CLEVELAND - While having "the talk" with kids about the birds and the bees is typically a parent's duty, some researchers say comprehensive sexual-health education is also vital - and it's information some Ohio kids are missing out on.
Shaina Munoz is a policy and planning associate for the Center for Community Solutions. Munoz and other researchers at the center surveyed high school students in Cuyahoga County about their experiences with sex ed, and found what they're learning is inconsistent, sporadic, reactive and in some cases, minimal.
She explains teens often rely on friends when they have questions about sexual and reproductive health.
"It's a friend sharing something based on their personal experience, or supporting a peer by going to Google together and looking at the first answer they that they find. And so, that's potential gray areas," says Munoz.
Ohio is the only state without health education standards, and Munoz says the topic of sex education can vary between classrooms. The conversations revealed that not only was the timing of sex ed classes disjointed, but young people said they aren't learning about healthy relationships or consent; that LGBTQ identities are not included, and real-life examples are not provided to help contextualize the information.
Munoz contends comprehensive sex education should be age appropriate: for kindergartners, information about hygiene; for high school students, lessons on consent and healthy relationships. She notes it should also provide medically accurate information about puberty, sexually transmitted diseases and the effectiveness of contraceptive methods.
"Comprehensive sex education talks about abstinence as the only 100-percent way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection, but it builds on the other ways that one can protect oneself," says Munoz.
Munoz adds that inclusivity is also important in sexual education curriculum.
"We want sex education to be inclusive of all genders, sexual orientation, race, religion," says Munoz. "And so, how are facilitators trained to work with diverse groups of young people and make sure that young people feel represented?"
It's estimated that fewer than half of all high schools and only one in five middle schools in the U.S. cover all 16 of the topics the CDC identifies as critical for sexual health education.