Is HIV Education in Schools Enough?

For many young people, school is the primary source of sexual education. Unfortunately, sex education programs in public schools often provide outdated or ineffective advice, particularly for safer sex practices. As public awareness of sex issues spreads, sex education in schools may start to improve.


Why Learning About Sex in School is So Important

In 2012, more than one-third of new HIV cases were teens and young adults between 15 and 24. Despite this, education has been slow to adopt new curricula that could effectively teach young people about the risks and ways to minimize them.

The focus of sex education should be to provide accurate health information, give students tools to protect themselves and reduce stigmas against people with HIV and AIDS. For many schools, however, this is not what occurs.

Myths and Misunderstandings

In the 1980s, people – primarily parents — argued over whether or not sex education should exist in schools. Many agreed that it was the parents’ responsibility to teach their children about sex, including HIV infection. Many myths and misunderstandings about HIV spread at this time, both by parents and policymakers.

In 1988, the government allocated federal funds for HIV education. Most states and counties adopted abstinence-only programs, which still exist today in some areas.

The Failure of Abstinence-Only Education

With an abstinence-only approach, teachers are barred from discussing contraceptive methods and safer sex practices unless they focus on the downsides, like condom failure rates. This does not allow students to make informed decisions when it comes to initiating sexual activities.

With evidence proving that abstinence-only education does not work, schools began adopting “abstinence plus” and other more comprehensive approaches. Since 2009, these programs have become more common and teach about how you can get infected, how to protect yourself and how to resist peer pressure.

HIV education has greatly improved as compared to the past 30 years, but it still has a long way to go. One of UNM Truman’s goals is to get people talking about HIV and safer-sex practices, especially young people who are at risk of infection. By removing the stigmas and myths surrounding HIV and AIDS, and providing resources like free rapid HIV testing and condoms, we hope that we can contribute to an important dialogue about sexual health in our community.