Once upon a time, I worked for AASECT. I helped them launch their new website. I launched a blog for them. But, most important of all, I managed the digital relaunch of their monthly newsletter, Contemporary Sexuality. And in the course of doing that work, I connected with a ton of sexuality educators, and I learned a lot about the state of sex education across the United States.
The most basic thing I’ve learned about sex ed in the U.S. is that no one’s sex education looks exactly the same. Each state has its own laws mandating what public schools can and cannot teach about sexuality.
And beyond these mandates, each school district is then responsible for choosing which curriculum they adopt (or, in some cases, whether they want to offer sex ed at all).
Basically, the sex ed your child receives could look very different from the sex ed someone just one town over receives.
Why Does Comprehensive, Inclusive, Medically Accurate Sex Ed Matter?
Learning about the fractured state of sex ed in our country made me feel frustrated and powerless. Because as I delved deeper, I came to believe that sex ed (and early childhood sex ed in particular) was key to disrupting a system in which sexual violence ran rampant.
After all, according to research, learning about the body helps kids develop a certain level of comfort in talking about their genitals, making them more likely to disclose if anything inappropriate ever takes place. Later on, as they hit puberty and become teenagers, positive conversations around sexuality have been shown to lead to the delayed onset of sexual activity, greater condom use, and a reduction in various forms of sexual risk-taking.
Meanwhile, a lack of inclusive sex ed leaves many marginalized populations behind. Non-inclusive programs tend to uphold traditional gender norms, which can hurt those who are not themselves white, cisgender, able-bodied, or heteronormative. These kids can, as a result, experience shame over who they are simply because they don’t see their identity and their experiences reflected in the curriculum.
Students need to be able to see themselves in what we teach. Otherwise, they unconsciously take on the belief that the information they’re receiving is not relevant to them.
What Can We Do?
Well, for one, you can work on being a sex-positive, askable parent. That alone can go a long way toward molding your child into someone who grows up to make sexually healthy decisions.
But when children don’t see the lessons they learn at home reflected in the lessons they learn at school, it can sometimes cause a disconnect.
What can you do?
Do Your Homework. Look up the state mandates around sex ed, and then contact your local school board to learn more about their policies, and about which curriculum they’re using. Learn more about what is (and isn’t) included in the curriculum, and who provides it.
Find Your People. If you’re not happy with what’s on offer, seek out and connect with other parents and local groups who feel the same. Strength in numbers!
Get Involved. Attend your local school board meetings, get to know its members, and initiate conversations about sexuality education. Be prepared to talk about why comprehensive sexuality education is so important. Bring all the info you’ve dug up on the impact it can have. Gather a mix of statistics and personal stories. Startling statistics can catch someone’s attention, but stories are what really make people connect to an issue.
Contact Your Policymakers. Reach out to your state and federal representatives — whether by phone, email, or in-person — about the importance of strengthening sex ed requirements.
These are just the basics. When I first planned out this site, I had a grand plan for the type of information I would provide here. Action steps. Sample scripts. The nuts and bolts of how the decisions about sex ed curricula are made.
But then SIECUS released their awesome Community Action Toolkit, which contains all of that and more. And EducateUS put together a guide for speaking at school board meetings, public hearings, and other venues. Advocates for Youth also has a fantastic blueprint for community coalition-building. And I found that sex, etc. had a quick guide just for teens. And I realized that a large part of my role here is not necessarily in reinventing the wheel, but in pointing you to the fantastic resources that already exist. Showing you the stuff that’s scattered across the internet and putting it all in one simple, easy-to-navigate space.
Speaking of which…
Some Shining Examples of Strong Comprehensive Sex Ed Curricula
If you’re going the advocacy route and want to cite specific sexual health guidelines or propose specific programs, you could do a lot worse than these:
- National Sex Education Standards, developed by Future of Sex Education, a collaboration of Advocates for Youth, Answer, and SIECUS: Sex Ed for Social Change.
- The Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education, developed by SIECUS
- Our Whole Lives, developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association in collaboration with the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries.
- Rights, Respect, Responsibility, developed by Advocates for Youth.
- Get Real, developed by Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts in collaboration with Advancing Health Equity and the Education Development Center.