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Cichon , Lauren , Sex Education Policy in the U.S.

CICHON , LAUREN

Lauren Cichon
Age: 16, Grade: 11

School Name: Nyc Ischool, New York, NY
Educator: Amara Thomas

Category: Critical Essay

Sex Education Policy in the U.S.

The atmosphere was itchy. 150 feverishly sweaty thirteen-year-olds arm to arm. B.O. highly prominent. The video turns on, the tension increases. It was a video of a girl getting her first period, everyone started laughing. Most of my friends and I had already gotten our first periods so this video didn’t really teach us much. It instead made us feel ashamed because some boys started saying how gross it was. This was the extent of my sex education in middle school. This class set up an environment of awkwardness and separation because of the lack of seriousness. This was our one health class in three years of middle school and it didn’t even touch on consent and sexual health education. 

New York State law requires sex education throughout middle school and high school but for many public education institutions this is not a reality. Sex education in schools needs to be improved in order to be inclusive in terms of gender, sexuality, and experience. It’s alarming that almost 6 percent of 13 year – olds have had sex, but health education in 6th and 7th grade most simply talks about starting puberty. The mandates for sex education are not inclusive of people’s varying gender identities, level of experiences and history/relationship with sex. There is an entire lack of discussions happening around the subjects of consent and what it means to be in a consenting and healthy sexual relationship. In order to progress as a society and protect the youth of our country, as 25 percent of people have had sex by the age of 20, it is vital that changes be made to our sex education system so that people can understand that sex means something to different to the individual and everyone has undergone different experiences.

I remember walking into my sex education classroom soon after establishing my identity. I remember feeling nervous and afraid because I was unsure about how I would be accepted and what the community in the classroom would be like. I also remember being nervous to discuss sex, especially queer sex and relationships, in an environment so publicly-but I found that this didn’t really happen. I wanted a safe space and it felt judging and silly. I think having an area of school life to talk about sex and relationships in a less stigmatized way is important although I think that at some times there was increased stigma, fear for asking questions and how people will react.  It made me think about how we really do need safe, accessible spaces to discuss consent and our experiences. Looking back I realize that we were having discussions about HIV and AIDS prevention in elementary school, but in middle school sex education only discussed the beginning of puberty. The DOE mandates an “age appropriate” protocol on sex education, however, this policy seems unfair and not properly fitting the youth that represents America. I believe that in order for sex education to be comprehensive, certain elements of the “age appropriate” policy are not fitting. I remember sitting in class freshman year and thinking about my experiences and thinking about things that had triggered me about the conversations in class. I think that this made me realize how necessary consent discussions are and how vital they are to protocol. These discussions should start a lot earlier than high school however. I remember being young and hearing rape jokes and I myself not understanding what it meant until I took the time to educate myself. The lack of consent education seemingly promotes growth in rape culture.  

Additionally alarming is that more than 33 percent of women and almost 40 percent of TGQN (transgender, gender queer, questioning or not listed) students experience non-consensual sexual contact while in college. Transgender students being targeted disproportionately in terms of sexual harassment. In a study done by JAMA pediatrics in 2015, almost 11 percent of college men said they had raped someone in either high school or college. This proportion of people alone should signify that there are some definitive changes that need to be made in terms of sex educations focus on consent education. It is vital to teach students about what consent means and what the word rape means, and how the word rape is broader than some think – that forcing someone into sex is rape. No one is exempt from this education. In fact, 18 percent of college students think that someone has given consent as long as they don’t say no; this is so alarming and makes me think about how many assaults could have been prevented with proper sex education on what constitutes assault and sexual misconduct. The disproportion in LGBTQIA  people that are assaulted are also due to a lack of comprehensive education. Educators are not including queer students in their education and it is frightening. For example, states such as Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas have explicit anti-LGBT curriculum laws. With that much hate mandated in education it is unsurprising the hate that gets put out in the future. In fact, there are nine states that do not mandate sex education at all. These states are; Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Texas and Virginia. Five of these states as well rank among the highest in terms of teenage pregnancy. In New York, 20,000 teens get pregnant annually, which while this isn’t as many people as in other states it is still rather alarming. Things need to change-we live in the Me Too era; an era of calling attention to the wrongs of sexual assault – with this also comes the age of new sex education policy. A policy boasting inclusiveness, responsibility and consent.  
    
Some will argue that sex education in schools should be the decision of the family with opt – out forms. At iSchool we have condom opt – out forms which deny students to contraception. The lack of accessibility and the abundance of control that families have over students personal sexual health decisions is outstanding. Every child deserves a medically accurate sex education – where they feel valued and not out of place because of their expression and identity. Sex Ed is so controversial because of how it is still seen as so “taboo.” Another concern regarding sex education is how parents handle it. Some parents raising their kids in a religious household feel that sex education undermines their moral values and faith. However, even this fear is not allowed to put students in harm’s way – students have a right to be healthy. According to nursing at USC, “When only 13 states in the nation require sex education to be medically accurate, a lot is left up to interpretation in teenage health literacy.” The dire necessity for sex education becomes crystal clear when seeing that in 2016  the United States had higher rates of unwanted teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease than most other industrialized countries. Part of this problem is the issue that parents have discussing intimacy and healthy relationships with their kids and young adults.  Exposure to sex education and conversations about sex have been proven to have positive effects on healthy relationships in the future. This is why teaching sex education at a young age is so vital to help prevent sexual violence. Consent education goes hand in hand with sex education and the more conversations are opened up; better communication is taught to be  had in the future. 
  
 The lack of positive LGBT role models in schools are also alarming and contribute to sexual violence against queer youth. A study done in 2015 found that 63 percent of students say they don’t have a positive LGBTQIA role model or representation in their school setting. Sex Ed provides a way for people to have open conversations about power and identity and how what this means in terms of relationships. According to the advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, “When sex education is another area where LGBTQ youth are overlooked or actively stigmatized …It contributes to hostile school environments and places LGBTQ youth at increased risk for negative sexual health outcomes.” It’s important to think about the inequity in sex education as well; an activist named Ryan spoke about how “If heterosexual students are getting the sexual education they need to have safe sex and make proper decisions about that, and (LGBTQ) students are not receiving that education, what they are learning does not apply to them at all.” 
    
Sex education in schools needs to be improved in order to be inclusive in terms of gender, sexuality, and experience. But it also needs to be successful in terms of providing a safe space to discuss sex and how to prevent STIs as well as unwanted pregnancies; while having a clear conversation about consent and healthy relationships. The reality of the system is that this is not what’s happening. In actuality “there’s a shortage of professionals to teach the classes, and New York City missed a deadline months ago to complete a report on sex education.” To begin addressing this issue and the inequity towards LGBTQIA students and students at different levels of sexual experience we need to start focusing at the local level. It’s time to address that, “The New York City Department of Education does require sexual education in schools, but it has no policy to enforce this, and a report by the New York City Comptroller’s office showed that 12 percent of middle and high schools did not have an instructor assigned to teach health classes.” It is important for schools and parents to have discussions with students about consent and making mindful decisions about their bodies. Schools must provide students with access to contraception no matter what. Condom demonstrations and dental dams should be an avid part of comprehensive sex education. Schools need to educate students on programs that exist beyond the DOE. It’s time for a change, It’s time for acceptance on a larger scale. Now and forever is the time for accurate, inclusive consent based sex education.