By Marissa Thompson
The Current State of Sexual Health Education:
The state of sexual health education in America is often criticized. Abstinence- only curriculums are the norm and many curriculums fail to address the importance of contraceptives and birth control. The standards for what constitutes a “comprehensive sexual health course” varies widely from state to state, leaving gaps in education on topics such as healthy relationship skills, anatomy and consent. Today, many sexual health education programs fail abysmally by erasing and completely overlooking the LGBTQ+ community.
“Through safer-sex and inclusive curriculums, LGBTQ+ students can learn to make healthy decisions for themselves in their relationships.”
Currently, a majority of curriculums available are taught with a heteronormative bias. This means that, the curriculum only cover sex that occurs between a cisgender man and a cisgender woman. This assumption that many curriculums are based off of erase entire populations of young queer youth from the conversation. Currently, many curriculums taught will not touch on the nuances of sexual orientation and gender identity. In fact, some curriculums will only speak on these matters with a negative and distasteful connotation. This not only leaves LGBTQ+ students out of the conversation but in some cases can lead to bullying or discrimination.
Why LGBTQ+ Students Need to be Included:
LGBTQ+ students are disproportionately affected by negative sexual health outcomes. Young men (13-29) who identified as gay or bisexual, made up for two-thirds of new HIV cases in 2018 (CDC, 2019). This number also reflects a racial inequality as well, with the majority of these men being Black or Latino. A comprehensive and inclusive sexual health program might include a lesson preventative measures on PrEP, (Pre-Exposure Prophylactic) that could help sexually active youth prevent HIV. In addition, LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to experience unplanned pregnancies, STIs, coerced sexual contact and dating violence. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that transgender and nonbinary (sometimes referred to as gender non-conforming) students also experience high rates of dating and sexual violence, with a disproportionate amount being youth of color. The data overwhelmingly proves that LGBTQ+ students are at a higher rate for negative health outcomes related to sex and relationships, meaning these students should be targeted in appropriate safe-sex curriculum. Additionally, someone’s sexual orientation may not always align with the behaviors they participate in. For example, it’s entirely possible for someone who identifies as a lesbian to have sex with a someone who has a penis. In this case, it’s important for the youth to know about pregnancy prevention such as condoms and birth control even though they identify as a lesbian. Healthy relationships, boundaries and lessons on consent are applicable to all relationships, no matter sexual orientation, the label or number of partners. These subjects are important to any comprehensive sexual health education curriculum as human sexuality involves relationships of many kinds. In general, it’s also important to be made aware of ways to prevent STIs by using dental dams, external condoms, internal condoms and the importance of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) testing. Through safer-sex and inclusive curriculum, LGBTQ+ students can learn to make healthy decisions for themselves in their relationships.
There have been multiple studies that conclude that “safer-sex” curriculums are far more effective at preventing teen pregnancies and STIs than abstinence-only curriculums. The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) states that a comprehensive sexual health education curriculum “should be appropriate to the age, developmental level, and cultural background of students and respect the diversity of values and beliefs represented in the community. Comprehensive school-based sexuality education complements and augments the sexuality education children receive from their families, religious and community groups, and healthcare professionals.” This means that students should be learning not only of the positives of abstinence, but of the practicality of birth control, consent, boundaries, condoms and LGBTQ+ sex. The bottom line is that every student deserves a chance to learn comprehensive and inclusive sexual health education regardless of their location, gender and sexual orientation.