According to a 2020 study, half of 11- to- 13 year-olds reported having seen pornography in some way. Of the children who admitted intentionally searching for pornography, nearly two-thirds of them said they had done so for one or more of the following reasons: 1) ideas for new things to try sexually, 2) learning about sex generally, 3) learning how to get better at sex, and 4) learning what people expect from me sexually. Girls in particular mentioned using pornography to learn how to meet boys’ expectations.
COVID has only complicated young people’s sexual, social, emotional and mental health. With increased isolation and mental health setbacks, students of all ages have upped their use of online connectivity, including using the internet for intimate connections, sex information and sexual experiences. With fewer in-person social interactions, COVID has shone a spotlight on the need for access to appropriate sexual health information.
“We know as youth sexual health experts and as parents that it is not healthy for the internet to be a child’s source of sex education,” explains Barb Thayer, Executive Director, Candor Health Education (formerly the Robert Crown Center for Health Education).
While parents agree that sex education is needed, most don’t want to deliver it themselves. In fact, the vast majority of parents believe that sex education should be taught in schools. One study showed 85% of parents said it should be taught in middle school. Unfortunately, the pandemic created a situation in which kids had to seek other sources. A recent report showed that one-third of kids get their sexual and reproductive information from friends and another third identified digital spaces as their primary source.
Evidence shows that educating children appropriately and early about puberty, sex and how to communicate with others about these topics leads to better sexual health choices in successive years. Candor Health Education has been talking to kids in 4th to 8th grades for nearly 50 years, but the breadth of content has grown during that time. “We still talk to students about puberty, but we also cover topics like sexting, consent, digital dating abuse, drug education, and lots more,” Thayer says.
Recent data shows that the Candor program works by providing students with useful tools for making decisions about sex. Examples of information acquired from students after completing the Teen Sexual Health curriculum include:
- 94% of students accurately define ‘consent is a verbal yes’ to be given each time sexual contact occurs
- 94% of students identify possible outcomes of sexting: feelings of regret, messages being sent beyond intended recipients, and legal consequences.
Candor programming is delivered to students in one of three ways: in-person, live virtual (live educator presenting over Zoom), and online interactive (recorded educator programs). All use a new learning management system for increased participation and learning growth. Its sexual health programs include Puberty 1 (4th and 5th grades), Puberty 2 (5th and 6th grades), Life Begins (6th grade), and Teen Sexual Health (7th and 8th grades). It also provides a continuum of drug education programming called Science Behind Drugs for students in grades 4-8.
Candor Health Education, a Hinsdale, IL-based not-for-profit organization, employs more than 12 health educators trained to navigate tough topics with kids. It provides some of the most robust drug and sexual health education programs in the country, touching an average of 80,000 4th– 8th grade students in more than 600 schools each year.