The recent debates about the sex-ed mandate in the public schools have been a fascinating bit of historical whiplash for me.
I have been an advocate on HIV/AIDS issues since the late 1980s and one of many who fought to ensure an HIV/AIDS curriculum in the public schools in the early ’90s. I was younger then, energetic and outraged over the seemingly constant illness and deaths of loved ones around me. Accurate information was hard to come by, and the politics of stigma, shame and fear surrounding HIV/AIDS informed almost every public policy discussion about it.
Now in 2011, I am the mother of two boys, age 10 and 15, who are in the city school system, so it was only natural for me to try to get more information on “Reducing the Risk” the new, research-based sex risk reduction curriculum. I was pleased to find that it has been shown to help delay the initiation of sexual intercourse, increase the use of contraception among teens who do initiate sexual intercourse, and increase parent-child communication about abstinence and contraception.
As an advocate, I have long fought for programs that strengthened the ability of school-aged young people to have medically accurate, age-appropriate information to make informed choices about their sexual behavior — which necessarily includes abstinence. And I have always believed strongly in the need to have parents be integrally involved in what is happening in their children’s school. But at the end of the day, the politics of the debate over what to teach our children about sex is irrelevant: As much as we would like for them to always come to us with questions and problems, that doesn’t always happen. In real life, we’re simply not with them all the time, so we have to raise them to be decision-makers. Here is what is true that both sides can agree upon: It is critically important that the young people of this city receive accurate health information that allows them to make informed choices about their lives and health. This new program — which includes abstinence — is a step in that direction. Blocking it is a step backward.
Tracie Gardner is the director of New York State Policy at the Legal Action Center and a member of the Young Women of Color HIV/AIDS Coalition.