In my sophomore year of high school, I was required to take a “Health” class, which encompassed everything from “saying no to drugs” such as meth and cocaine, to planning out our future goals. However, the most significant part of my health class with the least amount of proper time devoted to it was the sex-ed component. We filled out anatomy sheets, and I remember the guy on my left continued to spell vagina incorrectly so frequently that our teacher had to keep it written on the whiteboard so he could spell it correctly. I also remember the giggles and smirks whenever the teacher would say penetration or penis, and how so many people in that class handled everything like a joke. Perhaps most importantly, though, I remember how much of the class was spent focusing on abstinence as the only form of birth control, and how the entirety of the unit focused on heterosexual sex.
It is all too common for sex-ed classes in high schools to have an abstinence-only curriculum, which fails to provide students with adequate knowledge about how to safely engage in sex in a pleasurable way. Abstinence being put on a pedestal can also fail to equip students with proper knowledge about what to do if they get an STI, for example. In my class, STIs were presented as this huge shameful thing, but we didn’t talk a whole lot about what to do if you get one, just that abstinence will prevent them.
It should come as no surprise then, that my friend Gracie Vicente ’22 informed me that there was a teacher who said that “abstinence was the only option.” She further continued by stating that “We learned like anatomy but nothing about like actual sex or pleasure or safety.”
Although sex education varies from school to school and state to state, there always tends to be a lack of pleasure focus in the curriculum at any school, and again, puts abstinence on a pedestal and ignores focusing on sex as something that should be pleasurable. The proposal of sex being shameful can be incredibly harmful to a student and create an unpleasant mindset and environment when it comes to sexual health.
“The sex-ed I received in high school left a lot to be desired,” Elio Simpson ’24 vowed, “we spent most of health class talking about contraceptive methods and STD prevention. We discussed healthy relationships and relationship violence, but did not talk about how to have enjoyable and exciting sexual experiences. It was very cissexist and heteronormative despite a good number of the students in the class being a part of the LGBTQ+ community. The sex-ed in high school didn’t go as far as abstinence-only education, but I don’t think the word pleasure was mentioned even once in class.”
Unfortunately, sex education classes also frequently lack inclusivity of LGBTQ+ identities, and typically only focuses on sex between two partners of the same gender. An example of this can be seen in how anatomy sheets are labeled as male reproductive systems and female reproductive systems. These heteronormative and cisnormative practices in these lessons can be very exclusionary and disaffirming to students with other identities and not provide them with adequate knowledge about their own sexual health.
The lack of inclusivity in my own sex-ed class is what drove me to join SHAG. I am so happy to be a part of an organization that believes in talking about sexual health & relationships in a pleasurable and positive manner—not to mention the inclusive and welcoming environment that SHAG strives to foster. Sex education needs to be more inclusive of not only LGBTQ+ folks, but of disabilities, race, and ethnicities, and other identities that are frequently excluded from these conversations.
On April 27, SHAG will be hosting a meeting about sexual ableism that will focus on the misinformation about disabilities and sex, and how certain bodies are considered to not be worthy or capable of sex, love, or intimacy. The meeting will be at our usual meeting time of 6 pm over Zoom.