Receiving an education has always been incredibly important to me, as well as making sure that the government (federal and state) be sure to supply this education. However, one aspect of education, Sex Ed., has nearly been forgotten about. In this paper, I reflect on the atmosphere surrounding sexual education.
Sex Education: Protecting Students the Right Way
A school is many different things to many different people. Taken for its face value, school is a centuries-old institution – created and maintained to educate and prepare students one day to be the leaders, innovators, peacemakers, and great minds of the future. Accurate as this statement may be, I would make the argument that schools are so much more than that. Yes, students are prepared to face the challenges of professionalism, work ethic, and higher education, but more often than not, students are not adequately prepared to meet the most fundamentally human aspect of life that this planet has ever known — sex (Salam, 2019).
Across the country, students of all origins and identities spend countless hours devoted to learning subjects like math, science, English, history, maybe even a foreign language. Unquestionably, all of these subject areas hold great importance in a student’s ability to become an active member of society. Nonetheless, sex, which is yet another, unquestionably critical cornerstone of society, remains to be a subject missing from the United States school system almost across the board. The purpose of schools, as I mentioned previously, is mainly to prepare students for their future; despite various and numerous attempts, developing and maintaining a sexual education program has been possibly the biggest failure in our school system – and it’s about time that was addressed.
Our nation’s sex ed programs have been in the past, and currently are, the antithesis to being deemed successful. As such a complex problem, that has plagued society since the early 1900s, a recap of and where the country now stands, along with what has happened in our history is necessary to understanding the necessity of sexual education. In her book, Condom Nation, Dr. Alexandra Lord – who oversees the department of medicine and science at the Smithsonian American History Museum – illustrates the complexities of sex education from World War I to the dawn of the internet.
What began mainly as an isolated issue of ‘venereal disease’ (VD) within the military, eventually VD began to spread across the country – inducing the first real desire of the US government to create sex ed curriculum to be taught to (traditionally) young boys. As time progressed, for various reasons, groups protested, rejected, and denounced any form of sexual education, let alone one that was both publicly administered as well as both comprehensive and inclusive. It was this public backlash has ultimately been the most compelling factor in preventing sex education from advancing in the past (Lord, 2017). That being said, as decades have elapsed, so has the sentiment of the public changed as it has multiple times before in the instances of civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights. At one point in time, the public’s sentiment had prevented each of the groups that these rights represent from any forward growth – but eventually, they adapted and accepted the necessary change. To this end, I believe the time of a societal reckoning is upon us once more, and we should take this opportunity to recognize the importance of all aspects of sex ed.
In terms of importance, sex ed could quite literally save lives. Teaching children about themselves, even more importantly a core aspect of their humanity is not a task that should be undertaken lightly. On the surface, sex ed is often seen as inappropriate when it comes to teaching children ‘to have sex,’ but in return, I ask, ‘what good does it do not to teach them?’ Because sooner or later, through a friend or internet browser, they will hear about sex and take it upon themselves to educate themselves using unreliable and semi-fictitious sources. On the other hand, if schools were to adopt a curriculum for sexual education that was comprehensive of everything – from safe sex, consent, and anatomy, all the way to healthy relationships, abuse, and assault – only then will we be protecting children.
Going along the same theme of emphasizing important aspects of sex ed, another is that it be inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community. Unfortunately, as research has proven, time and time again, the connection between marginalization and mistreatment of LGBTQ+ students, as well as a lack of proper sexual education, leads to depression, self-harm, and in the worst cases, suicide (Almeida 2009). To the reasonable person, this fact should be enough to speak favorably in adopting an inclusive sex ed curriculum, to liberate an already mentally, emotionally, and too often, a physically marred group of marginalized students. However, the central argument to this belief is the assumption that cisgendered, heterosexual students do not need this ‘inclusive’ sex education. To which the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or GLAAD, responds to eloquently and truthfully:
Inclusive sex education … helps students support their [LGBTQ+] friends, family members, and co-workers. It fights the systemic erasure of [LGBTQ+] identities by openly talking about them. It reduces the stereotype that there is one correct way to have sex that only happens between two people with specific types of bodies. It also puts a greater emphasis on consent and understanding the emotional effects (positive or negative) of having sex or being intimate. (GLAAD, 2018)
Sexual education goes eminently beyond simply having sex; it provides social and moral training in upstanding citizenship, laying the foundation for all students to live a safe and enjoyable adult sex life. Keeping that in mind, it’s now time to look to the future – regarding the social and educational shift required to implement comprehensive and inclusive sex education.
Apart from this significant change is accepting the realization of the danger we have and continue to put our students through by not equipping them with the necessary knowledge to fulfill all aspects of life. Research on implementing sex education in classrooms across the country has shown that:
While the content of school-based sex education has been recognized as vitally important, less attention has been paid to the classroom context in which it is delivered. … Pupils should receive sex education in familiar class groupings and the teacher should, ideally, minimize disruption and eliminate hurtful [humor] while maintaining a light-hearted and approachable manner. (Buston, Wight, & Hart, 2002)
Moving forward in implementation, context is, of course, something to consider, but it should not take away from the significance of real-life examples of effective, comprehensive, and inclusive sex education. In multiple states across the country, schools have begun to take the necessary steps in introducing sex ed programs. Hopefully, soon, that momentum will carry into the federal government. Through mandates and oversight of the education system, this undeniably important aspect of life – sex education – will no longer go forgotten in schools; in turn, we can show the future of this country – it’s students – that they also have not been forgotten about.
Almeida, J., Johnson, R., Corliss, H., Molnar, B., & Azrael, D. (2009). Emotional Distress
among LGBT Youth: The Influence of Perceived Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38(7), 1001–1014. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-009-9397-9
Buston, K., Wight, D., & Hart, G. (2002). Inside the sex education classroom: The importance of
context in engaging pupils. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 4(3), 317–335. https://doi.org/10.1080/13691050110113332
Diamond, D. (2018). Why We Need Inclusive Sex Education. Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against
Lord, A. M. (2010). Condom Nation: The U.S. Government’s Sex Education Campaign from
World War I to the Internet. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Salam, M. (2019, March 5). Let’s Stop Ignoring the Truths of Puberty. We’re Making it Even
More Awkward. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/05/health/sex-education-us-puberty.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Feducation&action=click&contentCollection=education®ion=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=30&pgtype=sectionfront