We all know that sex is a natural part of life; it is how we make babies, which enables the population to continue growing. It is also something that every biological species capable of reproduction has an impulse to do until they reach a certain point in their lives. For humans, sex drive usually develops as our bodies begin to change; mood swings start to happen and hormones start going crazy. At this point, it is ideal that kids have an understanding as they transition into adolescence so that they know what to do when situations regarding their hormones arise. That is why it is important that they know the names of sexual body parts and how to use necessary resources such as condoms and birth control. Now it makes sense why health classes exist. Kids learn about puberty, hormones, reproductive body parts, how to avoid peer pressure, not to do drugs, and how to have safe sex. That’s great, plus it helps limit having the awkward talk with your parents since the schools do it for them. But not everyone agrees with sex education. In fact, it’s such a split opinion that only almost half of the states require that sex education be taught in public schools according to a CBS report about health, relationships, and consent. It’s concerning knowing that not all schools are teaching the same thing, largely because the government has a weak set curriculum for teaching sex ed. That’s why some schools in different states, cities, or districts go into detail about birth control while others push abstinence until marriage. Lacking complete information about sex and consent can make teens vulnerable to becoming sexually assaulted, contracting STDs or getting someone pregnant. Fortunately, Shelagh Johnson, the Youth Sexual Health Coordinator for the Public Health Division in Multnomah County, reports that according to the Board of Directors for SIECUS, “In study after study, the majority of adults consistently share their belief that sex education should absolutely be taught in schools.” In addition, Molly Franks, a health educator for the Youth Sexual Health Equity Program at the Multnomah County Health Department, says that “Oregon has some of the most progressive standards in the country.” Franks adds that public schools in Oregon must follow the Oregon Health education standards and sex ed should be offered K-12th. “Unfortunately there’s not a strong enforcement mechanism. For schools to be held accountable, someone needs to file a Division 22 complaint with the Department of Education, and then they investigate.” While many states censor and put restrictions on sex ed or choose not to teach it at all since not all schools are monitored, Oregon actually has a set agenda. “Everyone is required to talk about birth control, consent, STDs, etc,” explains Franks. “No one should be teaching abstinenceonly at an Oregon public school. If they are, someone should file a complaint.”
In states where health classes focus on abstinence or do not cover all the important material about sex, it may be helpful to turn to other sources while still being wary of where the information is being received. “All people get information about sex and relationships from multiple sources beyond home and school, including the media, family, organizations, places of worship, etc,” explains Johnson. “In fact, Oregon’s health standards include students being able to ‘analyze the influence of family, peers, culture, media, technology, and other factors on health behaviors’ as well as ‘demonstrate the ability to access valid information, products, and services to enhance health’.” According to Franks, “Especially Students Enthusiastically Consent To Inclusive and Comprehensive Sex-Ed A variety of birth control pills used to evade risk of pregnancy for women. Classes are required to teach about birth control in Oregon. for LGBT teens who feel isolated, the internet has been a huge source of support. School counselors, Student Health Centers, and other trusted adults at school are also great sources of info.” While it is important that people have more openness in accepting different sexualities, it does not stop there; a significant part of the shame and stigmatization towards sex is tied to race and sex discrimination, and it is an obstacle that needs to be overcome if people are going to cultivate healthy mindsets about sexuality. “Everyone should be wary about where they get their information from and why, not just teens— but certainly this is even more true for issues related to sexuality due to everything from stigma and shame to racism/sexism as well as homophobia/transphobia, and more,” says Johnson. Another important question is how young should children start learning about sexuality? Though the answer may vary, it should ideally be as young as possible. After all, children don’t start learning about rules to relationships and sex until around kindergarten, maybe sooner than that. “If caregivers can say ‘vulva’ and ‘penis’ as easily as they can say ‘nose’ or ‘elbow,’ they are helping kids feel comfortable and confident about all parts of their body,” says Franks. It is also important that kids learn about rules of consent as young as possible, and the power in saying the word “no.” Apparently, some students in the district came up with a bill of rights and one of the requirements is to talk about pleasure as part of sex education. “Pleasure is a huge part of healthy sexuality. We need to talk about it and not just focus on the risks and bad outcomes.” This is already an improvement, because a lot of times, the sex education curriculum mainly focuses on STDs and pregnancy risks. They also bring up birth control and consent, but a lot of times, even when it is during consensual sex, it does not mean it is enjoyable for everyone involved. Focusing on the good parts of sex should also be included in making better and healthier choices about sex. “We can improve by allowing young people the opportunity to teach and talk about sex, sexuality, and what it means for them,” says Johnson. “As adults, we need to ensure young people are receiving sex education K-12 according to Oregon’s law, but also that the education is relevant, inclusive, and connected to students lives and experiences.”
Though our sex education is not perfect, and there is still a long way to go, it is comforting knowing that schools, teachers and counselors care about the decisions students make in life and hopefully more states will follow our example.