We Need To Change The Way We Teach Sex Ed In America

There is always that extremely awkward time in either elementary or middle school where it’s time to take the “Family Life Education” course as they called it in my school district. It was finally the time when we got to learn about the infamous “birds and the bees” outside of our parents perspective on this painfully cringy subject.

The word I remember most from all of my times taking this “FLE” class is the word “abstinence,” because the teachers said it so damn much. In every FLE class I received from the ages of 9-16, I was taught that the safest form of sex was by not having sex at all. Which already instills the dangerous age-old standard that any woman who has sex is considered a whore. That sex is not natural, that it must be avoided at all costs and you’re looked down upon once you act on it. Fewer U.S. teens are receiving formal sex education than ten years ago. Only 24 states, including the District of Columbia, mandate sex education. The American public school system has failed us regarding sex education.

There were no LGBTQIA+/queer contexts in this version of FLE at all. The school district proved that their teachings were only catered toward a cisheteronormative environment. How was any young queer person supposed to know any terms of safe sex in a same-sex relationship? How were transgender youth supposed to know where to get hormones from? How was a questioning young kid supposed to know definitions of gender identities and expressions? This lack of inclusivity is harmful to queer youth growing up in an environment like middle school where queerness is ignored already. It’s also detrimental because it closes the door on the unique sexual needs of queer youth.

I can, unfortunately, tell you right away that consent was not spoken about once in any FLE class I took, which becomes a starting point for a rapist to thrive in the public school system. Without any mention of consent, rape culture is perpetuated in young boys minds from the moment they are ten years old. The normalization of this allows a young woman’s life to have no value, while the man’s past, present, and future is treated like some piece of fine china for the administration to always cover up for.

I haven’t been in an “FLE” class since my sophomore year of high school, but I can guarantee you that nothing in the curriculum has changed. Using a fluff title such as “Family Life Education” proves that they don’t care about teaching sexual health and well being, they want to ingrain in you the traditional misogynistic gender roles that public schools have been using for years to keep from putting in funds to teach children about sex.

I didn’t learn proper sex education in the uncomfortable environment of the classrooms at my school; I learned about it from my mother, online, and on social media from other teenagers & youth like myself. Teaching adolescents that “abstinence is the way to go” will only cause children not to practice safe sex in the future and lead to teen pregnancy rates rising, more youth catching STD’s, and the number of sexual assaults in public schools rising. Removing this sugar coated form of teaching will improve the lives of students and their knowledge of sex. Let’s stop worrying that it will be “inappropriate” and think about what will happen to our youth if we don’t teach them the basic themes of consent, safe sex, LGBTQIA+ inclusive teaching, and normalizing the fact that having sex is totally okay and natural, and you’re not a slut if you choose to act on it.

Ideas of a new and improved Sex Ed curriculum include:

  • Include LGBTQIA+ contexts in Sex Education teachings to address the unique sexual health needs of queer youth. Such as teachings of the definitions of gender identities and expressions, safe sex methods for queer students, other methods of sex rather than penetrative sex, approaching the topic of coming out, gender is a construct and healthy relationships for queer youth.

  • Consent being a more repetitive word used in Sex Ed than “abstinence.” Putting young students to the standard that no means no, and that an enthusiastic response is what counts as consent. Using scenarios & examples to make the message as clear as possible.

  • Teach forms of safe sex such as different forms of contraceptives (birth control pills, IUD, vaginal ring, etc.) and various uses of birth control other than preventing pregnancy. Condoms and demonstrate how to put one on. In-depth education on STD’s and how to prevent yourself from getting one. One that is more inclusive to queer people as well.

  • Education on hormones and how to get them so transgender youth can be informed.

  • Instruction on period/menstrual cycle and how to treat it. Demonstrations of tampon and pad usage. What types of medicines to use when you have cramps, stomach pains, and headaches. The notion that not everyone who gets their period identifies as a girl or a woman. Having only a person with female body parts teach the class to prevent harassment or uncomfortability.

  • Having a sexual health expert or someone from Planned Parenthood or another health center come to the school to teach a seminar on Sex Education.

These principles are not just demands, but necessities that our public education system needs right now to create a culture of inclusivity and understanding when it comes to sexual health. Somethings as natural as our bodies and sex shouldn't be something that is feared or unwanted, that is what has led to the rape & slut-shaming culture we go into as adults. It should be taught as something exciting and healthy, so youth won’t come to fear of being shamed or assaulted for it when they grow up.