(Image Source: Chrissy Curtin)
My middle school’s health curriculum included a mandatory sex education unit. Before sending the eighth graders into the great unknown that is high school, the administration thought it best to equip us with a comprehensive sexual health program so we could make more informed decisions in the heat of the moment. The only caveat? The instruction was abstinence-based.
The people that spoke with us were from prominent religious organizations in our neighborhood. This is the message they gave us: abstaining from all sexual activity is the only way to prevent unwanted pregnancy and disease, but if you absolutely cannot hold out, at least use a rubber.
The abstinence-based approach to sexual education is an outdated one that alienates sexually active or curious teens. But there is another group that our current sex-ed models alienate: queer students.
While guest speakers ramble on about different forms of birth control and the anatomical specifics of sex, queer and gender-non conforming students are left to figure things out on their own. Often, students self-educate with pornography, which can portray harmful sexual dynamics or simply be too violent. They may turn to websites and online chatting platforms, where they can be taken advantage of. And in the worst case scenario, they may seek a sexual experience in the real world without being equipped with the information they need to protect themselves.
America’s Puritanical views are evident in the way sexual education is taught, so sex-ed in schools essentially ignores all relations that do not occur between cisgender, heterosexual men and women. But this cannot continue. The lack of adequate, inclusive sex education is hurting LGBT youth: according to the Center for American Progress, HIV infection is four times more prevalent in transgender people compared to the national average, particularly transgender women of color. Sexual violence against transgender and gender nonconforming youth is also extremely common, especially against transgender and gender nonconforming youth of color.
Sexual education, as it stands now, excludes its most vulnerable students. Sexual education must go beyond abstinence, condoms, and the pill. It has to teach students about how to be responsible sexual adults. It has to teach students how to choose worthy partners. It has to teach students how to protect themselves; not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well.
In order to do so, administrators must recognize the intersection of gender identity and sexuality while also recognizing their fluidity. Sexual health education should be inclusive of all of the different gender identities in the classroom, instead of just discussing the binary.
In order for this to change in the near future, uncomfortable conversations need to be had and open dialogue must be facilitated between students and teachers, teachers and principals, and between students and administrators.