Comfort is Not Safety: Sex Ed in America

illustration by Stephanie Chan

Sex Ed Controversies

Sex is an uncomfortable topic. In nearly every scenario, talking about sexual issues and topics is considered taboo, especially in classroom situations. Sexual education gets vital information to kids that they otherwise might not learn about. There's also the risk of getting all kinds of mixed up information from their friends, the internet and even “the talk” with their parents. In modern America, sexual education is a touchy topic because there is a great deal of struggling in order to find a consensus on who should be teaching kids, when they should learn it and what should be taught.

Most of the time, the arguments against sex education in schools center around how parents should teach their kids the information themselves. In an ideal world, parents would teach their kids all they need to know and when they need to know about sex, but this is rarely the case. In states with no mandated sex education, there are more teenage pregnancies. Even in states that do have mandated sex education, it tends to follow an abstinence-based model, which has been proven ineffective.

Furthermore, there is still a wide range of protests against sex education, such as the #SEXEDSITOUT movement, which protests the “graphic, gender bending sex education” that schools are teaching. Many of the protests are against the “sexualization” of kids in the classrooms. They argue that they are teaching behaviors that are dangerous, promiscuous and a "health risk.”

Limitations in Education

Despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and their excellent resources on sexual education, which includes nearly every topic that the Sit Out is demanding, it is an effective tactic of these protests to derail the focus of reasonable sex education to the sexualization of children. It is certainly an issue in society, but much of sexual education is focused more on giving resources and information to kids, not encouraging them to go out and have sex. The importance comes more from the fact that having sex education in schools means that all the kids will get useful knowledge on these topics instead of solely depending on parents, whose information can be biased or misinformed.

This is not to say that schools are infallible sources of this information. Much of mandated sex education in America is abstinence-based, which tends to be a mix of scare tactics regarding STDs sprinkled in with some information on how bodies work. In the meantime, many places from Planned Parenthood to the CDC and even RIT’s own Center for Women and Gender recognize this lack of information and teach more topics covering what is often not taught, like LGBT issues, sexual assault and contraceptive information, none of which were covered in any of the four sex education programs I researched.

Planned Parenthood has been another source of cultural dissent. Their sex education is teaching "immoral" behaviors such as healthy understandings of sexuality and gender and offering alternative options for unwanted pregnancy, such as contraceptives or abortion. Even if these things are considered immoral to some, it is still relevant information that may become useful later on in life. It is similar to arguments against physics, because although it may seem unnecessary to make students deal with that many integrals, some of those students may one day encounter physics in real life, or in their jobs, and they have to deal with it.

Sex education also deepens understandings of relationships, in regards to consent and sexual assault, because abstinence-based curriculum does not prevent any kind of sexual assault. Abstinence-only curriculums don't properly teach consent because you aren't suppose to be having sex in the first place. They also fail to address consent within relationships because they assume consent is always granted. Sexual assault is often not covered because of its violent and sexual nature, both of which are things that are frowned upon. But in reality, one in four women experience sexual assault during college. Now with the rising movement for awareness and support for sexual assault victims such as the #MeToo movement, sexual assault cannot be ignored or avoided, in education or real life.

Sex Ed at RIT

Colleges like RIT then have to make up the difference for students' gaps in sexual education, and their support is largely hit or miss. RIT has been a source of mixed success regarding these topics, because while they took a lot of heat for the ROO fiasco, the Center for Women and Gender has resources for all aspects of sex education, both online and in person. Their program CARES, the Campus Advocacy Response and Support, provides sexual assault support resources and support for victims through a 24/7 hotline and through in-person meetings. RIT also hosts events that deal with specific aspects of sex education, like women’s sexual health, safe sex for LGBT students and healthy relationships.

Overall, sex education is never going to be a comfortable topic in schools, no matter how much humor is added or how many times it is gone over. Even so, schools should cover it in such a way that kids have at least a firm base of knowledge that is not solely about abstinence. It should have to cover topics like sexual assault and issues for all people, regardless of gender identity or sexuality, because whether parents like it or not, some of their kids will need that information someday. Sex education is also something that should be covered early on because kids learn about sex at all sorts of different times in their lives, and it is important that they have some sort of knowledge on how to be safe and deal with issues that may arise.