By now, you’ve probably heard that NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued a “mandate” requiring New York City’s public schools to teach age-appropriate sex education. In theory, according to the Wall Street Journal, students will receive their first sex ed dose in middle-school (ages 10 – 13) and they’ll receive a second semester in high-school (ages 13 – 17). New York City high schools have passed out condoms for more than 20 years. The New York Times explains, “in the new sex-education classes, teachers will describe how to use them, and why.” This is a fantastic idea–especially considering how many NYC teens are having sex. Statistics below are for New York State. If you’d like to know the statistics for your area, click here.

 

Sexually Experienced by Grade

Statistic
New York
United States
Grade 9th, 2009
26.4%
31.6%
Grade 10th, 2009
37.2%
40.9%
Grade 11th, 2009
46.1%
53%
Grade 12th, 2009
61.8%
62.3%
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance–United States, 2009. Surveillance Summaries (2010). MMWR 2010;59 (No. SS-5). http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/ss/ss5905.pdf [June 2010]

Teaching kids to use condoms so that, if they choose to have sex, they’ll be less likely to get (someone) pregnant, contract HIV, or spread sexually transmitted infections like Gonorrhea or Chlamydia should hardly be controversial. Nevertheless, Time magazine writes, “Sex education has become the most hotly debated topic in American elementary education.” Critics believe education belongs in the home or at church, they warn. You know what’s really fucking sad about that article? It was written in 1969! It often still holds true. So, thank the sweet little baby Jesus for Michael Bloomberg understanding that New York City needs a sex education initiative. Let’s talk about some of the mandate’s limitations and discuss how it could be made stronger.

Sex Ed Won’t Be “Required”

Despite descriptions of it in the media, the new mandate doesn’t make comprehensive sex education mandatory. Just like under the city’s previous sex ed curriculum–which primarily focused on HIV/AIDS–parents will have the ability to opt their child out of specific lessons. If a mandate is an order that someone do something, it’s not really effective if they don’t have to do it.

Teachers May Not Be Equipped to Teach Sex Ed

I work in the sex industry; That is, for a living, I write about sex & relationships, and I also teach and manage sex education programs for teens and adults (bio). Technically, throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world, my lusciously diverse industry includes everyone who provides sex-related products and services. Podcast hosts who talk about sex. Dominatrix … or two. Sex education teachers. Church & Dwight Company employees. (Yep, the folks that peddle ARM & HAMMER baking soda also bring you “America’s #1” Trojan brand condoms.) Pickup artist book authors. Gynecologists. Burlesque dancers. Certified sex therapists. Columnists like Dan Savage. Dungeon owners. Would you trust everyone who works in my field to teach your kid about sex education? How about people who don’t even work in the field? Often, the responsibility for teaching America’s teens about sex falls into health and P.E. teachers’ laps. As The Nation notes, while Bloomberg’s sex education mandate includes teacher training, “one essential element [is] missing: a program monitoring system, i.e., accountability.” Read: Sex, Lies and Michael Bloomberg.

The Public May Not Understand Why Pubic Matters

To ensure the mandate’s success, Bloomberg may need to do a better job at increasing awareness of how sex education is linked to public health as well as economic issues. In short, letting people know NYC students need sex ed is awesome, but it also helps if they know why. Decreased access to sex education is linked to increased poverty, decreased levels of health/wellbeing and increased abortion rates. Also, Teen and unplanned pregnancies cost U.S. tax payers $11 billion annually.

Don’t Forget to <3 the Internet!

One of my favorite things about my job is that I regularly have opportunities to speak about sex & technology to conference, teen and university audiences. At present, I have a South by Southwest proposal up for consideration: Sex, Dating and Privacy Online Post-Weinergate. Please vote for me! Fellow panelists include the amazing Feministing Executive Editor Samhita Mukhopadhyay (Outdated: Why Dating Is Ruining Your Love Life), the incredibly prolific writer and lover of big guys Rachel Kramer Bussel, and the talented Forbes Web Celeb / one of Wired’s Faces of Innovation Violet Blue. Among other things, we’ll tell you 5 things you need to know about balancing the public/private divide (that you can only learn from people who write about sex professionally). Here’s that link again if you’d like to vote: Sex, Dating and Privacy Online Post-Weinergate. Now, back to sex education in NYC.

New York Daily News interviewed a mother named Yvonne McDowell whose 14-year-old son James is entering 9th grade in the Bronx. “I would prefer for my son to get [sex education] from the school than for him to get it from the street or from peers or from TV or social media,” she said. Truth is, even though NYC schools will follow Bloomberg’s sexy mandate, students will still go online to learn about one of the world’s oldest activities. In fact, ISIS conducted a study about this last year. When they asked teen and young respondents, “How do you learn about [birth control, menstruation, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases]?” 89% replied “online.” That tops doctors, family, friends and, of course, school workshops. Given this, sex education mandates targeting middle and high school students should combine sexual and reproductive health education with digital media literacy.

That’s all, my friends! I hope this roundup helped explain Bloomberg’s new sex education mandate. As always, if you have any questions or you’d like to contribute to the conversation, please feel free to use the comments section below.