In California, schools are required to teach sex education at least once in middle school (usually grade seven) and once in high school (usually grade 9). While individual school districts can teach sex education as early as kindergarten, not many districts offer it in elementary school. While California law is more progressive with teaching reproductive health, it can still be improved. As a nursing school student, I realize the value in providing children with sexual health education—not only to provide knowledge of how their bodies function, but also insight to protect them from sexual harm.
In 2015, the CDC found that less than half of all high schools in the U.S. and one fifth of middle schools teach all 16 recommended topics necessary for comprehensive sexual health education. Additionally, Hoyt, Niu, Pachucki, and Chaku (2020) found that increases in childhood weight increase the incidence of early age puberty, which can increase the risk for mental, behavioral, and physical health issues. Thus, educating youth early on about sexual health is extremely important given the lack of proper sex education and the increasing incidence of early onset puberty.
Content suggestions for educating younger children include teaching basic human body/anatomical function lessons and which body parts should not be touched by others to help children communicate if they have had an inappropriate encounter with someone. Further lessons in elementary school could address reproductive anatomy, basic processes of puberty development in both sexes, emotional/psychological effects, and consent. Lastly, parts of this early sex education should be co-ed to decrease the mystery around other genders’ reproductive development that comes with separated education.
Puberty affects everyone, and we need to provide our children with earlier education on how to navigate the changes they will experience as adolescents and young adults.
– Melissa Kumnoonsate, B.S. Human Development
Master’s in Nursing Student (expected December 2020)