Cyreena Boston Ashby
Boston Ashby is executive director of Girls Inc. of the Pacific Northwest and former public health officer. She lives in Portland.
The United States Supreme Court’s reversal of the constitutional right to abortion will have catastrophic effects in many states, and the consequences continue to unfold week by week across the United States. Oregon currently remains a place of comfort for anyone seeking a safe and legal abortion, regardless of income, minority status, gender identity, immigration status or health insurance coverage – a remarkable comparison with more than half of the nation’s states banning or severely restricting the procedure.
But the polarizing abortion debate offers a key opportunity for Oregonians to refocus on a related topic: comprehensive sex education. Oregon’s children deserve an education that gives them the expertise and knowledge about sexual development to make informed, mature decisions in the future. This is an issue that people on either side of the abortion debate can support.
Comprehensive sex education, which is mandatory in Oregon, consists of age-appropriate programs that provide young people with the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values they need to mature sexually, socially, and medically, regardless of a young person’s choice to have sex or not. .
While parents and guardians can exclude their children from education, schools in Oregon are required to teach sex education through a curriculum that promotes abstinence, recognizes different sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions, and perhaps most importantly, provides guidance on consent.
The benefits of this framework have been substantial, as evidenced by the most recent student health survey. This survey informs state officials of various factors that contribute to the well-being of Oregon students, from physical health to sexual health and beyond and is given to sixth, eighth and 11th graders. The questions vary by level, but overall they include questions about sexual health, housing and food security, home safety, exposure and prevalence of physical violence by peers or adults, suicidal ideation, substance abuse or impaired driving. The intelligence collected provides the state with integrated upstream public health data for our adolescent population, and he notes that sexual care and sex education is not just one issue; it is about the overall health of the person.
What’s more, the sA survey shows us that comprehensive sexuality education is an upstream solution to multiple public health concerns. As a result of this education, Oregon youeens are equipped with the knowledge and skills to understand the emotional, physical and social aspects of human sexuality and healthy relationships, and ultimately prevent sexually transmitted diseases and infections, pregnancy and larger cases of risky behaviors and dangerous relationships.
Unfortunately, only certain school districts, such as Portland Public Schools, offer a comprehensive sex education curriculum. Some districts choose to teach the abstinence-only curriculum and not fully implement instruction on the relationship and medical components of sex education. Across Oregon, all young people need help to develop healthy, consensual relationships and to guard against unwanted pregnancies. The Department of Education, which said it is working to bring non-compliant districts into compliance, must ensure that all school districts in Oregon implement comprehensive sex education, as outlined in the state law.
But there is more we should be doing too.
- · We must demand the funding of school health centers where contraception and information on sexually transmitted diseases and sexually transmitted infections are available discreetly and without shame.
- · Community members should discuss with school principals, school boards and local decision makers the positive impacts of sex education.
- · Schools should provide sex education programs for parents and guardians. We must respect the legal right of parents and guardians to ask their student to opt out of sex education instruction, but encourage them to educate themselves on the modern merits of this information. Although they promote abstinence as the primary method of sexual orientation, these materials help them become more informed authorities in the sexual development of their children.
- · The Oregon Health Authority should administer the distribution of the student health survey more efficiently across the state. This survey should also be translated into more languages and promoted to ensure that all demographic groups, especially those with deep inequalities (e.g. rural residents, low-income families, non-English speakers, young BIPOC), are able to share their health needs and benefit from the informative effects of sex education.
The abortion argument will remain polarizing and fluid, so we must move beyond active debate and ensure that the future for young adults in Oregon is safe and healthy. We have an opportunity to be a national example as a state that prepares for the future through healthy sexuality and preventive health care. Oregonians must continue to fight to remain a beacon for informed medical education, safety, equity, and rights. The future of young Oregonians depends on it.
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