Reinventing Sex Education in Schools

By Evelyn Gonzalez '18
Feminism Columnist

Sex is such a pervasive aspect of our society. From billboards to television shows, sexualities and bodies are exploited and constantly on display. Sex is treated as the end-all be-all. It is normalized and easy to talk about in snickered euphemisms-- that is, until it comes time to talk candidly about it.

The earliest memory of sex education that comes to mind from my own childhood is a parental consent form. At the time, having to ask whether or not it was okay to learn about our own bodies seemed justified. We were going to be talking about sex, after all. When it was time for our sex education course, the girls and boys from my fifth grade class were ushered into separate rooms. We giggled nervously at each other, our faces bright red with embarrassment. Fortunately for us, it was over even faster than it began. After being shown a few clips about menstruation, erections and STDs, we assumed all we needed to know about sex was over and done with. The whole ordeal had been awkward and uncomfortable and this would continue to be the theme for years to come. Put this “education” together with the limited amount of information we coaxed from our parents and the blatantly wrong advice we got from our friends, and we obviously had a very big problem on our hands.

Continuing to require abstinence-only programs in schools does not even begin to equate to an adequate sex education. I will start off by saying that  some aspects of this curriculum are necessary, but it is their implementation that is starting to have a detrimental effect. It is important that youths know that abstinence is an option for them if they so choose, but it should not be the only option they have. If schools want their students to learn about having safe sex, then they need to stop ignoring it altogether. Warning students about the dangers that come from unprotected sex, such as STDs, is a must, but unfortunately schools treat these important teaching moments like an episode of scare tactics. Showing them pictures of genital warts is only going to take them so far.

These types of programs also neglect the next natural step that should come from a conversation on STDs: contraception. They fail to discuss  or advocate for contraceptive methods and therefore leave their students susceptible to the dangers of ignorance and much more. Abstinence is an integral part, and sometimes the only part, of sex education because many people believed that it would help to prevent, or at least greatly reduce, unwanted teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. However, a study done by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) in 2008 confirmed that “abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are not effective in changing young people’s sexual behavior or preventing negative outcomes such as teen pregnancy. More importantly, however, it confirms that programs that teach young people about both abstinence and contraception/disease prevention are, in fact, effective.” It is very clear then that the current abstinence programs we have in our school systems are unsuccessful, outdated and need some major adjustment.

In order to improve abstinence-only programs, I suggest instilling a comprehensive sex and body education system that relies on inclusive and updated information about sex, anatomy and sexualities. In addition to talking openly about what sex entails, bring birth control and condoms into the conversation as basic components of safe sex. Giving students options is going to help them choose what is right for them and reduce their risks.  Consent and pleasure should also be at the forefront of this conversation, and their importance should be emphasized.

In order to have an all-inclusive sex education, we must also remove our heterosexual mindset. Educating students on their body parts is a great start, but it should expand to include other avenues of sex that are not always penetrative. Letting students know how to maneuver around this and keep safe is just as important. Teachers should also keep in mind those who identify as asexual, and should remind their students that sex does not need to be a part of their lives and that that’s perfectly natural as well.

The great thing about sex education is that it doesn’t just have to be about sex. It could be a great opportunity to teach people about their bodies. In doing so it would remove the stigma surrounding our natural functions, making it easier to ask questions or for help whenever necessary. Folks would no longer feel ashamed of their own bodies and their own desires, allowing them to explore themselves freely. This is going to provide agency and give people options for keeping safe, whether or not they choose to engage in sex.

Sex and bodies do not have to be a shameful or embarrassing discussion, but it is a conversation we must have. Ultimately, whether or not young adults are going to be having sex is not a choice that we can make for them. What a good comprehensive sex and body education should do is give them the tools and information to decide for themselves what the right choices are for them.