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January 26, 2014

Sex education varies among Okla. school districts

NORMAN — Oklahoma public schools vary widely in the amount of sex education they provide students, with some of the largest districts offering limited or no programs, according to a check of nearly a dozen districts by Oklahoma Watch.

Among the state's five largest districts, the largest, Oklahoma City Public Schools, provides no sex-education classes to students at any grade level, although the district used to offer a comprehensive program two decades ago.

Tulsa Public Schools began providing a comprehensive program this school year, and will expand the classes later this semester. Among the next three largest districts, Moore Public Schools offers the least amount of sex education, teaching only HIV/AIDS education; Edmond and Putnam City public schools conduct short-term events for the student body as a whole.

The Oklahoma Department of Education does not keep records of which of the state's 520 districts teach sex education. The state is one of 29 states that don't mandate sex education in public schools, according to a recent report by the Guttmacher Institute, a research nonprofit. Along with 32 other states and the District of Columbia, Oklahoma does require HIV/AIDS-prevention education in schools.

Some studies have found that comprehensive sex-education programs help reduce teen birth rates, with one study showing such programs don't increase sexual activity or sexually transmitted diseases.

Oklahoma has the nation's fourth highest teen birth rate, with 6,496 births, or 50.4 per 1,000 females, aged 15 to 19 in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teen pregnancies have declined in Oklahoma and nationally, with Oklahoma's rate dropping by about 14 percent since 2007.

In 2011, 50 percent of female high school students and 51 percent of male high school students in Oklahoma reported having sexual intercourse, according to a state profile by the Sexuality and Information Council of the United States, a nonprofit devoted to education about sexuality and reproductive health. That compares with 46 percent and 49 percent nationwide.

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