Last month I introduced a comprehensive sex-education bill, SB1020. No, it doesn’t give condoms to kindergartners or promote promiscuity, as some extreme social conservatives will try to tell you. It simply recognizes that it’s 2016 and it’s time to start educating our young people in modern, ethical and medically sound ways so we can achieve everyone’s mutual goals of improving health, reducing AIDS/HIV infections, unwanted pregnancies, STDs and yes, the need for abortions.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study “School Health Profiles 2014” ranks Arizona in the equivalent of the stone age when it comes to teaching our young people how their bodies work, how to think about family planning or how to be safe if they engage in sexual activity. For example, while other states offer health classes to all of their secondary school students, Arizona is the worst in the nation in teaching about HIV, pregnancy, STD prevention, or human sexuality. Unprotected sex and auto accidents can kill you. Shouldn’t we educate our children equally in both so they can protect their own and others’ lives? That’s the purpose of my bill.
The GOP-controlled Legislature’s way of dealing with sexuality and sex education is to suppress it. Think of their Religious Freedom Bill, the Surprise Inspections on Abortion Clinics Bill, and the Papers Please Bathroom Bills – three perfect examples of how Arizona lawmakers wish to control our personal lives yet do absolutely nothing to solve any real problem. Their approach is to deal with the symptoms and ignore the cause.
So where do we go from here? Rather than try to shame our young people into ignoring human nature, we need to create age-appropriate education programs so we can develop a mature, informed and responsible culture that will move society in a better, healthier direction.
My bill makes several important and needed changes to Arizona’s health curriculum. First, kids will default into taking the sex-ed program. Their parents can opt their children out of the course, which is opposite the current standard of parents needing to opt-in. We know busy parents may miss the opportunity to sign their kids up to learn something they need to know, which is exactly what the Republican lawmakers hope will happen.
Second, medically accurate knowledge will become the new standard. No more “old wives tales” or Internet myths can be taught. If you can learn about it from a pediatrician at the Mayo Clinic or other top-notch Arizona medical practice, then it qualifies for inclusion. Nothing else belongs in the curriculum.
Third, these programs can be taught at appropriate times throughout the student’s entire school career. No one is making the absurd suggestion we begin to teach sex education to kindergarten or first graders. Understanding procreation can wait until adolescence, but conversations about families, healthy relationships and respect for others should start much sooner.
Consider this: If a school only teaches sex-ed for 10 hours per year starting in 7th grade, an Arizona teenager will have had a total of 60 hours of studies by the time they graduate. Certainly, teenagers have thought about their sex lives for much more than 60 hours by the time they graduate from high school.
A new driver’s learning permit lasts six months before they get their first operators license. Shouldn’t we provide our young people at least as much time learning how to be responsible and healthy adults, as well as effective parents before they have their first child?
Remarkably, some people have a problem with that.
Andrew Sherwood is a Democratic state senator representing District 26, which includes parts of Tempe, Mesa, Phoenix and the Pima Salt River Indian Reservation.