year, 17,000 teenagers will become pregnant in NYC alone.
  • 32% of sexually active students in NYC didn’t use a condom (and 90% didn’t use the pill) the last time they had sex.
  • While HIV is decreasing overall in NYC, rates are sharply increasing among youth of color.
  • 25% of NYC public high school students have been bullied because of their gender identity.*

We know children and teenagers are making adult decisions at a very young age — and ones that can impact the rest of their lives. If we don’t equip young people and teens with the education they need to navigate these pivotal years, these decisions will be the ones that either hinder or facilitate their chances of reaching their full potential.

As stated today by Arden, a 16 year old NYCLU teen activist:

“I’m here because as a teenage girl, sex education matters to me. My body and my relationships can be really confusing. I’ve only been around for about a decade and a half so I’m still figuring it all out. All of this means that I’m looking for guidance and accurate information. And comprehensive sex education in school is what can give me that guidance and that knowledge. And it can start with the City Council and the Department of Education.

I believe that knowledge is power. Being educated about my body and my relationships only leads to me making more empowered, educated, and informed choices. And its the same for all of my peers. My friends have had pregnancy scares…my friends have had sexual encounters where consent was not fully present, because they were never taught that their active consent was important or necessary. Trust me, those are not fun text messages to receive. I know of peers who have dropped out of high schools in NYC after getting pregnant. And would you look at that — they were dropping out of schools that had no sex education offering.

We deserve to be equipped with the knowledge to protect ourselves from these situations. Thus I urge the city council to pass measures that would show what sex education is being offered in NYC schools.

But that isn’t enough. We also need to push for comprehensive K-12 sex education. It needs to be mandatory. It needs to be comprehensive. Because only then will young people like me be able to make healthy, informed choices about our bodies, our sexuality, and our relationships.” –Arden, age 16, @NYCLU Teen Activist.

The call to action?

To ensure that the Department of Education, as well as leaders outside the City Council, prioritize quality sex ed for NYC’s students — the kind of education that empowers, builds self-esteem, and saves lives — starting at young age. This change starts by encouraging the passing of 3 reporting and tracking focused bills to help provide the accurate data needed to inform leaders on what IS and what is NOT happening in NYC’s schools.

The three bills are seen by the community as a positive first step to understanding where resources are needed and for ensuring that NYC is a leader in the fight for the vitality and livelihood of our students, everywhere.

This is not just a NYC problem. Sex ed needs to be recognized on a national level, and a global level.

What is the curriculum in your district? Chicago, Boston, Broward County in Florida, and Hawaii have already recently implemented comprehensive K-12 sex ed programs.

To learn more follow #SexEdAction on twitter.

The Sex Education Alliance of New York City (SEANYC) is a coalition comprised of students, parents, teachers, advocates, and community-based organizations that are working to improve comprehensive sexuality and health education in the New York City public schools.

*Source: Connect 2 Protect Bronx 2014 Survey

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