Sex education can seem awkward and even intimidating as a subject to broach with your loved one, especially if they are exploring their identity within the LGBTQIA+ communities. However, comprehensive sex education can promote and facilitate safe and responsible sexual behavior in teens and adults via deconstruction of taboos and centering healthy communication habits. So, if comprehensive sex ed really is so helpful, why aren’t more American schools adopting it as a standard for their health classes?
2. What is comprehensive sex ed?
Sex education can be categorized into two schools of thought: the “comprehensive” model and the “abstinence” model. Let’s start by describing the “abstinence” model. There are actually two models of sex education that prioritize abstinence in modern sex ed: “abstinence-only” and “abstinence-plus.” These models are virtually the same in every aspect except for one: where “abstinence-only” prioritizes that abstinence is the only acceptable standard of sexual behavior for teens until they reach adulthood (sometimes even until marriage), “abstinence-plus” education also includes information on protection such as condoms and birth control. However, “abstinence-plus” education focuses on the flaws of these protection methods, yet still champions abstinence as the fool-proof way to not contract an STI or get pregnant.
On the flipside, “comprehensive” sex education provides medically accurate, appropriate information on sex to teens, as well as advice on safety beyond simply choosing not to have sex. Planned Parenthood describes several key topics discussed in comprehensive sex ed as: human development, relationships, personal skills, sexual behavior, sexual health, and society and culture. Compared to the abstinence model, comprehensive sex ed provides information on a wider variety of topics, allows for a broader dialogue on a range of issues, and even works to reduce the stigma surrounding sex by simply talking about it in an honest, mature way.
3. The state of sex ed in America
Currently, only 24 states, plus the District of Columbia, even mandate that sex education be taught in schools. 37 states require that abstinence is included in sex education, and 26 of those states require that abstinence must be prioritized above all other safety methods. Only 18 states require that information about birth control be shared with students. Only 10 states mandate discussions about LGBTQIA+ relationships and gender diversity, and 6 states outright ban the subject. Let’s move away from the dire-sounding numbers for a moment. The reality is, most sex education policies for public school systems are decided by state legislators, and vary widely depending on where you live. Often, they favor the abstinence model, and private schools favor the comprehensive model, but even then, there is no guarantee of the quality of sex education that children receive while they are in school. This is just the tip of the iceberg, given that the second most prevalent source of sex education for young people is most often found in churches, where shame and “purity” culture is enforced en masse.
Check back in next week for part 2 of this blog, where I detail the state of queer representation in pop culture, adolescent sexuality and identity, and how this all ties together in favor of comprehensive sex education!