While rates of STD transmission have never been higher among American youth, the abysmal state of sexual health education suggests that public schools share culpability in these epidemic trends. Twenty-seven states require that an abstinence-only approach in sex-ed classes be stressed, and only thirteen states mandate that curricula be medically accurate. These unsettling facts have forced many students to take sexual health into their own hands.
Enter KC Miller, a high school senior who leads a movement advocating for comprehensive sex-education in Pennsylvania. At just seventeen years old, Miller founded Keystone CASE (Coalition for Advancing Sex Education), which aims to implement a standardized program of sex-education. According to Miller, comprehensive sex education promotes “the idea that sex is a healthy and normal part of the human experience.” Rather than stressing the debunked merit of abstinence, Miller hopes to put an end to abstinence-only education. “An absence of information is not education,” Miller emphasizes in his 2018 TEDx Talk, “it’s harmful to public health.”
In its place, Miller has drafted legislation entitled The Pennsylvania Healthy Youth Act. Based on The California Healthy Youth Act, Miller’s bill would require that Pennsylvania schools provide “ consistent, medically accurate, and unbiased instruction” that encompasses STD/HIV prevention, sexual orientation, contraception, and consent. To ensure the information remains up to date, Miller notes that “there are provisions in the bill that require curriculums to be reviewed consistently by medical professionals.”
Volunteers march with signs provided by Say It With A Condom, a proud sponsor of Keystone CASE
Currently, no such provisions exist. “Due to a lack of requirements by the federal government and individual states,” Miller says, “ it’s up to states and schools to choose what they teach. Unfortunately, these schools don’t have experts advising them with the best information.” Consequently, Miller believes that the federal government must mandate comprehensive sex education to ensure that the youth are receiving factual information.
While critics of comprehensive sex education claim that furnishing the young with this information would be equivalent to openly encouraging them to have sex, research indicates otherwise. Miller’s website cites a study which shows that comprehensive sex education programs “help delay the initiation of sex, lessen the frequency of unsafe sexual contact, reduce the number of sexual partners, and increase the use of FDA approved contraception among sexually active partners.” In California, the only state that has passed comprehensive sex education, data shows that thirty-two percent of California high school students have ever had sex, compared to forty-one percent nationally.
Despite the overwhelming evidence in his favor, KC Miller’s efforts remain politically controversial. Recently, the Trump administration announced that federal grants will be awarded to sexual health programs that favor abstinence as the best means of STD and pregnancy prevention. In his TEDx Talk, Miller cites “a study from the government reform committee, which looked into the thirteen most commonly used abstinence curriculums in the nation. Only two of them were factual. The other eleven, used by twenty-five states, contained ‘unproven assertions, subjective conclusions, and outright falsehoods.’” Outrageously, the federal government has spent two billion dollars on these programs over the last twenty years.
KC Miller, right, leads Keystone CASE at Philly Pride
The consequences of abstinence-only education extend beyond that of spreading falsehoods to children. The CDC reports that “half of the 20 million new STDS reported each year were among young people, between the ages of 15 to 24.” Moreover, a study from the National Survey of Family Growth finds that “teens who received comprehensive sex education were 50 percent less likely to experience pregnancy than those who received abstinence-only education.”
In addition to combatting abstinence-only education, Miller’s comprehensive sex education also promotes inclusivity among the LGBTQ community. “In some states, LGBTQ issues must be discussed in a negative way,” says Miller, “In some states, they are being taught that sexual orientation is harmful to society.” A study from 2015 finds that 12 percent of millennials said that same-sex relationships were covered in their sex-ed classes, and only twelve states require discussion of sexual orientation in sex education.
Miller, who tabled at the June 10th Philadelphia pride parade, says that one of the biggest parts of his work is “reaching out to the LGBT community to distribute free information, free contraceptives, and free condoms… Pride is always a great time for those conversations because it’s always been a time to be proud and to express who we are.” Following his graduation from high school, Miller will attend UPenn to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing. He plans to continue this important fight at the college-level, and perhaps one day at the congressional-level.