“Because of HIV and AIDS, if you have sex, you will die.”

Though not the official slogan of public health departments nationwide when it came to sex education in the early to mid-1990s, it might as well have been—this mantra was the central theme to the curriculum being doled out by public schools in almost every corner of America.

When you combine this life-threatening core with a healthy dose of grotesque medical photos of various body parts in various stages of a progressing sexually transmitted infection (STI) sprinkled throughout the duration of the class, you get a generation of youth who become terrified of ever being naked in the same room as another naked person. And as we’ve seen throughout history, whenever fear is used as a primary factor to influence the decision-making of another person instead of using reality- and science-based arguments, you are going to see people blindly figuring things out for themselves—with the result oftentimes being catastrophic.

Keep in mind, the experiences I had took place nearly a quarter-century ago in the conservatively dominated state of Utah. With Colorado being one of the most forward-thinking states in the nation, surely the lessons being taught in sex-ed have advanced; perhaps more of an emphasis on the medical realities of the situation? Surely every Colorado teen has been exhaustively educated on the matters of sex when it comes to every level of humanity: mental, physical, and emotional, right?

Well … kind of.

In Colorado, state statutes mandate all school districts that offer human sexuality instruction must provide comprehensive sex education. Curricula must include medically accurate, culturally sensitive information about methods to prevent unintended pregnancy and STIs, including HIV/AIDS, and must include information about abstinence, all FDA-approved forms of contraception, and be taught in a “cohesive, integrated, objective manner” so that youth are empowered to make decisions based on their “individual needs, beliefs, and values.” And the curriculum must be comprehensive and must “not emphasize sexual abstinence as the primary or sole acceptable preventative method available to students.” And if sex education is offered, the curriculum must not exclude the health needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex individuals.

Though I agree with all of those educational mandates in the statute, there are two words written in it that really sticks in my craw: “that offer.” In Colorado, sex-ed is not a requirement; each district can determine whether it is a course they choose to offer. What makes this non-requirement even worse is the fact that if a school district does decide to enact a required sex-ed course, parents or guardians can remove their children from the course with written notification, known as an "opt-out." So, it would appear that the state thinks it’s better to deny the opportunity for an overwhelming majority of teens to be properly educated on something in a way that could literally save their health/life than it is to upset a minority of parents who have the right to opt their child out anyway.

And it seems like this lack of compulsory education is having a direct impact on teens in the form of increased STIs being contracted statewide.

Over the last decade, Colorado has seen the rate of STIs increase statewide among adolescents. In one 2019 study released by the Colorado Department of Public Health, it was shown that STIs among adolescents ages 15-19 increased 30.4% for gonorrhea, 23.3% for HIV and 7.2% for chlamydia between 2016 and 2017. And since the release of this study, when adding in other factors such as the pandemic, these numbers have continued to increase.

Time and time again studies have shown a direct correlation between sex-ed and the reduction of STI transmission for those who have taken the course in school. But recent data suggests that there are other crucial elements of teenage life that are being positively impacted by taking sex-ed classes.

2021 research published in the Journal of Adolescent Health by Eva S. Goldfarb, Ph.D., and Lisa D. Lieberman, Ph.D. identified a wide variety of benefits of comprehensive, quality sex education. By examining studies from over three decades of research on sex education they were able to learn a lot.

According to the authors, "Our research found that sex education has the potential to do so much more [than limiting the scope to pregnancy and STI prevention]. The impact of quality sex education that addresses the broad range of sexual health topics extends beyond pregnancy and STIs and can improve school success, mental health, and safety."

It’s interesting the authors chose to focus on mental health, as I believe that is one area where the current sex-ed curriculum is severely lacking. More specifically, I feel that there is a severe lack of focus on what is being taught when it comes to the one thing that impacts the mental health of a teenager more than anything else: the internet.

Between the constant barrage of images involving sex and violence coupled with the real-life dramas that can make or break a teen’s life in real-time on some social media platform, a teenager’s mental health is under complete and constant duress while they surf the interwebs. And it’s one of the most heinous attacks on a teen’s mental health I think school districts nationwide should include in their sex-ed syllabus as soon as humanly possible …

Grooming behaviors.

Whether the grooming is done online specifically, or in real life by a trusted adult, I can’t see thoroughly educating any young person on this psychological trick as being a bad thing. In fact, it’s possible that if being on the lookout for these kinds of behaviors were already being taught, it may have saved some young girls in Broomfield, Colorado from being victimized.

In early April of this year, state championship-winning coach Blair Hubbard, 54, resigned after reviewing the Boulder Valley School District's internal investigation into allegations of inappropriate communications with female students.

The police investigation, obtained by 9NEWS, includes a screenshot of a text message exchange purportedly between Hubbard and a newly-graduated female student. Hubbard asked if her fake ID works in the Denver area, then asked her preferred drink. When she responded, "A dirty martini, like filthy," Hubbard replied "define filthy" with a laughing emoji.

Also included in the redacted police report: accusations from one student that Hubbard asked her for photos of herself. Another student told police Hubbard would comment "how certain jeans would look good on her, her hair was nice, and that she was very pretty." She said Hubbard expressed interest in coming to see her while she was at work at Twin Peaks.

Though police were unable to file charges. as anything Hubbard said that was sexual in nature was towards girls of legal age, it's apparent that he was grooming them. Anytime a man in power is flirting with underage girls with the intent of trying to have a sexual relationship with them once the clock strikes midnight on their 18th birthday reeks of grooming behaviors.

"[The relationship] may look like secret-keeping or [is] building up their trust so that they can continue to push boundaries more and more without [the victim] understanding that’s what’s going on," said Casey Ballinger, the lead advocate at The Blue Bench, an organization that helps survivors of sexual assault.

We live in the 21st Century, and we need 21st Century solutions. For too long sex-ed has either been completely under-utilized or used to serve an agenda (i.e. the abstinence-only states), all at the expense of the mental, physical, and emotional well-being of our next generation. We have to realize these evils do exist in our own backyards and need to be dealt with in a proactive, educated approach.

I mean, do you really want a middle-aged high school sports coach leering over your daughter at her place of work on the regular, knowing she doesn’t have the tools to dismantle the creep?