Sex Education, or Lack Thereof

37 states have yet to pass legislation mandating that sex and HIV education be medically accurate. ( source )

37 states have yet to pass legislation mandating that sex and HIV education be medically accurate. (source)

Anyone who’s seen Mean Girls remembers Coach Carr yelling about teen pregnancy and how premarital sex can be lethal. Anyone who has taken sex ed at an Indiana public high school like I did probably remembers a generic athletic coach giving an identical lecture.

Unfortunately, it’s not only Hoosiers who experience biased education, or a complete lack thereof. The breakdown of sex education in America is indicative of this painful truth.

  • 24 states require sex ed in public schools

  • 33 states mandate HIV education, and 13 of those do not require simultaneous sex education

  • Only 13 states nationwide mandate that any information taught on sex or HIV be medically accurate

  • 26 states require sex education curricula focus on abstinence

  • 12% of millennial students reported having taken sex ed classes that mentioned LGBTQ+ relationships

  • 5% of LGBTQ+ students took health classes that they felt covered LGBTQ+ relationships in a positive light

  • Seven states have “No Promo Homo” laws, which not only prohibit discussion of queer safe-sex practices but also actively label these relationships as illegitimate. For example, the Code of Laws of our neighbor state, South Carolina, writes, “ [Health education] may not include a discussion of alternate sexual lifestyles from heterosexual relationships including, but not limited to, homosexual relationships except in the context of instruction concerning sexually transmitted diseases.”

  • Only eight states require consent be taught in health classes

A breakdown of 2017 federal expenditures used on teen sex education programs ( source )

A breakdown of 2017 federal expenditures used on teen sex education programs (source)

Up until 2010, federal dollars funded abstinence-focused sex education. For example, the Title V Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage (AOUM) program barred any school who received federal sex education funding from teaching about contraceptives and condoms unless they also emphasized failure rates.

Unfortunately, we’re currently seeing the effects of generations of students being indoctrinated with incomprehensive curricula. By failing to implement effective curriculum at any age and instead alienating groups of students based on their identities, it is clear for whom sex education is tailored, and who is impacted by the gaps in learning.

The ways in which we are taught, or not taught, about the lived experiences of those from whom we are different can yield social fragmentation and physical violence. One just needs to look at recent events surrounding Silent Sam or the way our campus reacted to Dr. Ford's testimony to understand this. The same motif holds true when it comes to sex education for young people in American public schools; especially for queer or female-identifying students, and students of color.

States like Texas, a “No Promo Homo” state, and others like it have seen spikes in lethal violence against transgender people. According to the most recent count by the Human Rights Campaign, the United States has seen 22 killings of transgender individuals in 2018, which is on track to break the record of 27 in 2017.

Furthermore, the ever-politically salient topic of sexual violence perpetrated against women in this country is perhaps unsurprising when one considers the fact that consent is only explicitly mentioned in the sex-education curriculum of eight states.

Sex education is not just an awkward part of gym class in which middle schoolers giggle about their newfound knowledge of the birds and the bees. Rather, it’s a formative part of one’s educational development and can reap extremely beneficial or extremely detrimental, results depending on one’s identity and the state in which they are taught.

If recent headlines are any indicator, non-discriminatory safe-sex practices are not only necessary for the sake of adolescent inclusivity, but for ensuring that as adults, and potentially Supreme Court justices, our decisions are informed by a solid educational foundation which encourages consent and acceptance over abstinence and fear-mongering.