Opinion: Universal sex education is crucial to the health of students

With Arizona having one of the strictest sex education policies, serious concerns arise when students don't receive all-inclusive sex ed

Earlier this year, Gov. Doug Ducey signed into legislation a bill that prohibited sex education instruction to students before 5th grade, significantly increased parental notification and approval.

While comprehensive sex education in public schools is not mandated throughout the state, House Bill 2035 allows schools to "adopt an existing sex education course of study." However, it greatly limits what can actually be taught. According to the governor's office, "The legislation provides parents with an opportunity to participate in, review, and provide input on any proposed sex education course of study before it is adopted."

I understand the need for transparency in sex education classes, but not having a universal curriculum in public schools could lead to a disparity in the accuracy of information students are given because they are at the mercy of what their parents choose to teach them, not what certified professionals are required to teach.

This, in turn, could end up impacting future ASU students. The University has a reputation of being a party school and with that comes several sexual health concerns — concerns that are amplified by the bill.

Arizona ranks sixth in rates for syphilis overall, and comes in second for congenital syphilis, according to USA Today.

It boggles me that some parents will withdraw their children from receiving all-inclusive sex education in schools, but then send them to one of the biggest universities without proper knowledge on how to navigate relationships and sexual health. 

Even with opt-in classes, the parents still have the opportunity to review the material before it is taught. Arizona is one of five states that require parental consent before any sex education instruction can be given to students. HB 2035 states that, outside of formal sex education courses, "a governing board must adopt procedures to notify parents in advance and provide them the opportunity to withdraw their children from any instruction or presentations regarding sexuality."

As a result, the bill could restrict students from learning about important events in history if they have "sexual components," such as the 1969 Stonewall riots or even Obergefell v. Hodges, the historic Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, the AP reported.

STDs rates have been on the rise in Maricopa County in recent years. This is especially alarming for ASU because "most sexually active college students have never been tested," according to George Mason University.

While ASU provides walk-in testing for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV and syphilis, not much is done to educate students on preventing the transmission of these infections. Coming into the University without having basic information on STIs and how to treat them will only lead to more cases.

To ensure the safety of its community, ASU and its students need to be better at advocating for universal sex education to ensure accurate information is given and uncertainties surrounding sexual health are dispelled.

"No matter their background, every human has the right to understand how bodies work and how to keep themselves safe. Whether that's from an abusive relationship, an unhealthy relationship, an unplanned pregnancy, or STDs," said Cassalyn David, a community-clinic linkages manager at the Mariposa Community Health Center. 

David manages PREP, the Personal Responsibility Education Program, which is federally funded and provided evidence-based reproductive health education to counties and nonprofit organizations with students ages 11 to 19.

The curricula taught in PREP has to be approved by the Arizona Department of Health Services, be age-appropriate and stress abstinence, David said. They also have to be taught by certified instructors.

Programs such as PREP are not provided to students directly by schools, but through outside sources such as Mariposa Community Health Center.

Having an accurate yet appropriate sex education for Arizona students is achievable and does more good than harm.

"The outcomes of these classes are overwhelmingly positive. Kids say that they are more comfortable talking to their parents about these topics. They come out with a better relationship with their parents and are more likely to talk to their parents and ask questions," David said.


Reach the columnist at agarc319@asu.edu or follow @annettegruiz on Twitter.

Editor's note: The opinions presented in this column are the author's and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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