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Hillsborough County students deserve comprehensive sexual health education | Column
Too many young people lack the tools and the language to make healthy choices.
 
The health curriculum is medically accurate and research-based, and will help Hillsborough County students make healthier choices for themselves both now and into the future, writes guest columnist Dr. Amy Weiss.
The health curriculum is medically accurate and research-based, and will help Hillsborough County students make healthier choices for themselves both now and into the future, writes guest columnist Dr. Amy Weiss. [ TAIMY ALVAREZ | South Florida Sun Sentinel ]
Published Jan. 10, 2023

When the Hillsborough County School Board meets this month to debate the merits of health education, I’ll be thinking of my patients. As a pediatrician who specializes in the care of adolescents and young adults, I know how important it is that every young person understands how their body works and how to care for it.

Accurate information about sexual health empowers young people to ask questions when something feels wrong and to make informed choices in their daily lives, setting them up for healthy futures. Unfortunately, many of my patients lack the tools and the language to make those choices.

Dr. Amy Weiss
Dr. Amy Weiss [ Courtesy of Amy Weiss ]

While some young people are able to openly discuss sexual health with their parents or caregivers, many of my patients do not have access to trusted and reliable sources of information regarding sexual health. I regularly find myself correcting misinformation and dispelling confusion about a variety of sexual health topics — or trying to make conversation with adolescents who, having never been provided the tools to fully understand their bodies and their sexuality, lack the language and the confidence to speak up when they have critical concerns about their health.

Comprehensive sexual education empowers and protects young people — and it is under attack. Here in Hillsborough County, our school board approved an updated sex education curriculum for grades 7 through 9 in September. Since that approval, the curriculum has become the target of out-of-state activists and political actors who have flooded the school district with petitions — even though the majority of them do not live here or send their children to our schools. Of the 3,000 petitions the district received, 99% were traced to out-of-state and out-of-district sources. We cannot play politics with our children’s health and safety.

The approved curriculum includes critical and comprehensive information about adolescent health in formats that are approachable and engaging to young people, such as animated videos about anatomy, sexually transmitted diseases, abstinence and consent from AMAZE.org. The curriculum is medically accurate and research-based, and will help Hillsborough County students make healthier choices for themselves both now and into the future. In fact, Hillsborough County Public Schools has been delivering a comprehensive, well-designed sexual health education curriculum for the past four years, during which time self-reported rates of sexual activity among Hillsborough county high schoolers decreased.

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While critics of sexual health education are vocal, they are actually in the minority. Parents, educators and physicians like me know how crucial it is that we keep students safe from misinformation and equip them with the best possible tools to make better decisions and ask better questions in the classroom and in the clinic.

Ahead of this month’s meeting, I and other advocates for sexual health education are urging parents and community members to reach out to members of the school board to express support for the approved curriculum — and to demand that every young person has the tools and education they need for a happy and healthy adulthood.

Dr. Amy Weiss earned a Bachelor of Science degree with Honors from Brown University and a Medical degree from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. She completed Pediatric Internship and Residency at Vanderbilt University and Adolescent Medicine Fellowship at Children’s National Medical Center. She is an Associate Professor and Chief of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at the University of South Florida, Morsani College of Medicine. The views expressed here are from Dr. Weiss and do not reflect any official position of USF Health or the University of South Florida.