Even in New York City, sex education is controversial

Liz Goodwin

A group of parents and religious leaders are outraged that New York City will soon require comprehensive sex education in middle school and high school.

After The New York Post obtained some workbooks that may be used in the classes, the curriculum has attracted national media attention, with Fox News calling it "shocking." The workbooks ask high school students to jot down different brands and prices of condoms, and middle school students are asked to rate the relative risks of pregnancy and STDs that different sex acts carry.

Sex education experts told the Post that such methods are not unusual. About half of New York City's public high school students say they are sexually active, and teen women in the city have sky-high rates of STDs. A third of the women diagnosed with chlamydia in the city, for example, are between 15 and 19. It makes sense to teach them before they get to high school how to have safe sex, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has argued.

"We have a responsibility, when you have an out-of-wedlock birth rate and a sexually transmitted disease rate that we have in this city, to try to do something about it. Shame on us if we don't," Bloomberg said, according to the Daily News.

City officials stress that students will be taught that abstinence is the best way to avoid pregnancy or disease, and that parents may pull their kids out of the birth control part of the mandatory classes. But parents say they want separate abstinence-only classes that they can put their children in instead. Some Republican state senators say they support that plan, but it's unclear if they can or will do anything about it.

On the federal level, abstinence-only education has fallen out of favor, after an independent review of several programs found that they did not reduce sexual activity and in fact, lowered condom use among participants. (China, however, is looking into creating its own abstinence-only programs with the help of James Dobson.) President Obama eliminated all federal funding for abstinence-only programs in 2009, though $250 million of it was restored as a bargaining chip during the health-care reform debate. The federal funds sometimes went to religiously affiliated programs that emphasized tactics like "virginity pledges," where the participants pledge to remain virgins until marriage.

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