Comprehensive Sexuality Education
Currently, sexuality education programs in the United States can be divided into two distinct types:
Abstinence-Only programs assert that abstinence until marriage is the only responsible and acceptable sexual behavior, and therefore only abstinence should be taught in schools. These programs do not address issues such as sexual health, sexual orientation or sexual protection.
Abstinence-Plus programs (also known as comprehensive sexuality education) encourage abstinence until marriage as the most effective protection from unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). However, these programs also recognize the realities of sexuality and behavior among teenagers, and address issues relating to contraception and safer sex, peer pressure, and other issues of sexuality, such as same-sex relationships.
The common argument used in opposition to comprehensive sexuality education is that educating students about contraception, sex before marriage, different types of sex, etc., simply encourages them to have sex, and that only education focused solely on abstinence will lower the rates of teenage pregnancy and preserve the sanctity of marriage. Many religious organizations and schools also strongly oppose the idea of including discussions of homosexuality, bisexuality and transgender issues into sexuality education curricula because they have moral or religious objections.
According to the latest Center for Disease Control (CDC) data, 47 percent of high school students have had sex and experts estimate that nearly half of the 19 million S.T.I’s in the U.S. annually are contracted by youth, ages 15-24. The Guttmacher Institute reports that each year nearly 750,000 women, ages 15-19, become pregnant.
Reform Jewish Values and Policy
In 1977, Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) passed a resolution on Women’s Rights, which urged all of its Sisterhoods to include family-planning and sexuality education in their programming. In 1987, it followed this with a call for “school based clinics which offer comprehensive health services, including birth-control information and access to contraceptive services.”
The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) in 1987 passed a resolution in which it urged the inclusion of sexuality education in public schools at all age levels. The CCAR made this decision based upon finding that the availability of accurate information about reproduction, sexually-transmitted diseases, and contraception has been proven to have a positive impact on curbing adolescent pregnancy and the incidence of sexually-transmitted disease.
In 2004, a Sexuality Education resolution was presented to and passed by the URJ Board of Trustees. The resolution calls for the Reform Movement to oppose appropriations for abstinence-only sexuality education programs and to support comprehensive sexuality education programs in public schools.
The Healthy Teens Act was first introduced in the New York state legislature in the spring of the 2005 legislative session as Assembly Bill 6619B and Senate Bill 5121. It contained provisions for schools to voluntarily apply for grants to teach age-appropriate, medically accurate comprehensive sexuality education. The bill also had the intent of providing “at-risk adolescents with the information, assistance, skills, and support to enable them to make responsible decisions, including abstaining from sexual intercourse and for those who do become sexually active, the use of condoms or contraceptives effectively.”
After being introduced, the bills were referred to each house’s Committee on Health. The Assembly passed the bill, but the Senate did not act on it. The Healthy Teens Act was re-introduced during the 2006 legislative session, but was not passed by both chambers.