by Emily Ike, Research Intern
On September 12th, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) released a report surveying and analyzing sex education materials used in 82 public school districts statewide during the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years. The report, Birds, Bees and Bias: How Absent Sex Ed Standards Fail New York’s Students, brings to light some of the inaccurate, incomplete and biased information that passes for sex education in the state of New York.
The NYCLU sent freedom of information requests to obtain sex education materials being taught to approximately 543,000 students statewide; however New York City was excluded from the study due to its recent adoption of mandated sex education. While New York state law has required HIV/AIDS education for K-12 students since 1987, there are no mandated requirements for general sexuality education at the state level.
Analysis of the report finds that many sex education programs in the state are far from meeting national guidelines. “We found lessons that contained glaring inaccuracies about basic anatomy, reinforced negative gender stereotypes, and stigmatized LGBT students and families,” said co-author and NYCLU Assistant Advocacy Director Johanna Miller. “Many school districts do little to educate students on how to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections and sexual assault.” One district used material that referred to a vagina as a “sperm deposit,” while another district teaches that contracting HIV/AIDS will result in death in less than three years. Two-thirds of the materials reviewed in this study did not depict or label female external genitalia,  and although 80% of districts did teach some information about condom use, only one-third of them provided instructions or demonstrations on their correct use.
Concluding the report, the NYCLU recommends that, “the New York State Education Department (NYSED) should require schools to teach comprehensive sex education as a part of their curriculum or set binding rules that outline the standards and components that voluntary sex-education programs in the state’s public schools must meet.” With the 11th highest rate for teen pregnancy in the country, and 33% of new STDs diagnosed in the state each year coming from young people under 19 years of age, New York cannot afford the looming public health crisis that comes from inaccurate and incomplete health and sexuality education.
NYCLU, “NYCLU Study Shows Gaps, Inaccuracies and Bias in NY Sex Ed Instruction” NYCLU (12 September 2012), accessed 14 September 2012.<http://www.nyclu.org/news/nyclu-study-shows-gaps-inaccuracies-and-bias-ny-sex-ed-instruction>.
Waldman, S. (2012, September 13).” NYCLU: Sex ed in New York state biased, inaccurate”. Times Union, accessed 17 September 2012. <http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/NYCLU-Sex-ed-in-New-York-state-biased-inaccurate-3861244.php>.
Bakeman, J. (September 12, 2012), “NYCLU report critical of sex education in New York state schools” accessed 17 September 2012. <http://www.democratandchronicle.com/article/20120912/NEWS01/309120025/New-York-sex-education-standards?odyssey=nav%7Chead> 2.
Goodman et al., “Birds, Bees and Bias: How Absent Sex Ed Standards Fail New York’s Students” (September 2012), accessed 14 September 2012. <http://www.nyclu.org/files/publications/NYCLU_SexEd_report.pdf> 7, 53.