Sexual health education has been a hot topic in the news this month. You may have heard about new legislation that is pushing to change sex ed from an opt-out policy to an opt-in policy in Florida schools. Dr. Diane Straub, Chief, Division of Adolescent Medicine & Professor of Pediatrics at the University of South Florida and Medical Director of the Ybor Youth Clinic wrote an Op-Ed in the Tampa Bay Times offering her perspective on the issue as a pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist: “Restricting Access to Sex Ed in Florida Schools Will Put Young People at Risk”.
The article points to startling statistics from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey that shows 16% of Hillsborough County teens in ninth grade, and well over 50% in 12th grade, are sexually active. Yet of those teens who report having sex, 42% had sex without a condom and 74% did not use any effective form of contraception the last time they had sex. That’s no wonder that sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are at extremely high rates among young people in our community, and that the U.S. continues to have one of the highest rates of unplanned teen pregnancy among developed countries.
The article also emphasizes that a well-designed sexual health education curriculum, like the one recently implemented in Hillsborough County Public Schools with the help of feedback from parents and students, is essential for providing critical information for teens to protect themselves from STDs, unplanned pregnancy, and sexual assault, and to equip them with the resources needed to grow into healthy adults.
Despite the clear need for comprehensive sexual health education, the article illuminates the threat of Senate Bill 410 to student’s access and right to this education. Essentially the bill would force parents to sign a permission slip to proactively "opt-in" to sexual health education for their child instead of requiring them to “opt-out” in writing. Dr. Straub points out:
“The people who will suffer from this egregious legislation are youth who desire the education but are too embarrassed to request permission from their parents, as well as youth whose parents may be less involved with their children (or just struggling to keep up with everyday life and might easily overlook a permission slip) and thus miss the opportunity to grant this instruction. For Florida parents who are engaged with their children and do not want them to participate, the current “opt out” strategy already provides that control.”
To learn more about how shifting from an opt-out to opt-in policy could significantly impact students’ access to sex ed in Florida schools, check out resources from the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States and Planned Parenthood.