Call 311 for the 411 about sex

Not even New York mandates comprehensive sex ed in schools.

Published August 8, 2007 2:15PM (EDT)

If your kid's going to learn to put a condom on a banana anywhere, anywhere other than, say, San Francisco, or a slumber party, it's going to be New York. Right?

Maybe, maybe not. While New York -- along with 34 other states and the District of Columbia -- requires education on HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases in schools, it does not mandate sex ed. Its HIV curriculum addresses birth control in terms of HIV prevention, not pregnancy prevention. The decision to teach sex ed depends entirely on principals or districts and, more to the point, their budgets. But no state money is currently earmarked for comprehensive sex ed. (Compare and contrast: In 2005, the state got $13 million in federal and state funds -- only Texas got more -- for abstinence-only education, and we know how well that works. As Planned Parenthood of New York City told Broadsheet this morning, according to its research, you can walk into one school and find a great sex ed program, then walk into another five blocks away and find none at all. Yes, "even in the city."

That's why the Sex Ed Alliance of New York City, which includes groups from Planned Parenthood to Big Brothers, Big Sisters of NYC, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S., has launched a simple but unconventional campaign to urge New Yorkers to call not their legislators but, well, their customer service representatives. Most of us think of the "311" line mainly as the number to call for information about alternate-side parking schedules (by which New Yorkers with cars live and die) or how to dispose of old paint cans. But it's also a sort of telephonic comment box, through which one can offer a suggestion or a complaint -- in this case, to the Department of Education. Callers are urged to tell the operator they believe sex ed should be required for all kids in New York. A report of calls will also go to the City Council, the public advocate, community boards and the public.

Sure can't hurt. As they say about New York, if we can't make it comprehensive here, we can't make it comprehensive anywhere.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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