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Editorial | Island Voices

Sexual health education is a community effort

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We applaud the Hawaii Board of Education (BOE) on its recent decision to invest in the future health and well-being of our youth by changing its policy and requiring schools to provide students with comprehensive sexual health education.

At Planned Parenthood, we know that sexual health is an incredibly important, albeit sometimes challenging, topic for many which makes us all the more proud of the BOE’s decision.

As Hawaii’s leading provider of sexual health care and education, we believe that parents are our youth’s first resource, but we also know that many parents are ill-equipped and/or uncomfortable having these conversations with their children.

The BOE wisely recognized that it was necessary for public schools to partner with parents to provide youth with accurate and developmentally appropriate sexual education to promote students’ health and well-being.

Ultimately, sexual health education is a community effort, where parents, schools, community and faith-based organizations, government and media all play a role.

In order for this effort to succeed, we must all take responsibility for ensuring that youth receive the honest, factual information that they need to keep themselves healthy and safe.

The BOE has done its part by revising its policy to provide the state Department of Education with a framework to implement uniform programs that will provide young people with a positive view of sexual health, as well as developmentally appropriate knowledge and skills that will assist them with making healthy decisions now and in the future.

The BOE policy strikes the right balance by emphasizing abstinence while requiring education to include information on contraception and sexually transmitted infection prevention.

This policy goes one step further than the previous policy by ensuring that students are supported in their decisions to practice abstinence.

Educators will not only be required to teach that abstinence is the surest way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, but they’ll also be required to teach relationship and communication skills that youth need to become or remain abstinent.

The BOE strengthened the role of parents by requiring educators to encourage students to talk to their parents, guardians and/or other trusted adults about sexual health.

Further, parents will now have access to information about the curriculum prior to the start of the program.

Schools could consider taking this a step further by offering parent nights in which parents review the program materials and ask questions of educators.

Parent nights are a great way for educators to engage with parents, answer their questions and clear up any misconceptions.

We look forward to seeing the results of this policy over time, which, at the very least, will include a generation of young people who have heard more helpful messages about sexual health than the provocative media images or just plain silence that they currently witness.

In the long term, we could see increasingly positive health outcomes, including more teens delaying sexual activity, and, if they are engaging in sexual activity, using condoms and birth control. These, in turn, will reduce teen pregnancy and its associated costs — a win-win for everyone.

Most important, we have the potential to bring about a generation of women and men comfortable in their own skin, able to make well-informed, responsible decisions, form healthy relationships and take care of their bodies — a worthy result of which we can all be proud.

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