Sex Education in the US, It’s Time for a Change

My feminism class. Photo Credit: Lexie Clinton.
My feminism class in New York; we deserve better sex education (photo credit: Lexie Clinton)

Today’s high school students are deprived of a fully informative and beneficial sex education.

Sure, students get the basic rundown of anatomy and the dangers of sex (information on STIs or sexually transmitted infections as well as unintended pregnancies), but that is not all there is to know.

Recently, issues regarding the flaws in sex education on a global scale has received some media attention. A girl in Singapore called out the sexist flaws in her sex-ed textbook through an open letter on Facebook and sparked a huge response.

At my high school, I learned about STIs, genital anatomy, and methods of contraception. However, most schools don’t even teach this much. The sex education classes at my cousin’s Catholic school did not teach the students about any form of contraceptives; they only taught them that abstinence was the only way to prevent the risks of sexual intercourse. The school used a textbook that stated that abstinence is the only way to prevent STIs and pregnancy.

Some laws regarding sex education in America excuse students from taking sex education and even allow schools to get away with not being medically accurate. Clearly, America’s system of sex education is currently very flawed and must create a new curriculum that addresses more relevant and realistic issues immediately.

Only teaching about the dangers of sex and about abstinence will not stop all teenagers from having sex. During adolescence, teens experience hormonal and physical changes. Because it’s natural for young adults to want to start exploring their sexuality, depriving students of the knowledge of contraceptives will only lead to the spread of STIs and more teenage pregnancies. Not knowing any forms of contraception or how to access contraceptives will not stop teenagers from having sex, it will only lead to teenagers having unprotected sex.

Instead of trying to scare kids out of having sex, our schools need to teach teens how to be safe.

Sex-ed classes also need to stop teaching teenagers that sex is a bad thing. In health classes, sex is often viewed as something negative and scary. Shedding a negative light upon sex does not benefit teenagers at all. Sex is a natural human instinct, so rather than highlighting the negatives of sexual intercourse, health classes should acknowledge that consensual sex isn’t a bad thing.

Sex is an intimate act between two people who care about each other. That is how sex should be presented in schools. Wanting to have sex isn’t weird or bad, and neither is not wanting to have sex. Sex is something that can be beneficial to relationships and is a form of human bonding.

I recently became familiar with the term “sex-positive.” I learned about it in my high school feminism class when we Skyped with a brilliant woman named Padmini Iyer. She told us about research she had conducted in high schools in India about gender and sexuality. During her talk, she mentioned that she was sex-positive. She then defined the term as having a positive view of your own sexuality as well as that others. By formal definition sex-positive means pertaining to being comfortable with one’s own sexuality and with sexuality in general.” I identify as sex-positive and believe that schools should be taking a more sex-positive approach to health classes.

Health classes must also acknowledge that sex isn’t always between a man and a woman and it doesn’t always lead to reproduction. Classes must not exclude members of the LGBTQI community in discussions, as sex between two women or two men is still sex. Issues of sexuality and gender are often disregarded in health classes across the U.S.

Problems that students of the LGBTQI community face day to day are ignored during sex-ed classes. On May 20th of 2011, Tennessee’s State Senate passed a bill known as the “Don’t Say Gay,” bill. This bill would have prevented public school teachers from addressing issues of gender orientation and sexuality. Luckily, the bill was never passed into law, partially because of a petition written by an outstanding young LGBTQI activist named Marcel Neergaard. Even though the bill never went into affect, it is still reflective of the attitude many schools have when approaching LGBTQI issues during sex education classes.

Another extremely important issue that is often ignored in sex-ed classes is consent. American health classes must dedicate a unit to this issue and there is no reason for it to be largely ignored. Consent is when a person agrees to a certain action or behavior. A person, in order to consent, must have the capacity to consent, which means they are not mentally disabled, not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and are of legal age to be able to consent.

It is crucial to educate boys on the definition of consent. Having sex with a girl who is too intoxicated to say no or has said no and is not listened to is a crime. Taking pictures of a girl who is not fully dressed without her permission is a crime. Touching a girl in a way that she doesn’t want to be touched is a crime.

I strongly believe that educating boys and men on consent can change rape culture in this country. Often times, men commit sex crimes without even realizing that what they’ve done is a form of assault. Girls also need to be educated on consent and what is considered to be rape and assault. Sometimes girls don’t realize that they’ve actually experienced sexual assault. Educating boys and girls on what it means to give consent could potentially lead to a decrease in rapes and an increase in the reports of rape when they do happen.

Amazing things can come as a result of simply changing our approach to sex education. Improving sex education in our society can help to change rape culture, prevent teenage pregnancies, and the spread of STIs. There are many advocates for better sex education. Sites such as Advocates for YouthScarleteen and Sex, etc. share great resources for young people to be educated on STIs, contraceptives, abuse, consent, and many other critical issues. The information provided on these websites is vital and should be taught in classrooms throughout the country.

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