May is Sex Ed for All Month and it has held this title since 2019. Sex Ed for All month, coordinated by the Sex Education Collaborative, exists to help raise awareness of the current protocol and laws that exist around sexual health education in the United States.
By bringing awareness to the current status across varying school districts, cities, and states, there is an opportunity to garner more input from a wide array of folks on how we can go about fixing the issue; the issue being that across the states, every child is receiving differing education when it comes to their sexual health, and more often than not that information is not affirming, comprehensive, or medically accurate.
Currently in the United States, according to SIECUS, “29 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education.” That means that legally, those states have to teach sexual health. What does sexual health mean? Well, that itself is NOT mandated. “35 states require schools to stress abstinence when sex education or HIV/STI instruction is provided.”
This means, that depending on how the teacher decides to give students this information, they must stress abstinence as the route to sexual encounters. “15 states do not require sex education or HIV/STI instruction to be any of the following: age-appropriate, medically accurate, culturally responsive, or evidence-based/evidence-informed.”
Medically accurate information is a right. We all are born with a body. We should be given the correct information on that said body. “Only 9 states require sex education or HIV/STI instruction to include information on consent.” This is nine states out of 50. Consent is an essential life skill. “Only 8 states require culturally responsive sex education and HIV/STI instruction.” Inclusion and affirmation of all cultures, and all ways to live helps folks see themselves in the content they are being taught.
If this does not exist, how do we eliminate bias? “9 states explicitly require instruction that discriminates against LGBTQ people.” Look at Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The attack on trans and nonbinary folks around the country. Nine states require this type of discrimination in their teaching.
I share these statistics, not to scare anyone, but to help level set at where we really are now in 2022. I highlight these statistics to help empower us to continue to fight to make sex education for all. Sexual health is a right. Young people, adults, and all people that hold a body deserve the information to make sure they can take care of their bodies. Take care of their sexual health.
Most of us are unaware that it is Sex Ed for All in May. During this month, I have a habit of remembering high school.
In high school (so 2012, 2013), my sex ed went as follows:
- A day on condoms, including the teacher rubbing an oil-based lubricant on a blown-up condom until the condom popped. Genuinely, that’s all I remember.
- A day spent chatting about sexually transmitted infections and how they were “bad”.
- A day spent with my whole grade basically, sat in the auditorium, being shown a slide show of the sexually transmitted infections we had talked about, in great detail, and further conversation around how bad they were.
- The rest of the time? I can’t remember if there was more. I doubt there was. I wasn’t impacted. Nothing stayed with me, except for the negative encounters I’ve listed thus far.
- I know I was not given any conversation about the importance of taking care of one’s sexual health.
- No conversation around boundaries nor sexual consent or consent in general.
- Nothing around LGBTQ+ rights or the importance of affirming identities and sexual behaviors.
- I hadn’t had any sexual encounters yet, as a fifteen-year-old cisgender, white woman. I had seen certain sexually “explicit” content, and some of my friends had engaged in sexual behaviors so I was aware of certain things through conversation but I wasn’t going to my parents and talking to them about any of it.
- I didn’t care to be in the classroom and frankly, I did not think it mattered to me or would make a difference. The thought to ask for more information never crossed my mind.
Sex Ed for me now
Going through college and coming into my sexuality now as a late 20-something, I’ve learned a lot along the way and how sexual health impacts so much of a life. I’ve learned even more as I’ve come into my current position as a sexual health educator and seen firsthand how the information has impacted my students, of all ages across the board.
This was the case for many of my peers as well. A lack of comprehensive, medically accurate, and affirming education in their youth. Learning it all on their own in their adulthood and carrying it with them forward. This was also the case for some of the high school-aged youth I work with to this day. Folks just now graduating from high school, relaying how heteronormative, judgemental, and non-affirming their sexual health education was.
How can we change this pattern? 2012 was ten years ago and youth are still having similar experiences I had, despite the fight being ongoing throughout that time.
Every human is born with a body and the right to learn accurate information as well as affirming information around their body is essential.
As the news of the impending decision on Roe V Wade has shaken the country this month, there is a need now more than ever to get our young people the education they need to take care of themselves in this next season of reproductive oppression. Education and access are tools everyone should have in their tool belt to fend for themselves in a lifetime. The restrictions that exist across the United States for sexual health education can be dismantled. We can advocate for change and better access to this knowledge.
What can we do in the interim?
- We can brush up on the laws in our own states, cities, and districts
- We can learn and listen around for how to be better advocates for reproductive wellness
- We can talk to our local officials about getting sexual health education in our schools
- We can sign up to be a part of our sexual health education advisory boards, speaking loudly for the education we want to see in our schools.
- We can outsource materials to youth, giving them the resources they can access online outside of the classroom.
- We can empower parents, guardians, and trusted adults to bust their own bias and stigma around sexual health education and pass it along to their young people.
- We can continue to fight. This fight is essential, as sexual health education can and will continue to save lives.