Updated: Sep 14, 2020
By Natasha Santana
Image via Radical Buttons on Etsy
Let’s rewind time back to when you were sitting on a cold ceramic chair, hands leaning on a hard cold desk, ready to endure a class period of silly comments about an anatomy diagram. Your mind being filled with traditional teachings for about 45 minutes. Let’s discuss the faults of traditional teachings, the failings in emotional guidance with young relationships, the pressure of sex in a relationship, and how vital making inclusivity and accuracy a priority in sex education.
It’s just fictional to restrain teenagers from discovering who they are, and figuring out their bodies. According to The Guttmacher Institute, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation “41% of teens have had sex” and “43% of teens did not use a condom the last time they had sex. On average, teens have sex for the first time at age 17. Teenagers account for nearly half of new STD cases.” Additionally, there is no guidance to the side effects of these hormonal changes. This lack of education leads kids aged 8-16 thinking that something is wrong with them, when in reality this is just nature. But how would they know that, if all they learn is the trinity of condoms, abstinence, and birth control?
Ana Contreras via Voices of Gen Z
The problem with sex education is that the curriculum is not mandated in many states. The majority of educators’ attention is nowhere near these classes, and often they are only taught for a year or a semester, maybe sometimes as a seminar. More often than not it’s taught by a biased non-professional. The National Organization for Women New York City states, “in 2017, only 37.9% of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, and 80.1% of high schoolers were taught about all sixteen critical sexual education topics (as identified by the CDC). Sex-ed became a requirement in New York City schools in 2011, but there are no regulated curriculums.” In New York, the majority of funding went to solely abstinence led programs and education. In 2018, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that these programs are ineffective. “Teens enrolled in abstinence-only programs are not more likely to abstain from sex. Teens who learn about contraceptives in their sex ed were 50% less likely to get pregnant. Students who are taught abstinence-only sex-ed are no more likely to engage in unprotected sex.” These unnecessary disputes come from lawmakers such as State Sen. Steve O’ Ban in the state of Washington, where lawmakers passed an extensive bill that requires sexual education to be taught from the grades K-12. O’Ban rebutts that the content of sexual education is too ‘explicit’. Attitudes like that here in America are the particular reason why the U.S. has the highest teen pregnancy rates in modern society. The Future of Sex Education Initiative states “Each year in the US, more than 750,000 women ages 15–19 become pregnant, with more than 80 percent of these pregnancies unintended. Furthermore, while young people in the US ages 15–25 make up only one-quarter of the sexually active population, they contract about half of the 19 million sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) annually. This equates to one in four sexually active teenagers contracting a sexually transmitted disease each year. And young people ages 13–29 account for about one-third of the estimated 50,000 new HIV infections each year, the largest share of any age group.”
Pregnancy should not be the only focal point of this curriculum. It should be accompanied by lessons on the safety of entering a sexually active relationship, and the importance of managing boundaries with a partner at such young ages. Dating is no longer the swapping of cooties, or a gentle peck on the cheek. Sexual education completely contradicts itself when it teaches about the prevention or safety of sex, without discussing relationships. A lot of coerced intercourse occurs within an adolescent couple. According to Bristol Scholars Barter, Aghtaie, and Larkins they found “Recent surveys of English young people with experience of dating or relationships suggest victimisation prevalence of 22-48% for young women and 12-27% for young men aged 14–17 years.” Due to the vulnerability at these ages, it is incredibly important to remind kids and teenagers that dating contains much more intensity than just kissing, going on dates, and holding hands. This level of intimacy comes with understanding your partner, valuing their existence, and treating them kindly. Having dating experts come in to elaborate, instead of gym teachers and english teachers teaching these things, would have a more positive impact than just throwing these young minds into the wild.
Along with the archaic teachings of the curriculum, there is almost no inclusivity. Sexual education elaborates the intercourse and ‘safety’ of a man and a woman, and the anatomy of both traditional genders. Yet, in the society we are in, we forget a surging community that needs dire help with understanding who they are becoming: The LGBTQ+ community. The GLSEN 2013 National School Climate Survey found that “fewer than five percent of LGBT students had health classes that included positive representations of LGBT-related topics. Among Millennials surveyed in 2015, only 12 percent said their sex education classes covered same-sex relationships.” Along with their new anatomical changes, a fair amount are questioning everything that they traditionally know. Questioning their sexuality, questioning if they are the gender that they were born in, and questioning if they even fall into the traditional gender binary. Yet, all we seem to talk about is men-to-women sex, when that’s NOT everyone in the world. Sexual education classes in 8 states here in America, including Alabama, “emphasize [...] that homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state.” Additionally, states like Florida and North Carolina “mandate that sex education focus on ‘monogamous heterosexual marriage.’ The states that include LGBT in sex ed are Colorado, Washington, California, and Iowa where its regulatory. When you compare the level of hate crimes between these states, it is evident that inclusivity is needed, and that inclusivity saves lives. According to Shannon D. Snapp “In a survey of more than 1,200 middle- and high-school students across California, students whose health and sexuality classes expressed support for LGBTQ people were less likely to report bullying based on sexual orientation and gender expression.” Whereas in Alabama, sex ed is not inclusive, and that leads to hate crimes like when \ Dana Martin, a 31-year-old black transwoman from Hope Hull, was found dead in a car that had crashed in a ditch with a gunshot wound to her head in Montgomery in January.
When I asked a fellow LGBTQ+ member (who will remain anonymous) what it was like going through the stages of discovering themselves, and sitting through a strict curriculum of never hearing any reassurance, this is what they had to say:
“I certainly think that if my fifth grade “puberty talk” had been more informative I would have come out sooner and saved myself a lot of anxiety and stress.
I personally began puberty earlier than a lot of my friends, and it caused me to resent myself and not understand why. I began to hate my body because I saw my ideals as unachievable, because I was unaware that the physical changes I wanted were basically male puberty.
Obviously as I grew older everyone learned about puberty one way or another, but I hadn’t made the connection yet and certainly didn’t have the vocabulary for it. My high school health class breezed over sexual education, we literally spent the unit memorizing anatomy and then a small bit on teen pregnancy.”
“We never talked at all about gender, sexuality, preferences, or safety. It left me with a lot of questions, but nobody else seemed concerned about it so I just wrote it off as another thing queer people just get left out of. I am not very sexually active but there is a small part of me that is filled with dread at the thought of having to navigate queer sexual safety with such blindness. Not only with physical protection, but knowing how to safely communicate with sexual partners, and have conversations about sexual health. I hope that future sex ed courses can cover the LGBT community and help remove the stigma around us and our sexual health. This type of education saves lives, I have the privilege to find resources if and when I need them, but there are so many queer youth who don’t have that opportunity and need it just as much.”
Let’s listen to the voices of those we are feeding the information to, let’s become more opened to the idea of sex and remove the 1950’s stigma of sex. Let’s teach the future of our world, the young minds that sit on those ceramic desks, that they are not crazy. Let's teach them that the condom in front of them comes with a world of more information on why they feel the way they feel. The future of sex education needs to become more honest, and more vulnerable. Let the future of sex education be safe, and loving!
Written by writer Natasha Santana