The Montana Legislature is proposing a bill that will put our youth at risk. Senate Bill 99 will make sex education in the schools an opt-in program rather than the opt-out program currently in place.
This means that parents will have to sign for permission to have their kids participate in sex ed, as opposed to allowing families that don’t want their kids in sex ed to have to opt out. This will result in fewer families signing the document and fewer kids receiving sex education.
As a mental health counselor, I have spoken with many parents who do not feel comfortable talking with their kids about sex and who rely on sex education through the schools. Most of these families want their kids to have access to this information but could easily forget to opt in by not signing the permission slip. There are also many families who are unsure if they want their kids to have this information — who, if they are required to give written permission — may rely on the method of doing nothing, which would mean their kids do not get the education they deserve.
Puberty can begin as young as age 8, with an average age of 10-11. Puberty means that the body is maturing, and getting ready for sex and procreation. Kids at this age are seeking out information from friends, the computer, porn sites — and are starting to have sexual urges and interest. Some adults might be shocked at what is happening in our middle schools, where kids are offering sexual favors to one another, and are sending nude photos to their friends and strangers. This kind of behavior increases as kids approach high school age.
The answer is not to put our heads in the sand and pretend that kids are not interested in sex. Instead, we need to recognize that they need our help and guidance to understand the complexities of becoming sexual beings and all this entails.
According to the World Bank, countries that provide comprehensive sex ed have lower incidence of teen pregnancy. Currently, the U.S has about five times the amount of teen pregnancy compared to European and Scandinavian countries.
Sex ed not only teaches kids about sexuality, it also teaches them about their bodies, and about the emotional changes that go along with puberty. Sex ed programs are designed to give age appropriate information — and as kids mature and are likely to start thinking about becoming sexual, offers a safe place to talk about options, including sexual orientation, abstaining from sex, birth control choices and how to protect against sexually transmitted disease. Additionally, sex ed provides a place to talk about consent and teaches our kids that it is always their right to say no, to change their mind at any time, and to be able to ask for help if they feel violated. Sex ed is just as important for boys as it is for girls — as both are at risk for the consequences of unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, and for being charged with non-consensual sex-or rape.
Though MT families should have input into how much information their kids receive about sex, this is a community health issue that affects all of us. Kids who do not get the needed information are at risk of making uninformed choices that can affect other’s lives and put themselves and others at risk of unwanted pregnancy and disease. Sex ed does not encourage or increase sexual activity; it provides our youth with the needed information to make good choices.