In a country where LGBTQ+ identity is so stigmatized, inclusive sex education offers a pathway to success and health for LGBTQ+ students. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Education

Opinion: Inclusive sex ed saves lives

Sex ed classes are often limited and heteronormative, which has lasting repercussions on LGBTQ+ youth.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/bookpapaya/" target="_self">Maya Henry</a>

Maya Henry

November 26, 2021
Sex ed. To most teenagers in the U.S., these words conjure memories of awkward lectures and classmates giggling to hide embarrassment. Maybe sex ed took form in a school-wide assembly, maybe in an online course, or maybe in the span of three classes in 7th-grade science. The sex-ed experience remains universal, however, in one aspect: if present, it is rarely comprehensive, and nearly never inclusive of LGBTQ+ identity and experiences. 

Though 96% of parents support some form of sex education being taught in high schools, only 24 states and the District of Columbia mandate the teaching of safe-sex practices. The statistics become even more dire when attention is turned to the teachings of inclusive sex and health education; currently, no state in the U.S. mandates discussion of gender identity, safe same-sex intimacy practices, or family planning for non-heterosexual families. And, only 12 states include discussion of sexuality in any capacity in their mandated curriculum. Of those 12 states, three states still include inaccurate, outdated, and prejudiced speech regarding LGBTQ+ identity.

As one of those three states, Alabama requires that sex ed teachers teach that “homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public” and that “homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state.” Other curriculums explicitly state that marriage can only exist between a man and a woman, and that physical intimacy can only lawfully happen in such a heterosexual marriage. 

With such limited sexual education being provided to students, and with even more restricted information reaching students regarding safe sexual practices between same-sex partners and LGBTQ+ identity, students are pushed into adulthood with little reliable information and education regarding safe practices. This limited education creates a never-ending cycle of dilemmas: if LGBTQ+ students aren’t educated in schools about intimacy and health and don’t have trusted adults to direct questions towards, they’re more likely to turn to the internet for answers, an unreliable tool that provides just as much helpful and informative content as it does inappropriate and inaccurate half-truths that enforce homophobia. The more inaccurate the information LGBTQ+ youth receive, the more likely they are to fall into unsafe practices, resulting in lifelong consequences. So long as sex education continues to barely scratch the surface of the issues that youth — especially LGBTQ+ youth — face, this vicious cycle of unhealthy habits will continue.

Thus, pushing for an inclusive LGBTQ+ health curriculum is one of the most important and imminent ways to set LGBTQ+ students up for success on a life-long and multi-generational scale. There are numerous ways to advocate for such inclusivity, including working with your school’s GSA and administrators to revise your school’s sex education curriculum, serving on district-wide councils to advocate for inclusive sex education, and writing to state-level representatives, urging them to support bills that mandate more comprehensive sexual education.

Additionally, there are various well-researched, inclusive, and fact-checked articles available for individuals hoping to educate themselves, including the Gender Triangle Education Guide, Advocates for Youth’s full and downloadable sex education guide, and weekly articles published by Sex, Etc.

Ultimately, inclusive sex education does more than teach students about STIs and menstrual cycles; it allows students to grow up not plagued with misinformation regarding life-changing decisions, illnesses, and practices, and instead sets students up to lead fulfilling lives that are safe and healthy.

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