Sex Education in Schools
By Amelie Valdes
content warning: this piece contains discussion of sex
Sex Education can be a touchy topic, especially when talking about sex education for teenagers. Put simply, sex education is providing information on issues relating to human sexuality. It has become more accessible through time and everyday helps more people make healthy decisions.
Sex education was not taught in schools until 1978, using the name of “Life and Family Studies.” Its content consisted of information on the reproductive system and personal hygiene. With time, sex education teachings have changed and spread through more countries, teaching both students and teachers how comprehensive sex education can work and be opposed to abstinence-only sex education.
Of course, sex education has changed through time and how this education is welcomed varies tremendously in different areas, cultures, and religions. StudyInternational shows that in China sex education is very reductive. Then we see that the number of abortions and sexually transmitted diseases are increasing at an alarming rate. The UK tends to be very reserved about this, even if sex education is now compulsory in all schools, guidelines are thin, and it all varies between schools. When we look at The Netherlands, we see that the country’s teenage pregnancy rate is very low, and they look at sex as something that is “a natural part of human life and should be taught as such.” Children at the age of four and older receive age-appropriate sex education and are introduced to respect and consent. Then we have the US, showing us different systems in different schools and of course, different states. Guttmacher Institute shares that just under half of the states include HIV education, school districts tend to choose how they approach sex education, which causes there to be a lot of everything. According to Planned Parenthood, “overall, in 2011-2013, 43 percent of adolescent females and 57 percent of adolescent males did not receive information about birth control before they had sex for the first time.” With different education systems, we see different outcomes.
School is a place parents trust to provide their kids with learning environments to expand their skills and knowledge. So, when wanting to introduce sex education in schools, parents will have their opinions, feelings, and concerns. Planned Parenthood’s most recent poll on sex education shows that, 96% of parents in the US support having sex education in high schools. Most parents want their kids to get the information they need and, in fact, according to SIECUS, 88% of junior high school students and 80% of parents believe that when sex education is taught in school, it makes it easier for them to talk about it at home. It is also reported that 92% of adolescents want to talk to their parents about sex and want to receive sex education in school.
Sex education in schools is something that can make changes for better and help people make healthy decisions. In my case, having a unit called FLASH (Family Life and Sexual Health) in elementary school helped. Of course, everyone found it hilarious, and we were all too immature and embarrassed to express the fact that we were learning about something we had a lot of questions about, even if we never dared to talk about it. We wondered about how our bodies worked and how the bodies of people around us worked. I would wonder what a kiss meant and what getting your period could mean. I had so many questions, yet I was too embarrassed to go ahead and ask. I was eight. Asking my mom seemed like something that was far too awkward, even if I wasn’t sure why it was awkward. My information would come from absurd comments that other kids would make, even if they had no idea what they were talking about either.
Then came the FLASH unit at the end of the year, the unit that made us giggle and turn red. A slip was sent home so my mom would sign it, giving consent for me to learn about this at school. The slip would open the conversation at home since parents knew I was going to hear about it at school. Although everyone cringed when puberty was brought up, everyone also made sure to get that slip signed. We wanted to be there and hear what new and slightly embarrassing things the teacher might say.
During this class, laughing when I heard a funny word and saying “ew '' when talking about “boy parts” seemed like the thing to do. I meant every “ew” and small shriek I let out even if deep down, I was also relieved. I was relieved to hear some answers and see that everyone around me was also secretly interested. When pads were passed out to everyone and a teacher taught us how to throw it away safely, I felt good. I felt I had the knowledge to deal with situations that could be different or intimidating. Now, ten-year-old me felt empowered to make a good decision while throwing away sanitary products.
The problem was when I was eleven, twelve, thirteen and I kept hearing the same things over and over. Nothing was being used to move students progressively toward stronger understanding and greater independence in the learning process. Every year I learned the same protection concepts and although repetition is good, this would be overdoing it. The fear of honest teaching also greatly affects what information the students walk out with. During my last sexual education class, I asked a health teacher why we were not being taught about other forms of sexual relationships, such as queer relationships, promoting inclusiveness in a learning environment and the answer that I received was, “it’s too complicated.” This shocked me. How can someone that is supposed to have the knowledge teach me about something as important as making healthy sexual decisions, tell me that giving information that impact other groups of people is “too complicated”? Sex education helped me reach one step, at one age, but repetition has not been the key to spreading necessary information in schools.
At the end of the day, if adolescents don’t find information at home or at school, they will find it somewhere else and base their decisions off of that. The only question is, are we going to trust unknown sources to provide such valuable information that helps teenagers be safe?