In America, comprehensive, factual, and safe sex education is not being taught in public high schools nationwide. Out of 50 states, only 24 of them require sex education to be taught. This is problematic for a myriad of reasons including an increase in unwanted pregnancies, a lack of understanding around the reality of consent, the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases and infections, and uncertainty in one’s sexuality in adulthood.
In order to create a more sexually safe and liberated America, we must begin to re-brand sex education in our schools either through legislation or social pressures. Despite this commonly accepted attitude, the issue with re-branding “the talk” is not often how to start, but where. There are several ways in which reproductive health instruction must be reformed; however, for now, let us go into detail on the surface level of issues that must be dealt with.
REMOVE SCHOOL-INTRODUCED SEPARATION ON THE BASIS OF SEX
The first issue that must be handled, unfortunately, is often the first instance students associate with sex education: separation. From the moment of “the dreaded talk,” it is made clear to all that reproductive health teaching, and therefore intercourse, is an isolated act separated based on sex. The most dangerous belief held from this presumption is that sex is not something that is done for love or pleasure, but that it is a moment that lacks intimacy and is done to a person instead of with a person.
A common counterargument to this claim is that if reproductive health was held cooperatively, student’s immature attitudes would not allow for the course to be held in a serious or educational matter, but I believe this notion buries its argument with its own reason. If children aren’t mature enough to learn sexual education in the same room, are they mature enough to be taught sex-ed at that age?
When receiving sexual education, children must learn collectively in the same room to shield them from the attitudes of detachment that will otherwise carry them into adulthood.
ABSTINENCE VS SAFETY
Although safety these days is the more commonly taught alternative to avoiding pregnancy, there is always an underlying push for abstinence in our schools. We know of abstinence as the refraining from sexual activity, normally until marriage. It has for decades been the preferred method of “contraceptive” education within reproductive health. However, while abstinence pushes for a decrease in teen pregnancy rates due to one refraining from being sexually active, abstinence teachings statistically have a more negative impact than positive. Not only do they leave children and young adults uninformed and vulnerable, but they also increase teen pregnancy rates. The idea of widespread abstinence is also unrealistic as our society is increasingly destigmatizing negative connotations surrounding sexual activity outside of marriage.
Currently, 66 percent of schools provide information about contraception, however, whether or not the information is comprehensive varies. For the idea of safe sex to be expanded to its full extent, public schools must educate students on how contraceptives can help stop sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and pregnancy, differentiate what kinds of sexual activity can risk pregnancy, and hold in-depth conversations about the dangers of STDs.
It is important to note that there is inherently no “right answer” to how someone decides to protect themselves from the risk of pregnancy and STDs, it is ultimately left to individual choice. However, when that choice is corrupted by the badgering influence of public schooling, it is often dangerous and does not allow for the expansion of one’s opinion on the topic of their autonomy.
CREATE A SEX-POSITIVE ENVIRONMENT
Perhaps the most important reformation that must be put into place is the process of creating a sex-positive environment, which can easily be done by giving an all-inclusive and non-shaming sexual education. This starts, as previously stated, by holding “the talk” in one room with students of all genders participating in the discussion of sex. Adults must also frame sex as a natural aspect of humanity that can lead to pregnancy if proper contraceptive methods (i.e. birth control pills, IUDs, condoms, abstinence…) are not used.
A sex-positive environment both in and out of the classroom is extremely important as it encourages consent, healthy sexual relationships, healthy discussions relating to sex, as well as breaks down gender stereotypes. Sex-positive does not mean to encourage sex, but instead to allow teens to openly speak of or express their sexual preferences and discuss safety measures with them.
As seen in the graphic above, shockingly, in hot pink, only nine states and Washington D.C. require consent to be taught in sexual education. This is contrasted to bright yellow where reproductive health courses do not require consent to be taught and even more radically to dark grey where sexual education, in general, is not required by law.
The positive effects of teaching consent during sex-ed curriculum can seem quite obvious but were solidified in research done by Columbia University where they found students who received comprehensive sexual education on consent were less likely to experience sexual assault in college.
The ability to give and receive consent is the foundation of sexual relationships and must be taught so that it is honored and understood to protect all. An article from Bustle mentions, “Sex educator, and leading LGBT expert Kryss Shane tells Bustle that when teaching consent in schools, the most basic explanation can be as simple as saying, ‘unless it’s an emphatic yes for both you and your partner, it’s an absolute no,’” their article also goes into great depth of what consent education should look like in a reproductive health environment.
REQUIRE LGBTQ+ INCLUSIVITY
An often-overlooked factor of progressive sex-ed is creating a bridge of inclusivity by requiring sex-ed to cover LGBTQ+ reproductive health. According to an article published by the Human Rights Campaign, “Among Millenials surveyed in 2015, only 12 percent said their sex education classes covered same-sex relationships.” This lack of comprehensive sexual education negatively impacts sexually active young adults of the LGBTQ+ community. This lack of preparation means that they are more likely to have sex at an early age, have sex while under the influence of alcohol or other substances (nonconsensual), experience dating violence, and are less likely to use contraceptive methods when having sex.
The Human Rights Campaign urges parents, youth, educators, and policymakers to solve these issues by becoming advocates for LGBTQ-inclusive sex education, ensuring that a school is a safe and accepting space for LGBTQ students, implementing LGBTQ-inclusive sex education in all environments, parents talking to their children and teens about sex and sexuality, as well as focusing to remove state-level legal barriers to LGBTQ-inclusive sex education in schools.
Asexuality and aromanticism must also be covered if future sex education will truly hold up to the title of being considered inclusive. The orientation of not feeling sexual attraction, not experiencing romantic attraction, or both, must be normalized and openly discussed.
HOW IT WILL IMPACT MODERN DAY WOMEN
With these five reformations taken into account and implemented into our public school systems, future adults, particularly women, will benefit greatly. These five progressive sex-ed ideas will allow a generation to have a healthier relationship with sex, be more comfortable communicating on the topic of their sexuality, as well as respect the sexual autonomy and consensual choices of others. The rate of sexual assault attacks will also decrease, a category that primarily affects women, making the idea of sexual encounters a safer space for women. Overall, only positive health and relationship elements will bloom from comprehensive sexual education. No longer will it be referred to as “the talk,” instead, sexual education will be viewed as a natural learning stage on one of the most fundamental levels of our humanity.