I have been exceptionally lucky as a sexual health educator to have worked in LGBTQ+ inclusive and sex-positive environments. However, working in these settings has also made it painfully obvious how lacking the sex education folks have received before coming to us really is.
Many clients are seriously undereducated on sexual health and wellness, which reflects poorly on the systems we have in place to educate young people on sexuality.
It’s well-known that sex education is inconsistent in quality between towns and states. Curricula range from abstinence-only programs to comprehensive, LGBTQ+ inclusive sexual health education. Many states (including Connecticut) don’t require sex education at all; over half the states that do mandate sex ed have no requirements about its medical accuracy.
I am one of those people that did not receive comprehensive sexual health education at my school. I attended Oxford High School, in Oxford. My school was brand new the year I attended. With that, one might think a brand new, high quality health curriculum would follow. That was not the case. I received exactly zero hours of sex education at school.
Luckily, I have parents who taught me pretty early on about healthy sexuality. Not everyone has the good fortune I did. Many people I talk to say that their home education was nonexistent on the topic of sex. Others report being given outdated, false, or extremely sexist information.
You may shrug these off as cases of parents that were misinformed by generations before them. However, we see this bad information being taught in schools all the time.
What is the result? Uninformed students grow into uninformed adults, and these adults do not know how protect their sexual health.
The United States has higher rates of STI’s and teen pregnancies than other industrialized countries. It’s no coincidence that most of these countries also provide comprehensive sexual education to every student. Per the American Academy of Obstetrics and Gynecology, studies show that students receiving comprehensive sex education are less likely to become pregnant than students who receive none, or those are educated only on sexual abstinence. Yet even with this information readily available, we allow our schools to miseducate our children and put their current, and future, sexual health at risk.
We hold the power to change this! Changing national standards may seem daunting, but change almost always starts locally. Look into the sexual health information included in your children’s curriculum, and compare it to recommendations from well-regarded organizations like SIECUS.
If it doesn’t measure up, talk to your fellow town residents, and bring it to your board of education. If they don’t listen, vote them out.
Our kids will one day be adults who will have to make decisions about sex. Let’s give them the resources they need to make good ones.
Kimberly Adamski is a sexual health educator in West Hartford.