The importance of sexual health education to the personal well-being and health of youth is a largely undisputed notion. The significance of comprehensive sex education in promoting safe sex and healthy relationships cannot be overlooked in terms of how it engages and informs students. However, the key concept that is controversial and oft-debated in the realm of public education is the specifics of what is meant by ‘comprehensive.’ Educators, politicians, and parents all have varying opinions on what constitutes an appropriate sexual health education program and their incentive to fight for or against significant changes to sex education curriculum is rooted in political and social discourses around sexuality. We have consistently seen the rhythm of progress and backlash that has accompanied each wave of change to sexual health education, and they have all been concerned with particular debates around gender, sex and sexuality.
Access to education in general has proven to be essential to the dismantling of oppressive ideologies, and nowhere is this more potent than having access to information about the body, desire, and sexual and reproductive health. Outdated sex education has sustained homophobia, transphobia and sexism on an institutional level, which has restricted and silenced adolescent sexuality and gender identity. This is made clear by the exclusion of diverse sexuality in sex education, the absence of discussions on the spectrum of gender identity, and the lack of focus on enthusiastic consent in healthy relationships.
Lauren Slavin has already discussed why sex education is important, so I want to continue onto why it is necessary to have comprehensive programming, since currently it supports homophobia, transphobia and sexism. For example, Ariela Schyner covered the proposed amendment in Texas that would have cut funding for LGBT groups on college campuses because they promote “high risk sexual behaviour.” There is an obvious vicious cycle to be seen here, where inadequate sex education has led to homophobia and transphobia, which has led to inadequate sex education again through cutting resources to campus resource centers. These centers exist because sex education is not effective or helpful for students.
Kansas now has a new “life begins at fertilization” law, which explicitly prohibits places like Planned Parenthood from providing any information on human sexuality in public schools. Not only do measures like this affect students’ knowledge of how to have safe sex, regarding both STIs and pregnancy, it also cuts out any aspects of consent or pleasure from discussions of sex and sexuality in schools. The explicit control that policies like this exert over the reproductive capabilities and choices of people with uteruses is very clear. It’s incredibly sexist, not because women are the only ones affected by a measure such as this, but because reproductive health and rights are viewed as being something inherently “female,” and thus it’s perfectly fine to institute oppressive policies like the one in Kansas.
When you look at Planned Parenthood Toronto’s new programming, ‘Queering Sex Ed,’ which provides awesome resources and addresses how sexual education and sexual health services (or lack thereof) cause queer and trans youth to be at a particular disadvantage, this would seem to be amazing in comparison to the legislation from Texas and Kansas. However, the very fact that they have created this programming shows how the education system is failing all students. As much as I was thrilled about the Queering Sex Ed programming as an individual, it made me sad when I realized that this has been produced because the system that is supposed to give us comprehensive sexual health education is not doing so properly.
It is evident that sexual health education is in dire need of revision, and that adolescent sexuality and gender identity is what is at stake. For too long systems of oppression have been affecting sex education as a whole, and it is not acceptable that there is resistance to comprehensive curriculum. One in which the inclusion of acceptance of diverse sexuality, the spectrum of gender identity, and enthusiastic consent would be necessary. Whether or not individual students are directly affected by LGBTQ and sexist oppression is not the point; it is that indirectly it creates an unsafe atmosphere in our society as a whole. There are still institutional structures of sexism, homophobia, and transphobia present that are supported by outdated sex education programs which silence and restrict adolescent sexuality and gender identity, and this system cannot be allowed to continue on. Our students require comprehensive and inclusive sexual health education so that our communities and society at large can create and support safe spaces for all youth and all people.
Written by Jess Kiley
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