“Don’t have sex because you will get pregnant and die!”
Okay, my sex education wasn’t nearly as bad as the scene of the iconic 2004 classic, Mean Girls, when Coach Carr adamantly stated unforgettable one-liner during the first day of health class. However, the lesson I got during middle school wasn’t the best either.
When I was in the seventh grade, the school that I went to separated the girls and the boys into different rooms. My fellow female classmates and I mostly learned about modesty, purity, and abstinence while our male classmates later bragged to us about the lessons they learned about healthy relationships and contraception.
Because I went to a religiously-affiliated school, I did not expect much from my sex education, but I often assumed that the sexual education I received was much worse than that of my public school peers. But based on the conversations I’ve had with my friends who went to different schools, it turns out that the majority of us had subpar sex-education that left out too many crucial details within the broad spectrum of human sexuality.
Where was the discourse about anatomy, pleasure, or relationships? Why did many of us get separated based on gender? How did our schools get away with this? Did the faculty and administration even care that many of us felt unprepared to take on one of the most prominent aspects of our lives?
It turns out that the experiences of me and my friends were similar to those of tons of students throughout the United States. According to research conducted by the Guttmacher Institue, only 29 states in America, including the District of Columbia, mandate that sex education is taught in some form. Nineteen states take an abstinence-only approach, stressing the importance of engaging in sexual activity only within marriage. The 17 states that require sex-ed programs to be medically accurate usually only focus on anatomy, reproduction, and STIs and often fail to include accurate information on the LGBTQ+ community. Though, 11 states and DC require that content about sexual orientation is inclusive. On the contrary, seven states teach only negative information about non-heteronormative sexual orientation. It’s not lost on me that six of the seven states are located in the Bible-belt south.
Beyond state requirements, 36 states allow parents to dismiss their children from sex ed classes, so there are a hefty number of young people who never receive any formal teaching regarding sex and sexuality.
But this doesn’t have to be the case. Here are topics that should be included and emphasized in the curriculum.
The varying definitions of sex
Growing up, the definition of sex seemed to fit within a heteronormative lens, assuming that penetrative sex with a penis and vagina is the ultimate sexual experience. Anything leading up to penetration, like oral sex and manual stimulation, was considered “foreplay.” However, the definition of sex varies depending on who is asked. People who do not engage in penis-in-vagina sex may place a higher importance on oral sex as their ultimate sexual experience, whereas others may include pegging in their definition of sex. Either way, the overall definition of sex shouldn’t be confined to one viewpoint.
Similarities in anatomy
It’s both humorous and mindblowing that I didn’t discover until high school that I pee from my urethra and not my vagina, as I previously thought. But I couldn’t help not knowing about my body when any conversation related to it was put on hush-mode. I also wasn’t aware that the clitoris and the penis are similar in structure, with both having the ability to obtain an erection. This could have been helpful knowledge to learn for navigating pleasure and stimulation.
Sexual attraction as a spectrum
Sex education often focuses on straight, cisgender young people, and the consequence of this is that LGBTQ+ people aren’t given relevant and competent information about their experiences. Even if there is a mention of LGBTQ+ content, it’s consolidated to a small portion in the grand scheme of sexuality curriculum. People put sexual attraction in a box when, in reality, showing sexual orientation as a spectrum is important because this reinforces that our sexuality does not solely exist in black-and-white binaries.
Consent and sexual communication
I don’t remember learning a thing about consent in my sex ed class, and I wish we would have discussed the nuances within communicating agreeing or disapproving of engagement in sexual activity. Consent is more than “yes” means “yes” and “no” means “no.”
Comprehensive sex ed reaches into every aspect of human sexuality and even helps us have a conversation with our partners about our sexual wants, needs, and desires. Ultimately, sex ed should integrate numerous stages of development, from naming body parts correctly and navigating healthy relationships to understanding what we need to receive sexual gratification and expressing ourselves without holding back.