by Tiffany Jules, PEP Young Women's Leadership Council
As a sexual health educator, I am very concerned with the current state of sex education in the United States. Even though there has been a push towards abstinence-only sex education through government sponsored programs; there are a number of organizations fighting for comprehensive sex education for adolescents. Many of these organizations have developed sex education curricula to be implemented in other places besides school settings. I have facilitated different curricula developed by various non-profit organizations, and I have noticed that most of these sex education curricula focus on the negative consequences associated with sexual activity such as sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies. These organizations fail to include a sex-positive approach to sex education.
First, I want to be clear that I am not saying that sex education programs should not discuss sexually transmitted infections and prevention of pregnancy. I understand that it is very important for young people to understand how these diseases manifest in the human body and the difficulties of being a teen parent - but we also need to make it a priority to focus on sexual pleasure, desire, and intimacy. By mostly concentrating on sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies, these organizations cause young people to only associate sexual intercourse with disease and pregnancy. Unfortunately, this teaching causes adolescents to develop a fear of sex, which should not be the goal of comprehensive sex education.
Before we can move to utilizing the sex-positive approach, we need to analyze why society does not want to discuss sexual pleasure, desire, and intimacy with adolescents. The three main reasons for not addressing all of the aspects of sexuality with young people are societal views of teenage sexual behavior, the idea of raging hormones, and undermining the romantic relationships of teenagers. Most Americans fear that sex-positive sex education will provide young people with the permission to engage in "reckless" sexual activity without parental knowledge and protection. Also, "reckless" sexual activity is considered dangerous and immoral, which means it needs to be controlled by the government.
According to Dr. Amy Schalet, "the raging hormones metaphorically represent the notion of teenage sexuality as an individual, over-powering force that is difficult for teenagers to control." Society believes that young people are not capable of making their own decisions regarding sexuality because they are being controlled by their hormones. Since society does not trust the judgment of young people, adults have decided to focus on information such as sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies to deter sexual activity in adolescence.
Adults often do not take romantic relationships during adolescence seriously because they believe that teenagers do not understand the definition of love. When a young person is involved in their first romantic relationship, it seems very authentic for that person. It is very important that society appreciates the value of these relationships and not automatically undermine their existence.
In addition to fighting for comprehensive sex education, organizations need to also be concerned with the contents of their sex education curricula. By not having honest discussion regarding sexual pleasure, desire, and intimacy and building fear of sex, we are doing a disservice to the health and well-being of young people. As I continue to work in the field of reproductive justice, I realize that America has made tremendous strides, but there is still so much more work that needs to be done.