When right-wing media and groups talk about sex education, they often fixate on vilifying sex educators and fearmongering about comprehensive and inclusive sexual health programs. Abstinence-only programming promotes fear of same-sex attraction, reinforces gender stereotypes, slut-shames, mandates heterosexual marriage, and neglects to inform youth about the spectrum of contraceptive and reproductive options. We spoke with experts Tyunique Nelson, Lincoln Mondy, Dr. Jamila Perritt, and Lucinda Holt about how comprehensive sexual health education makes us safer and healthier.
Many experts say that sex education, like any other school topic, should begin early in life with foundational concepts -- like consent or setting and respecting boundaries -- that prepare children for the sexual health programming they receive when they’re older. When students learn about these concepts early on, they can better grasp lessons about sexual assault when they are in high school, which ultimately helps to mitigate instances of sexual assault on college campuses.
Right-wing media and conservative groups fearmonger about discussions of gender and sexual orientation in classrooms -- going so far as to claim sex educators are “planting” the idea that a child may be gay. Sex ed provides an opportunity for educators to normalize trans and nonbinary identities and to talk to youth about queer relationships and family structures. The data show that when sexual health classes include these topics, students are less likely to experience bullying in schools.
And if sex educators are talking about identity, experts believe they should also talk about race and class. Black youth are at a higher risk of negative health outcomes and are more likely to become pregnant than white youth. This is due to lack of comprehensive sexual health programming in Black communities and racism in the medical space. When young people receive comprehensive information on contraception and reproductive health options, they are more likely to use contraception, have safer sex, and seek the health care they need.
When all else fails, right-wing media vilify sex educators and make sex education appear to be part of some imagined “liberal” agenda. But expert data supports comprehensive and inclusive sexual health programming, and the vast majority of Americans are in favor of sex education in schools. At the end of the day, sexual health information is health care, and young people should be learning about sex in an environment that does not double down on stigma but rather makes them feel supported, affirmed, and equipped to lead healthy lives.
Video edited by Miles Le