Surgeon General’s Sex Ed Report Released
Surgeon General David Satcher yesterday released a
"long-awaited" report promoting an open discussion about sexuality with teens and calling on parents, schools and communities to provide youths with "thorough and medically accurate sex education" to prevent unintended pregnancies and STDs, the New York Times reports (Schemo, New York Times, 6/29). The report, titled "The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Promote Sexual Health and Responsible Behavior," encourages open dialogue on sex "with respect for diversity" and "respect for what science shows is effective" and notes that "[g]iven the diversity of attitudes, beliefs, values and opinions, finding common ground might not be easy, but it is attainable." In the United States, 39% of ninth graders and 65% of twelfth graders have had sex, and one in four sexually active teens will contract at least one STD, AP/MSNBC.com reports. Forty percent of girls become pregnant at least once before the age of 20, and 60% of HIV-positive Americans became infected in their teens. Satcher said that the first step in reducing these statistics is to confront the issue of teen sexuality, noting that "[a]t every level we have problems discussing it." Parents are primarily responsible for encouraging the sexual health of their kids, but schools also "play an important role" as "great equalizers" when needed, Satcher said.
To be effective, sex education must be wide-ranging, begin early and be available throughout life, the report says. It recommends that the "benefits of abstinence" be discussed, but points to the importance of instructing teens in how to prevent pregnancy and disease. The report said that more research must be done before conclusions are reached on the efficacy of "abstinence-only" programs (AP/MSNBC.com, 6/28). Further, the report found "no scientific support" for concerns that sex education in the classroom leads to earlier sexual activity among teens. Instead, studies have shown that students who had been taught comprehensive sex education rather than abstinence-only sex education were more likely to use contraception when they did become sexually active (New York Times, 6/29). However, Satcher said that he would not take sides on the sex education debate, calling it a "political decision." He said, "We try to make very clear what's needed to improve sexual health and what's supported by the science." But unlike federal abstinence programs that urge abstinence until marriage, the report encourages abstinence until people are involved in a "committed, enduring and mutually monogamous relationship." The report also makes the following recommendations:
- Providing adequate training in sexual health for health care providers;
- Ensuring the availability of programs that aim to prevent sexual abuse;
- Encouraging stable and committed adult relationships to strengthen families;
- Increasing scientific research on sexual health throughout life;
- Developing and distributing education materials for sex ed classes that cover the "full continuum of human sexual development" for parents, teachers, clergy and others (AP/MSNBC.com, 6/28).
This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.