Rewriting the Narrative: A Diversified Approach to Sexual Education
Viewing the current news headlines, it is evident that our education system faces dire inequities. But often, we seem to disregard the underlying differences in our education system, especially between students of varying races and socioeconomic backgrounds (1). Predominantly white schools receive over $23 billion dollars more funding than schools with predominantly nonwhite students (2). This is the staggering reality that marginalized students across America face. As a female high schooler from California, I have been witness to these disparities, but throughout history, our society has not done much to change the narrative. I believe that our education system isn’t doing enough to support students and bridge the long withstanding divides of race or socioeconomic status.
Racial and other inequities still plague our education system today, including in the realm of sexual health. In the past, inaccurate sexual health education has been used against communities of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, and people with disabilities. Now, the media serves as a major source of sexual health information for my generation, which more often than not, misinforms students about their sexual rights. Comprehensive sexual health education must be funded to counteract the negative influence of the media and provide safe spaces to ask about sex. Without inclusive sex ed, students in my generation are not equipped with the knowledge to make informed decisions about their body, including those leading to teen pregnancies and STIs.
In many families of color, the topic of sexual health is still very taboo. A significant number of students have never recieved “the talk” or for others, talking about sex is a simple “abstinence-only” matter. However, creating a welcoming space to talk about sexual health and sexual identity is crucial to bridging gaps within families and forges genuine connections.
Even with all the setbacks posed by society, young individuals are finding their voice and making progress in changing the conventional dialogue between the government and students. In Denver, students have transformed the abstinence-only dialogue and have advocated for more comprehensive sexual health education that focuses on teaching students how to bring up topics like consent and rape culture (3). Due to pressure from various student bodies, Texas has now drafted a bill for more equitable sexual education across the board that includes only medically accurate information (4). In addition to this, with the rise of the #MeToo movement, students are becoming vanguards to their rights, working to destigmatize periods, contraception, and teen pregnancies, throughout their communities (5).
By spreading inclusion and representation, together we can create an environment where all students can see themselves in healthy relationships. Let’s bridge the gaps in equal education between students of different races and socioeconomic status. Currently, many students report that they feel lost in their sex ed classes because the material taught is not an accurate representation of their true selves. Let’s change the dialogue to reflect all people, starting with normalizing different body types of all races and all gender expressions, and all abilities. By using sexual education as a tool to educate, let’s work on teaching acceptance, not stigma. Promoting inclusivity, not discrimination. Strengthening confidence, not shame. It’s time we make sex ed universal and accessible for all students.
Now, it’s time to rewrite the narrative. It’s time for students, educators, and parents to create a more inclusive environment surrounding sex ed. We must continue to educate ourselves about the injustices that plague our education system. All students, no matter their race or social class, deserve to be equipped with the knowledge and confidence to make informed decisions about their sexual health. Together, we can make a difference for students from my generation and future generations to come.
This blog is part of a series developed through the Teen Talk Writing Internship. The internship was carried out remotely during early 2021 with a group of high school students who have participated in the Teen Talk High School sexual education course. The ultimate goal of the group was to build connections between students as they worked together to exercise their writing and health advocacy skills.
(1) Weil, Zoe. “Opinion: What's Really Wrong With-and How to Fix-Our Broken Education System.” Common Dreams, 15 Feb. 2021, www.commondreams.org/views/2021/02/15/whats-really-wrong-and-how-fix-our-broken-education-system.
(2) Mervosh, Sarah. "How Much Wealthier Are White School Districts Than Nonwhite Ones? $23 Billion, Report Says." New York Times. 27 Feb. 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/27/education/school-districts-funding-white-minorities.html
(3) Weis, Kati. 100+ High School Students In Denver Protest for Better Sex Education Amid Sex Assault Allegations. 4 Sept. 2020, denver.cbslocal.com/2020/09/04/east-high-students-denver-protest-sex-education-sex-assault-allegation.
(4) Swaby, Aliyya. “Texas Education Officials Consider Changing State's Sex Education Policy for First Time in 23 Years.” The Texas Tribune, The Texas Tribune, 29 June 2020, www.texastribune.org/2020/06/29/Texas-schools-sex-education-policy/.
(5) Fay, Laura. Rethinking Sex Ed for the #MeToo Moment: A 'Hugely Significant' Study Shows That Strengthening Education on Relationships & Consent Can Change the Culture, 1 Apr. 2019, www.the74million.org/article/rethinking-sex-ed-for-the-metoo-moment-a-hugely-significant-study-shows-that-strengthening-education-on-relationships-consent-can-change-the-culture/#:~:text=Since%202016%2C%20the%20%23MeToo%20movement,to%20refuse%20unwanted%20sexual%20advances.
Zeng, Jing. You Say #MeToo, I Say #MiTu: China’s Online Campaigns Against Sexual Abuse. University of Zurich, Sept. 2019, researchgate.net/profile/Jing_Zeng46/publication/335850974_You_say_MeToo_I_say_MiTu_China%27s_online_campaigns_against_sexual_abuse/links/5fd891e745851553a0ba36a7/You-say-MeToo-I-say-MiTu-Chinas-online-campaigns-against-sexual-abuse.pdf.