According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity.” This means that puberty education in America must include multiple facets, not just physical changes.
Puberty education is a subset of the larger topic of sex education, which is often called sex ed, reproductive health, or growth and development in American schools. Puberty education focuses on the developmental stages that happen as children begin puberty, most often in grades 4 to 7.
Support for Sex Education
Most American parents support sex education regardless of their political affiliation. A 2017 study indicates that more than 93 percent of parents place high importance on sex education in both middle and high school. The odds of parents that identify as Democrats wanting an individual topic included in sex education are greater for all topics but abstinence. However, a large majority of Republicans support inclusion of all of the topics. Support for including all of the topics in high school is greater than support for doing so in middle school. Republicans and Democrats place almost equal value on the importance of sex education controlling for demographic factors.
Students want to learn much more than many schools are comfortable teaching. Since curiosity is a means of learning, asking questions and finding answers Is very important for young people. Schools in America tend to focus sex education on teaching the potential negative consequences of sex, such as STIs and teen pregnancy. Teaching the topics that are of the most relevance to young people is important. They are interested in topics such as relationships, pleasure, masturbation, gender, and sexual identities. Sadly, these topics are often avoided, creating a gap between what schools are allowed to teach and what students need to learn.
Sex Education in American Schools
Sex education is subject to jurisdiction by each of the 50 states and five territories in the United States of America since there is no federal law requiring sex education.
Federal law does not require that sexual health education be taught in schools. Laws in 30 states and the District of Columbia require sexual health education in public schools; 39 states and the District of Columbia require HIV instruction. Only 22 states require sex education to be “medically accurate,” and standards for medical accuracy vary.
This creates a patchwork quilt of laws related to how sex education is taught in public schools. Schools are left to decide what, when, and how to teach sex education, trying to meet their state’s legal requirements. The quality and content of sex education varies widely depending on geography and school district decisions. The following is a sampling of state sex education standards:
- Mississippi Department of Education, Health Education School-Based Prevention Education (Click here)
- California Department of Education, California’s Health Education Framework (Click here)
- North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, Healthful Living Standards (Click here)
- New York State Education Department, Learning Standards for Health, Physical Education, and Family and Consumer Sciences (Click here)
For more information…
…about teaching sex education in U.S. schools, hopefully including puberty education, check out these resources:
- National Sex Education Standards, Second Edition, Future of Sex Ed
- State Profiles, SIECUS
- State policies on sex education in schools, National Conference of State Legislatures, 2020
- Three Decades of Research: The Case for Comprehensive Sex Education, Goldfarb & Lieberman, 2020
- Parents’ views on sex education in schools: How much do Democrats and Republicans agree. Kantor & Levitz, 2017
- Sex Education in America, NPR and Kaiser, 2004
- Factors associated with the content of sex education in U. S., Landry DJ, Darroch JE, Singh S, Higgins J., 2007
 Parents’ views on sex education in schools: How much do Democrats and Republicans agree. Kantor & Levitz, 2017
 National Conference of State Legislatures. (2020). State policies on sex education in schools. Retrieved from http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-policies-on-sex-education-in-schools.aspx