Coming from the girl who had to google how to use a tampon at the pubescent age of 12, I think we can all agree there are some problems with health and sex education. I’ve had a little boy ask me when he’s supposed to menstruate. I know a number of girls who think they pee out of their vagina. Women believe they can’t orgasm. What is the U.S. doing? There’s a lot we can learn from proper sexual education, and health education as a whole. The problem is we can’t benefit from what isn’t there.
Health education majors, like myself, often face a lot of stigma surrounding our future career in looking at a lot of penis and vagina cross sections. Yes, the education surrounding male and female genitalia is hilarious and my chosen, inevitable future. But, do you know what’s even funnier? Of the 50 states in the U.S., only 13 require health education to be medically accurate. Only eight states require a program for sex ed and HIV education that isn’t biased against sex, race, or religion. But don’t worry, we’ll be saved by the 39 states who mandate that abstinence education be included. Even though I can laugh while I’m able to identify my own anatomy, our friends in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Vermont, Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, and Wisconsin (this is not all thirteen) may be confusing a fallopian tube with a vas deferens.
You might ask, why does anatomical sex ed even matter? Usually, sex is taught based on reproduction instead of including the aspect of pleasure in an attempt to scare younger, sexually curious students away. The idea of abstinence should be given as an option in sex education, but not the solution to all sexual health–related risks. Proper education concerning the contraception used to impact our anatomical sex organs could decrease the rate of unwanted pregnancies and therefore abortions. The fact that 16 and Pregnant is an ongoing series for MTV should be seen as problematic, not entertainment (don’t get me started on TLC’s I Didn’t Know I was Pregnant).
Emphasis on affirmative, consensual consent would improve confidence in decision-making with sexual encounters. These lessons could put avid rape culture to rest (cough cough, Brock Turner), and show our society that we need to teach how-not-to-rape as opposed to our current how-to-avoid-rape. Perhaps putting an end to the stereotypes of men being naturally sexual, women being pure and innocent, and halting our slut shaming hookup culture, which is emotionally tolling. And perhaps eating disorders wouldn’t be so common if we taught our youth not to idolize media-heavy celebrities with unrealistic bodies, like Kim Kardashian. This is all sex ed. This can all start in the classroom.
Additionally, there’s nothing more that I think the country needs than extensive and thorough recognition of the LGBTQ+ community in curriculums. Sex education has the potential to cover topics concerning identity, ranging from gender to sexuality to performance, and it should, given that over nine million Americans identify as LGBTQ+. While people laugh at my occupation, I want it to be my job to normalize a spectrum of femininity and masculinity where dichotomies are finally broken. A nurturing and proper sexual education could end the gender stereotypes that degrade our non-binary peers.
While I get laughed at every day about how dumb my major is, I know that teaching health and sexual education is a noble career. I’ll tell your future kids it’s okay to explore and accept their bodies because it’s inherently important to love and know yourself. I’ll remind them of the power behind yes means yes, and tell them who and what they are is nothing to be apologetic about. This doesn’t even begin to touch on interpersonal relationships, health risks from all forms of sex, ending myths (no, you can’t get a sexually transmitted infection from a toilet seat), the history of reproductive health care, social constructs of virginity, gender, attractiveness and so on. We essentially cannot dodge the importance and reality of how significant sexual education is to our everyday life. This is something that should be mandated to be taught in K-12 curriculum, and I’m a strong advocate and volunteer to take on that job.