What is Inclusive Sex Education? A Guide for Parents & Youth

What is Inclusive Sex Education? A Guide for Parents & Youth

A Guide to Sex Education

It seems like as the world progresses, sex education curriculum in the U.S. is falling backwards. August and Twentyeight Health came together to brainstorm our ideal sex ed curriculum based on commonly asked questions from our communities.

Why is sex education important?

Sex education is important because, despite its name, the curriculum really should encompass all things bodies as well as human interaction. In other words, sex education should teach about biological processes like periods, puberty, body hair and odor, and mood swings – but it should also teach about sexuality, gender, mental health, being confident in yourself, and how to both manage and communicate in relationships (both romantic & platonic).

Sex education has the unique opportunity to be a safe haven for students of all ages to learn and explore as they grow into themselves.

What is the current state of sex ed curriculum in the U.S.?

Sex education in the United States has come a long way since programs started to pop up in the 1980s. At the beginning of its existence, sex education curriculum was driven by Abstience Only Until Marriage (AOUM), a federally funded program that 49 states accepted and promoted in their classrooms. This curriculum lacked education regarding contraceptives, sexually transmitted diseases, or birth control options, let alone puberty, sexuality, gender, or decision-making skills.

As of May 2022, 39 states and the District of Columbia require public schools teach sexual education. Of those states, only 26 mandate that HIV education is taught as well. To take it a step further, only 18 states require that the sex and / or HIV curriculm must be medically, factually, or technically accurate. Here is a state-by-state breakdown of sex education policies in the United States as of May 2022.

Currently, there are typically three types of sex education taught in the United States. There are ‘Abstience-Only’ programs which, similarly to the AOUM, teach abstaining from sex as the only moral option for teenagers. ‘Abstinence-Plus’ education promotes abstinence as the safest form of contraception, but includes conversations regarding contraception methods. Comprehensive Sex Education in schools is the least-used curriculm. It teaches youth that sexuality is a healthy and normal part of growing up and asserts that while abstinence is the most effective way to avoid unintended pregnancy and STIs, there are many ways to protect yourself from these while also participating in sexual activities.

Studies by both the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC found that ‘Abstience-Only’ education does not result in positive outcomes for the sexual health of adolescents. The topics that may be considered taboo are in fact the most important for adolescent education. Information on periods, puberty, gender, sexuality, consent, and birth control options are all key features in a child’s coming of age experience.

What does inclusive & accessible sex education look like?

There are a few ways to make sex ed inclusive of all bodies and accessible to all students.

  1. First of all, educators should ensure that they use a diverse range of visual representations. That is, different skin colors, body sizes, ages, and multimedia (not just video tapes from the 1980s).
  2. A second way to make sure that everyone feels included is to have all students learn about all body parts and biological processes. There are likely trans, intersex, and nonbinary students who may be placed in sex ed classrooms that unfortunately don’t discuss or represent their body. In addition, wouldn't it be useful for all people to learn about all bodies, so that we have a better understanding of one another?
  3. And lastly, accessibility in education can mean a lot of things. It means accuracy & reliability (of information, educators, consistent teaching during all years of formal schooling, etc.). It means teaching with a variety of methods (i.e. reading, watching, writing, drawing, discussing, listening, etc.). And it means anyone should be able to access the information, regardless of socioeconomic background.

What are reliable resources for educators, parents and guardians looking to introduce sex education to the kids in their lives?

  • The Ask August database is a medically-verified, stigma-free, euphemism-free and most importantly for-free database full of answers to the period questions you may be too embarrassed to ask out loud. Kind of like having a virtual big sibling who is unapologetic and maybe you hate to admit it, but they know their stuff. Got a question? Just Ask August!
  • The Sex + Health Guide from Twentyeight Health is here to teach you everything your gym teacher didn’t. Their articles (vetted by their team of doctors and available in Spanish & English) will make you feel confident in your own decisions about birth control, sexually transmitted infections, and reproductive health. It’s YOUR body, after all.

Do you feel unsatisfied by your sexual education and want change?

If you are passionate about improving sex education for youth and beyond, there are a few things you can do to get involved! Here is a link to the sexual education collaborative, where groups across the United States are working to secure programs that expand the understanding of sexuality, reproductive care, and sexual health to kids and teens. Many of these organizations have training programs and representatives that you can get in contact with to see how you can help them or they can help you!

Also, you can always reach out to your Congressional representative to voice your thoughts and concerns, that is what they are there for! There is a helpful website to find your local representative if you are interested!

This article was written in collaboration with Twentyeight Health and August

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