Reproductive rights is centered around access to care and the autonomy to make choices surrounding one’s body. However, a conversation that is frequently overlooked is that of education –specifically, sexuality education – that impacts an individual’s ability to make appropriate and informed decisions about their body. Without this education, individuals are left unaware of risks associated with sexual activity, are unclear on definitions of consent and are not necessarily prepared to engage in relationships in a healthy way. Sexuality education should be taught to young people and students before the onset of sexual activity, but 43 percent of males and 57 percent of females do not receive formal education about contraception before they first have sex, which can have lifelong consequences when it comes to sexual health.
Accurate and comprehensive sexuality education equips people with the information they need to avoid unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and other health problems. It also provides models and guidance for healthy relationships. The goal of comprehensive sexuality education is not to serve as a scare tactic, but to inform individuals of all aspects of sexual activity and healthy relationships, so that they may make the decision that is best for them. Like all effective education, comprehensive sexuality education relies on accurate scientific knowledge and research. It does not solely cover safe sex and abstinence approaches to sex, but also includes healthy relationships, body image, contraception, decision-making processes, sexual identity, disease prevention and human development.
Abstinence education is a component of comprehensive sexuality education, as it is the only way to 100% guarantee that there is no transmission of STIs or risk of pregnancy, however abstinence-only education is not realistic or effective. Abstinence-only education, which emphasizes abstinence from all sexual activity until marriage, often provides misleading and medically inaccurate information about contraception. Abstinence-only programs do not prevent teenagers from having sex, but instead prevents them from having “safe sex.” In fact, teens who receive comprehensive sexuality education were 50% less likely to experience pregnancy than those who experienced abstinence-only education. Comprehensive sexuality education programs have shown to lead to statistically significant declines in teen pregnancy, unprotected sex, HIV, or other STIs, while increasing use of condoms for sexually active youth.
The Real Education for Healthy Youth Act, or REHYA (H.R. 1706/S. 2765), was introduced into the 114th Congress in the Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) in the House and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) in the Senate. This bill would expand upon age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education programs that are medically accurate and evidence-based, and cease all federal funding for abstinence-only sex education. REHYA outlines which elements sex education much include in order to receive federal funding, provides grants for education in K-12 programs as well as higher education, opens up to the inclusion of LGBTQ students, and permits contraceptive distribution in schools. Urge your Members of Congress to reintroduce REHYA into the 115th Congress.
Our youth deserve to be fully educated on issues pertaining to their health and decision-making. The guiding principle of sexuality in the Jewish tradition is K’doshim tih’yu, “You shall be holy” (Leviticus 19:2). Providing young adults with accurate and comprehensive sexuality education allows them to respect themselves and their bodies, as well as each other.