Growing up sexually awkward was probably one of the worst experiences socially, and learning the bare minimum did not help. Both my middle and high school tiptoed around what was necessary for me and my peers to know about sex, which only led to more confusion. This eventually manifested into fear, not only of my identity, but in the actual act itself growing up. This lack of information in schools can lead to a divide between an individual and who they are sexually. When people think of sex education, they think of the act of sex itself, when it is much more than that. Kids deserve to learn about themselves sexually and how it shapes who they are because that is what school is meant for.
Our society reflects that of an uneducated one, and that won’t change until a comprehensive sex ed curriculum is embedded correctly within schools across the nation.
What age is appropriate to start?
The only factor to consider when questioning the appropriate age to begin educating youth on sex is their ability for comprehension. Kids should start learning sex education at the 4th grade mark to build an early foundation and comfortability. At this point in their lives, they really start to question things, not only surrounding their bodies, but their identity. It is also around 4–5 years before they begin high school, where they are likely to encounter their first experiences surrounding romance and sex.
So how should it be taught?
Dated videos and awkward lessons on sex and pregnancy are examples of why teen pregnancy statistics fluctuate throughout the years. A comprehensive sex education curriculum would be based upon the levels at which a kid is starting at, just like every other school subject. The start of a student's introduction to sex education would consist of basic knowledge such as sexual consent, different sexual orientations and identities, pronouns, what sex actually is between two people, and of course, birth control. Every year building up from those basics will lead to a sexually educated teen who has the knowledge they need for when they choose to have sex or when they have questions about themselves and their bodies. Sex ed should thoroughly teach and discuss the possible and probable circumstances one may come across relating to sexual identity, body image, peer pressure, sexual assault, and different relationship dynamics.
Where is the controversy?
Many believe that the very act of teaching sex ed is encouragement of the act itself which is why sex education is not enforced throughout the nation. Every state’s look on sex ed is different. In addition to states, School districts can also control what the curriculum for sex ed is, so depending on where you live and what school you go to, you may not have access to a good amount of information. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Thirty states and the District of Columbia require public schools to teach sex education, 28 of which mandate both sex education and HIV education.
Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia require students to receive instruction about HIV.
Twenty-two states require that if provided, sex and/or HIV education must be medically, factually or technically accurate.
Instead of implementing beneficial safe sex practices for students, schools encourage abstinence which is neglectful to those considering having sex and those who genuinely have questions on how they may feel regarding their own sexual orientation and what sex may look like for them in the future.
What is the impact?
Teaching and enforcing abstinence has been proven to not work when it comes to reducing teen pregnancy or unprotected sex. According to Journal of Adolescent Health, “AOUM programs inherently provide incomplete information and are often neglectful to sexually active adolescents; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning adolescents; pregnant and parenting adolescents; and survivors of sexual assault.” However, guess what does? A comprehensive sex education curriculum! Journal of Adolescent Health also states, “Conversely, many comprehensive sexuality education programs successfully delay initiation of sexual intercourse and reduce sexual risk behaviors.” The point of sex ed is not to encourage youth to go and have sex, it equips them with the basic and necessary knowledge one needs to go through life as a sexual individual. Whether that be having safe sex, what it means to be asexual, what it means to be non binary or what it means to be intersex, etc. Everyone deserves to be prepared as these things are vital to our development and identities.