New York City to Mandate Sex Education in Public Schools

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The Return of Sex Education: An Evidence-Based Approach

Schools will have the choice of when and how to incorporate sex education into their current health curriculum. Walcott strongly recommended, however, that it take place in sixth or seventh grade, in middle school, and in the ninth or tenth grade, in high school. He also recommended two commercially available programs -- HealthSmart and Reducing the Risk.

"The programs that are effective, and involve some lecturing by teachers and a variety of interactive activities, like small group or class discussions and role playing to help young people practice saying no to unwanted sex," said Doug Kirby, senior research scientist at ETR Associates, a nonprofit organization that develops health education programs that include HealthSmart and Reducing the Risk.

Kirby said the curriculums are age-appropriate, meaning the focus for younger students is on abstinence, shifting more toward condom and contraception use for high school students. And contrary to the notion that sex education will rush kids into having sex, Kirby said four separate studies found that Reduce the Risk delayed the initiation of sex.

"We have very strong evidence that many sex education programs can actually have a positive impact on sexual behavior, and they do not do any harm -- they do not increase sexual activity," he said. "They can reduce risky behavior. And if we can do that, we will end up reducing unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases."

Walcott emphasized that parents will have the opportunity to hold kids back from specific lessons on birth control for religious or cultural reasons.

"I have always believed that parents should have the right to opt out of certain sex education lessons such as conversations on prevention and birth control, as they will in this case," he wrote. "But I also feel we have a responsibility to offer our students access to information that will keep them safe and healthy."

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