Imagine for a moment a student whose knowledge of math is based on her own misunderstanding and misinformation from her equally confused friends. We would expect the school system -- with its comprehensive math curriculum -- to set her on the right path.
Now picture a student with similar misconceptions about human sexuality. Shockingly, in New York City, no standardized sex ed curriculum guarantees that she will learn the vital facts about sex, contraception, protection, or reproductive health. Information provided in the classroom could be as sparse as "don't have sex." Without critical information, this student's future - and health - is in jeopardy.
The truth of the matter is that, with or without comprehensive sex education, roughly half the teens in America are having sex. A recent report shows that even among students who pledge to abstain from sex until marriage, 53% break that pledge - often having unprotected sex. Study after study has shown that when we don't talk to teens about sex, we increase the likelihood of risky behavior.
But we can't continue to turn a blind eye. After years of decline, teen birth rates are increasing in 26 states. In New York City, rates for teenage pregnancy far exceed the national averages, with the highest occurring in the Bronx and Brooklyn. These statistics are even more troubling for Latinas: an average of 57% of Latina teens use contraception while having intercourse for the first time, compared to 81% of white teens. Latinas also account for much higher percentages of teen pregnancies (33%) than Caucasian or Asian teenagers.
The disproportionate statistics don't stop at teen pregnancy. New York City remains the epicenter of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, with youths, the poor, and minorities increasingly - and unevenly - affected by the disease. Young Latinos represent 20% of the cumulative reported AIDS cases among teens, although they account for only about 12% of the total U.S. teen population. Tragically, in New York City, Hispanic men and women are four times more likely to die of AIDS than non-Hispanic whites.
In a city as diverse as ours, it is difficult to get a majority of residents to agree on anything. Yet the vast majority of New York City residents - representing every geographic, religious, ethnic and age group - support teaching comprehensive sex education in public schools. The reason for this widespread support is simple: comprehensive, accurate sex education works. Proven results include delaying the initiation of sex, decreasing the number of sexual partners and incidence of unprotected sex, increased usage of contraception, and lower STI and pregnancy rates.
We have a clear need for comprehensive sex education in this city. We have popular agreement that schools should provide it. So why are 1.1 million New York City public school students being left in the dark when it comes to sex ed? It's time to hold our schools to a higher standard.