Sex education has been a controversial aspect of U.S. school curricula for nearly half a century. But there is one vital component conspicuously absent that merits universal agreement: the fundamental, objective and accurate scientific facts of human embryology about when a human being and pregnancy normally begin.

As Congress considers future investments about sex education programs, and as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) evaluates the implementation of funds, there is an opportunity to address this serious flaw and improve sex-ed.

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According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, all states are somehow involved in sex education, but specific content and even accuracy requirements and standards vary greatly. In a 2014 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 72 percent of high schools taught pregnancy prevention as part of required instruction; 76 percent taught that abstinence is the most effective method to avoid pregnancy, HIV, and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs); 61 percent taught about contraception efficacy (i.e., how well contraception works and does not work); and 35 percent taught students how to use a condom.

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Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on sex education each year. In FY 2017, Congress provided $266 million for various projects, including: $101 million for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP), $75 million for the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP), and $90 million for abstinence education (AE). Moreover, federal spending represents just a fraction of the total resources allocated to related initiatives annually by state and local governments.

Yet what are we getting for all these millions spent? Many “education” curriculums claim to be “comprehensive” and strive to provide “medically, factually or technically accurate” information — but they fail to even inform students as to the objective, accurate and empirical facts of human embryology about when pregnancy and the new human embryo begin.

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Considering the goals are to reduce unintended pregnancy and encourage responsible behavior among teens, shouldn’t such basic, correct scientific information about human reproduction be the very starting point of any sex ed program?

Related: If You Don’t Teach Your Kids About Sex, the Culture Will

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In human sexual reproduction, pregnancy normally starts when the new human being begins to exist: at first contact between a sperm and an oocyte / “egg” in a woman’s fallopian tube (not in her uterus) — marking the beginning of the process known as fertilization. This scientific fact is documented in the Carnegie Stages of Early Human Embryonic Development, the global standard of human embryological research (instituted in 1942). The Carnegie Stages cover the 23 stages of development of an early human being during the embryonic period, which begins at fertilization and continues through slightly more than eight full weeks.

Carnegie Stage 1a is when a new human being — a human embryo — begins to exist.

There is a clear and urgent need to improve America’s sex education curricula. A recent CDC survey indicates that more than 41 percent of all high school students say they have had sex. How can we expect adolescents to make informed decisions about matters related to human sexual reproduction (e.g., sexual intercourse, contraception, pregnancy, emergency contraception, abortion) without knowing the scientifically accurate information about when a human life and pregnancy starts?

Teaching teens that one potential consequence of sexual intercourse is human reproduction, and that a new individual member of the human species (and pregnancy) can begin to exist within hours after having sex, is an essential part of educating and empowering young people.

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Congress has a deadline of December 8, 2017, in which to make decisions about the Teen Pregnancy & Prevention Partnership (TPPP) funding for FY 2018 and whether to extend the PREP and AE programs. As the U.S. continues to evaluate, fund and implement existing and fresh approaches and curriculums, it should address these basic, missing, critical and objective scientific facts about human sexual reproduction; they are the key to more effective sex-ed.

Aren’t educated decisions always better?

Brooke Stanton is the founder and CEO of Contend Projects. Christiane West is the co-founder and head of partnerships. Contend Projects is a nonprofit education organization dedicated to spreading the accurate science about human embryology and when a human being begins to exist; it is based in the Washington, D.C., area. 

(photo credit, homepage images: Better sex education…, CC BY 2.0, by The People Speak!)