With some young people returning to in-person school and others still distance learning, education across the country remains wildly inconsistent. That’s why Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette is recognizing Sex Ed for All Month, an urgent campaign to ensure all students have equitable access to truly comprehensive sexuality education — developmentally appropriate, medically accurate and inclusive.

All young people deserve access to the information and resources they need to protect their health, fulfill their goals and make the best decisions for themselves about sex and relationships — free from shame, judgment or stigma.

We know that access to sex education and sexual and reproductive health care services is critical to safe and healthy teens. The overwhelming majority of people agree: Young people should have access to sex education.

Unfortunately, too many students in the United States aren’t getting the life skills they need. Too often, the sex education young people receive — if they do — is based on who they are and where they live. Sex ed varies significantly based on state laws, school district policies, teacher training and other factors. This leads to inequities in the breadth and depth of sex education from classroom to classroom.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fewer than half of all high schools and only 1 in 5 middle schools are teaching the “essential” topics, which include HIV, STI and pregnancy prevention.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, only 30 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education — but with no guarantee that it is medically accurate, age-appropriate or unbiased. Only nine states and the District of Columbia are actually providing positive,0. LGBTQ-inclusive sex education curricula; most sex education programs leave queer youth out of the conversation.

Oregon is fortunate to be among those few states with a strong sex education law, but because of uneven local policies, funding and training, the quality of programs varies, if they exist at all.

Let’s be clear: Sex education IS education. It gives young people the knowledge and skills they need for a lifetime of good health: how to think critically about the world, practice good allyship across identities, advocate for themselves and love themselves for who they are. It helps them build healthy relationships and have the opportunity to practice good communication skills before they become sexually active.

Young people deserve culturally specific sex education that recognizes all of who they are and all that they could be. This means ensuring they are seen for their unique experiences with identity, sexuality, relationships and culture — particularly those in rural areas; youth with lower incomes; Black, Latino, Indigenous and other people of color; LGBTQ youth; immigrant youth; and youth with disabilities.

As the nation’s largest provider of sex education, Planned Parenthood is committed to making sex education more accessible, more equitable and more inclusive — for all. Our growing library of YouTube videos for young people model healthy communication about consent, safer sex and STIs. Online tools at PlannedParenthood.org can supplement existing programs by helping teens, parents and educators to better access the information and resources they need.

Sex Ed for All Month affirms our commitment to stand with young people. With our partner organizations, Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette is committed to sexual and reproductive health care, rights and education, and we will continue to provide and advocate for the sex education young people deserve.

Together, we can ensure that all young people have the information and skills they need to lead their healthiest lives.

Liliana Cabrera serves as education and outreach coordinator for Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette’s Bend Health Center, PPCW.org.

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