Supporting Sex Ed for All to End the HIV Epidemic

Ending the HIV epidemic requires the implementation of HIV prevention strategies that educate youth on HIV. Through the application of evidence-based, equitable, and culturally competent sex education, we can continue towards our goal of ending the HIV epidemic while equipping young people with the information they need to make decisions about their health.  

When young people are given effective sex educations programs, these programs can help sexually active youth accurately gauge and reduce their risk for all STIs, including HIV. In addition, sex education lacking complete and accurate information about HIV can promote shame and fear, which in turn increases stigma and misinformation all while delaying efforts to prevent, care and treat HIV. Research shows a lack of comprehensive sexual health education can lead to higher rates of STIs and unplanned pregnancies .  

Young people deserve the tools, education, and resources to make informed decisions about their sexual health. This includes finding care and treatment for HIV if they are infected. 

“Currently only 30 states and the District of Columbia require sex education to be taught in schools,” shares AIDS United Policy and Annual Conference Manager, Mackenzie Flynn, “However, many of these states don’t require the education to be medically accurate or inclusive of youth outside of cis-heteronormative relationships.”  

Flynn recently attended Sex Ed on The Hill 2024, hosted by Sex Ed for Social Change (SIECUS) and Sex Education Policy Action Council (SEPAC), to advocate for inclusive, culturally competent and evidence-based sex education to be mandated in states. Often, when sex education is provided, abstinence is heavily stressed, which has been found to be ineffective in delaying sexual initiation or reducing sexual risk behaviors. Despite a large amount of research showing the negative impacts of abstinence-only sex education, Congress still funds the Sexual Risk Avoidance Education (SRAE) program within the Administration for Children and Families, appropriating $35 million to the program in the most recent fiscal year. 

“Congress continues funding failed Sexual Risk Avoidance Education, or abstinence-only education,” Flynn states. “This education has been shown time and time again to only harm to youth, and funding should be invested in evidence-based programs that address the true wants and needs for youth.” 

This is why the Real Education and Access for Healthy Youth Act (REAHYA) (H.R.3583/S.1697) is needed. Advocates in attendance at these conferences called for the support of members of Congress to pass REAHYA, which would provide federal funding for states to create evidence-based, comprehensive, and culturally competent sex education. The legislation would also ensure that sex education is inclusive of LGBTQ+ students, covering topics like gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. 

A priority of this event included advocating for continued funding of two sex education programs, the Division of Adolescent School Health (DASH) and the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP). These bills are facing complete elimination of funding in the House despite numerous studies (1,2) proving their effectiveness. 

At a time where sex education is regularly targeted through harmful bills, federally funded programs to ensure accurate and comprehensive sex education for all young people remain vital.  

Many of these bills target LGBTQ+ topics and seek to limit a young person’s ability to get to make informed decisions about their health. Additionally, some of these bills would also criminalize schools and teachers for providing instruction on these topics without parental consent.  

Despite lawmakers’ numerous attempts to limit comprehensive sex education, evidence suggests that public support for comprehensive sex education is widespread. One study in 2017 found that, “93.5% of parents feel it is important to have sex education taught in middle school, and 96% feel it is important to have sex education taught in high school.”    

“Public support is on our side,” Flynn says. “As Sex Ed for All Month comes to an end, it’s important to remember that. Continuing to advocate and support legislation that will fund comprehensive sex education is a vital strategy that all HIV advocates can do to aid in ending the HIV epidemic.”