Public School Sex-Ed Receives a Failing Grade

Only 15 states require medically accurate sexual education to be taught in schools (Planned Parenthood). You read that right: a measly 15 out of 50 states require instruction to be medically accurate. Not only is that statistic utterly insane, but it was completely new information to me (and maybe to you, too). Placed side-by-side with more progressive countries, it’s obvious the extent of sex-ed in the United States is incredibly inadequate. The Netherlands introduced what they call “comprehensive sex education” as early as age four, where they focus on qualities such as “respect, intimacy, and safety,” (Melker, Saskia de) and the Danish curriculum permits showing pornography in the classroom to help students distinguish the differences between what they see on their screens and real sexual relationships (Russell, Helen). While it might be common knowledge to some, others have no idea of how harmful it really is to take the conservative, abstinence-only approach American schools are currently enforcing.

Fortunately, inclusivity is becoming more prioritized by society each day. With the rise of social media, we’re able to share ideas and experiences faster than ever before. Activists

of all ages have taken to apps like Twitter and Instagram to join the fight, challenging social

norms, promoting diversity, and advocating equality for marginalized groups. However, we still have a long way to go when it comes to obtaining true equality--as a young person myself, I’ve witnessed firsthand a lot of places where there’s room for improvement. The public school system is failing our youth in various aspects, most notably its overall lack of sex education. The stigma around these “taboo” topics must be addressed starting in our schools. Until it is addressed, teens will have no choice but to continue suffering the consequences of their elders’ actions.

Currently, the majority of the curriculum is centered around saying “no” to sex before

marriage at any cost. This might appear to be a good method at first glance, but it’s really

just placing a Band-Aid over a bullet wound. Sexuality is nothing to be ashamed of, period.

It’s a completely normal human behavior almost everyone partakes in at some point in their lives, yet we treat it as a dirty, evil thing teens have no right to even think about. With public school’s sorry excuse of a sex-ed class fresh in my mind, I can say with confidence that the sole focus was encouraging abstinence — “Here are some types of STD’s, but we’ll gloss over those because as long as you never have sex, you won’t have to deal with it!” — yeah, no. I can doubly assure you it definitely only backfired, as the lengthy record of people I remember being sexually active in high school is far too extensive to write.

What the course did accomplish was unintentionally encouraging risky and unsafe sexual behavior. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, about 46% of the sexually active teens they surveyed in 2019 did not use a condom the last time they had sex (“Sexual Risk Behaviors..."). That’s a big number, and it’s one that would be a lot smaller if young adults received proper education on forms of protection. Suggesting that we only need to talk about condoms is a low bar, though, as there are countless other forms of birth control and protection demanding inclusion, too. Patches, IUDs, implants, injections, pills...the list goes on.

Some don’t think the responsibility of sexual education should fall to public schools, and instead encourage private conversation at home, yet many households neglect this responsibility. We expect parents to do the teaching, yet I was the one who ended up having to explain what a dental dam was, something they’d never heard of before. Because education about protection and safe sex is often neglected by both schools and families, teens are left with nowhere to turn.

This leaves room for one of two things to happen: (a) they don’t get any answers to their

questions and end up engaging in unsafe sex unknowingly, or (b) they look to Google for

help. While the internet is home to a treasure trove of useful resources, places like Tumblr

glorify and glamorize risky sex, leading to young adults wondering how in the world they

got chlamydia from not using protection when “gay people don’t need condoms!” (true story,

false statement). The takeaway? The biggest threat teens face isn’t sex: it’s unsafe sex, and

they’ll continue to succumb to this pandemic of misinformation if schools refuse to do nothing but maintain their current curriculum.

Let’s touch back on the social media aspect of the spread and reach of false information, as well as the role it plays in people’s sex lives. Romanticization occurs when a subject is misleadingly portrayed as something ideal. It happens all the time in media, where shows

such as Riverdale, Skins, and 13 Reasons Why dominate their respective industries and present unrealistic, glorified representations of mental illness, substance abuse, and casual sex. The main culprit, though, comes in the form of online media, the place where the majority of teens get their information.

Tumblr has been a long time and repeat offender of these harmful and dangerous promotions, where it’s all too common to see posts idolizing mental illnesses and destructive

coping mechanisms resulting from years of real, tangible trauma simply chalked up to “daddy issues.” It’s not normal for underage girls to fantasize about sleeping with men 40 years older than them while listening to Lana Del Rey and being jealous of Dolores “Lolita” Haze, so why do we act like it is? More recently, a new platform has presented itself in the form of TikTok, and its similar formatting to 2012 Tumblr proves history is prone to repeating itself. The toxic environments allowed to fester and build in certain hashtags on these apps are no place for anyone, let alone inexperienced young adults who don’t know any better.

You’re bound to find disturbing content in public forums if you dig deep enough and know what to search for, but the problem is nowadays it’s much too easy. Even just opening these apps, young people are prematurely exposed to mature themes and content. Sexual, "smutty” Wattpad (a popular storytelling platform) fanfiction is a good intro to porn for middle school girls who are forbidden from speaking on sex in any form. “Kinktok”, a new subgenre

of the aforementioned Tik Tok, is another place to find content certainly not appropriate for

all ages. Now, that’s not to say this is totally negative. Naturally, adult content will be made

on an adult app with adult users, and a lot of accounts are created with the sole intention of

educating, normalizing, and boosting amazing concepts such as body positivity, safe sex, and relationship advice (even some of my own sex education has been found through experts’ videos on TikTok).

The problem here isn’t so much the content itself or who’s viewing it, so much as the reason why they’re seeking it out. If talking about sex was normalized enough, tweens and teens wouldn’t need to get their answers from these sources. Instead, you have a rampant abundance of twelve-year-olds talking about knifeplay and their favorite bondage knots because it’s the first thing to come up when you search “sex”. This phenomenon of pledging obedience to social media influences instead of educators is derived from an assortment of causes, from experiencing more comfort through a non-judgemental screen to a wider span of knowledge available on the internet. Whatever the reason, it’s wrong, and is a direct outcome of failing to provide our youth with sources essential to their growth.

A flaw in the system requiring its own section entirely is dedicated to LGBTQ individuals; if

heterosexuals are neglected, queer-identifying people are cut out of the curriculum altogether. This deficiency in the quality and quantity of available information stems wholly from the misconception that sex education and LGBTQ sex education should be treated as different entities, even though both phrases are made of the same words. Punished for deviating from the heterosexual norm in more ways than one, the American school system does nothing but contribute to the homophobic and homoexclusive standards which we as a country continue to push in terms of our laws, governance, and education. Not only is homosexuality rarely addressed in school to begin with, but it may even be considered illegal depending on where you live. Seven states have laws either prohibiting LGBTQ subject matter from being shared in the classroom or requiring teachers to frame those topics in a negative light; Oklahoma teaches their students that “homosexual activity” is responsible for AIDS; and Arizona is banned from using positive words to describe LGBTQ people when talking about HIV (“America’s Sex Education...").

By demonizing and condemning anything even slightly diverging from same-sex attraction

at a young age, these laws and curricula only contribute to identity issues and homophobia If queer relationships aren’t talked about in a normalized, positive manner, young people

questioning or in touch with their sexualities feel like they’re “wrong” for feeling how they do.