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How to improve sex education at school, and at home

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Student in sex education group
In this Oct. 8, 2015, file photo, Justin Pace reads along with classmates during a ninth-grade Teen Talk High School class at Carlmont High School in Belmont, Calif.
Jeff Chiu | AP Photo File

Most schools in the United States today are falling short on sex education.

Only 24 states require public schools to teach sex ed, and of that number even fewer require including HIV in the curriculum.

But experts say it's not the schools' failure to talk about protected sex that's the biggest issue.

It's time for the talk. Or preferably, "talks."

MPR News host Kerri Miller spoke with Dr. Leslie Walker, chief of the division of adolescent Medicine at Seattle Children's Hospital, and Al Vernacchio, sex educator at Friends' Central, a private school near Philadelphia, about the state of sex education across the country.

Both guests stressed the importance of going beyond just talking about contraception.

Introducing an open discourse in schools and at home about pleasure, power dynamics and sexual identity is imperative to the safety of children, said Walker.

"Kids when they're alone, and they feel safe will ask you a lot of questions that may be critical to them feeling that they're safe and normal and able to have a good life," she said.

Vernacchio agreed, adding that failure to use consistent healthy communication in these discussions is a big problem in sexual education that can lead to kids entering into unhealthy relationships later in life. 

"So often in our sexuality education classes we think we're giving kids clear messages but we're only giving them part of the information," he said.

More resources for kids and adults

• Sex Ect.

•  Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverburg

• Scarleteen: Sex Education For the Real World

•  Dating and Sex: A Guide for the 21st Century Teen Boy, scheduled to be published this fall.

To hear the full discussion, click the play button above.