A bill pending in the Senate could drastically improve the sad state of sex education in this country. On Thursday, Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, introduced the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act, which would provide funding for sex-ed teacher training and grants for education programs that address the needs of LGBTQ young people.
The bill has been percolating through the halls of Congress for a while. Democrats including Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California, brought it to the House in 2013, and Lee reintroduced it in March of last year. It’s the first piece of federal legislation to assert a young person’s right to comprehensive education about sexual health that includes information about dating violence, communication and decision-making, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and preventing pregnancy and STIs.
“Sexual health education that includes information beyond abstinence has been found to delay sexual intercourse, increase condom or contraceptive use, reduce the number of partners among young people, and decrease physical aggression with intimate partners,” Booker’s office noted in a press release.
Most U.S. states don’t mandate any kind of sex education, and only 13 states require that the information taught be medically accurate. Those lax requirements have paved the way for untrained or religiously motivated sex-ed teachers to use bizarre, inaccurate metaphors that imply that sex makes people dirty and unlovable. Some states even instruct their public-school sex-ed teachers to tell students that gay sex is immoral, against the law, and a surefire way to end up with AIDS.
If passed, REHYA would provide grants for teacher training and comprehensive sex education programs in K-12 schools and institutions of higher education. It would prohibit the use of federal grants for programs that promote gender stereotypes, suppress information about HIV/AIDS, teach any medically inaccurate information, or do not include accurate, sensitive information for LGBTQ youth and survivors of sexual abuse. REHYA would also allow schools to use these federal funds for contraception distribution.
The federal government currently spends $75 million on abstinence-only sex education, which President Barack Obama completely cut from his proposed 2017 budget. A majority of voters in almost every political and religious demographic group support comprehensive sex education, as do 88 percent of millennials. It’s a proven way to prevent new cases of sexually transmitted infections and teen pregnancy in a country that has one of the highest rates of both. This bill seems like a no-brainer, but considering how long it’s lingered in Congress without a vote, we’re checking our wild, naive fantasies of a country where schoolchildren aren’t told that their states hate them if they’re gay.