09/28/2011 12:16 pm ET | Updated Nov 28, 2011

First Important Steps

This week is National Sex Ed Week, and for the first time in 20 years, we're celebrating it knowing New York City will now require sex education to be taught in schools.

This news is exciting. For too long, too many of our teens have gone without comprehensive, age-appropriate, medically accurate sexuality education. Our health statistics reflect that fact: New York City's unintended pregnancy rate, sexually transmitted infection rate, and HIV rate are all far higher than the national average, and they hit young people aged 15 to 24 the hardest.

But while the city's mandate is a good first step, it doesn't go far enough.

Comprehensive, age-appropriate, medically accurate sexuality education is a lifelong process, and includes information on healthy relationships, parent-child communication, as well as abstinence, pregnancy prevention and STI and HIV transmission. It's important we integrate sexuality education fully into our schools, and teach it in every grade every year.

Additionally we need to hold the administration accountable, and make sure educators have the resources and training they need to teach this subject. We as an organization have been educating teens and parents about sex and sexuality for years: we know both how important, and how challenging, this work can be. There is nothing more important than making sure our educators have the necessary training, and are comfortable with the curricula they are teaching.

Of course, mandating sex education alone is not enough to ensure that our young people are safe and healthy. Parent and caregiver involvement is equally as important. Studies show that parents are actually the most influential source of information about values and sex and sexuality. Parents having an open and supportive dialogue with their children is the most effective way that we can help our young people make safe and healthy decisions.

Yet, not every young person has the ability to talk to their parent or caregiver about this issue, which makes it all the more important that we do all we can to make sure our young people have the tools they need to make safe and healthy decisions. Our children are already bombarded with messages about sex and sexuality from all angles: television, radio, the internet, music, movies, and more. This mandate is the first step in the direction towards what should be our final goal: that we provide comprehensive, age-appropriate, medically accurate sex education to every student in every year at school, teach them how to have healthy relationships, make good decisions, and do all we can to foster healthy and open communication between parents and teens about sex and sexuality.

A version of this article originally appeared in Spanish in El Diario.