Loyal readers of my blog may remember that a few months ago, I penned a piece advocating the introduction of more effective sex education in the United States, due to their widespread usage of abstinence-only education. Well today, I want to expand on the framework I briefly mention at the end of that piece and talk about the things that need to be discussed with children and teenagers and young adults in order to give them effective and comprehensive sex education.
1. The basics: Let’s start simple- everyone should be taught the basic anatomy and processes of the human reproductive system. There is no better place to start comprehensive sex education than having students be familiar with their, and their partner’s, genitals and reproductive system. The processes, which would seem more like a biology lesson, are also important to teach because this can be expanded on in later lessons, such as those concerning pregnancy and birth control/contraception. Teaching the basics in a thorough manner not only gives young people a solid basis to work from, it also stops sex being this magical, unexplainable alien where something happens.
2. Having sex: It is important to present everything to do with actually having sex in a neutral light. I believe that the paramount lesson is that students know that it is their choice whether they become sexually active and how long they remain active for. That means there is no judgement for becoming active and there is no judgement for staying inactive. However, it is also important to teach people about the legal aspect of becoming sexually active namely, in my opinion, the federal/national (and state if it differs) age of consent and what is meant by ‘statutory rape’. While it is impossible to prevent teenagers from engaging in sexual intercourse if they so choose, the best things they can take away with them is knowledge of the legal aspects surrounding sexual intercourse and a thorough, fully informed knowledge of consent. The CDC estimates that 80% of 15-19 year olds have received at least some education on ‘how to say no’ but I don’t believe that goes deep enough. Sure, the basics of consent (you must gain someone’s explicit verbal permission to have sex with them in order to have sex with them) are probably some of the more crucial lessons that can be taught to young people, as is the importance of them knowing they have a right to say no AND say no at any point during sexual activity but I think consent education needs to go deeper. If a partner is under the influence or alcohol or drugs, they may not be able to give their fully informed consent (and before you rage at me in the comments, yes, I know that a lot of people ‘hook up’ while under the influence of alcohol. Doesn’t negate the need for informed consent). Furthermore, it is important for people to know that consent does not apply to all acts and activities undertook in a sexual encounter; is not transferable and does not apply to any sexual encounter other than the one the consent was gained during. It is also important to reiterate the whole explicit consent thing, adding that a potential partner’s clothing or demeanour do not constitute consent, nor does any preceding non-sexual or sexual activity.
3. Risks and prevention: A thorough biological education is as important as a thorough socio-sexual one. The discussion concerning the risks of sexual intercourse should be a candid, non-judgemental one. Unprotected sex greatly increases the risk of the transmission of and STI and greatly increases the chance of a pregnancy. At this point, it is important to note that an STI should be treated just like any other disease or illness, you should see a doctor and have it treated before you transmit it to someone else and before it does lasting damage to your body. Condoms should not be presented as the be all and end all of STI protection/contraceptive. Granted, they are one of the most commonly used but there is a plethora of other methods that can be implemented, which should be explained to people. Abstinence should not be presented as a preventative method as, while it does prevent STIs and pregnancies, it is also incompatible with an education that teaches people that it is their choice whether to become sexually active: “Listen, I know we are both ready to have sex and want to have sex. That’s why we should use abstinence to ensure we don’t end up with an unwanted pregnancy” is not a line that should be used in a non-judgemental, sex-positive sex ed program. It is also vital to note that no birth control is 100% effective and so regular sexual health checks should be done to ensure that nothing is slipping through the cracks.
4. Pregnancy: This is where it gets a little tricky. Pregnancy is caused by sexual intercourse and it is a risk that can stem from sex. However, depending on where you live in the world, how you choose to deal with pregnancy is a choice you may not even get to make. Abortion has been technically legal in the United States since 1973, following the conclusion of Roe v. Wade, a landmark Supreme Court case that ruled that the right to an abortion is protected under the rights provided by the 14th Amendment. However, depending on your state. you might find that you must fulfil other pre-requisites in order to qualify for an abortion. In the United Kingdom, you are eligible for an abortion up to your 24th week of pregnancy. The important thing is that the decision to have, or not to have, an abortion is yours and yours alone (and yes, I’m talking to women exclusively now). I am a firm believer in the mantra ‘your body, your decisions’. Sex ed should teach that a woman’s decision is hers to make, regardless of external pressures. Sex ed should also provide sources of further education on the matter (also, according to some state law, that’s actually illegal). Either way, the decision is for the pregnant party to make, not her parents, not her parent, not anyone but her. I also recommend that the film Juno be used as part of sex ed when it comes to pregnancy. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a fantastic story about a high schooler who gets pregnant and chooses to put the baby up for adoption. On that topic, students should also be made aware that choosing to go through with the pregnancy does not mean having to take on the responsiblity of caring for a child and so they should be introduced to the post-natal options, such as adoption.
The course: I believe that sex ed should be taught as a compulsory, multi-part course in order to provide all students with a comprehensive look at sex, sexuality and the issues surrounding it. Parents should be allowed to excuse their children from taking sex ed as that only perpetuates the problems caused by inadequate sex education.
So that’s my proposal for a more comprehensive and thorough sexual education. As with my first blog on the topic, this mainly applies to the United States, where the issue of inadequate sex ed is more prevalent.
How do you think sex ed should be taught? What do you think should be included? Let me know in the comments below!