Women’s history month is here, and it’s time to talk about sex education equality
The fact that sex education in America is taught exclusively for straight, cisgender men is often overlooked
I want to talk about something that isn’t often brought up in discussions about equality: sex education. In the United States, sex education is taught in a way that excludes everyone that isn’t a straight, cisgender man. In honor of Women’s History Month, I’m going to talk about sex education and young women.
Most of what I know about my body, I initially learned from the book “The Care and Keeping of You,” published by American Girl. I learned a little bit about periods, breasts and anatomy in school, but this book taught me about all of that in addition to period products, body image and self-esteem, peer pressure, hygiene and healthy eating. From what I understand, this is a common experience. I know I am not the only person on AU’s campus who feels they learned more from this book than they did throughout school.
That’s because it’s very rare to find comprehensive sex education in the United States. Most schools teach some form of abstinence-based sex education. Oftentimes, abstinence-based sex education does more harm than good, especially for young women.
Abstinence-based education has two key teachings: you have to wait until marriage to have sex, and if you don’t wait, no man will ever want to marry you. Young women are bombarded with messages like “good girls don’t have sex” and “smart girls wait until marriage.” These messages are almost always targeted at young women. Young men rarely receive the same messages. In the few sex education classes I did have, young men are taught that their new feelings and desires are completely normal.
Young women are faced with a dilemma. On one hand, they are told they should not have sex, but, on the other hand, boys now have these desires and young women may feel like they are obligated to fulfill these desires. Experts have referred to this as the “ slut/prude tightrope.” These conflicting messages can become dangerous. It blurs the line between consent and coercion, meaning a young woman may have a non-consensual encounter and not even realize it. This message can become increasingly dangerous on college campuses such as AU’s, where sex is less of a taboo. If the sex is consensual, she may feel bad afterwards. She may think that she is a bad person or stupid because she didn’t wait until marriage and now nobody will ever want to be with her.
The way sex education is taught in the United States is dangerous to the psychological well-being of young women. It tells young women that their sexuality is not normal and will harm them in the long run. This makes young women even more vulnerable to self-loathing and poor mental health. As if the psychological harms weren’t enough, abstinence-based sex education can be harmful physically.
There is no proof that abstinence-based education actually delays sexual behavior. In fact, the average age for a first sexual encounter is 17 years old in the United States. So instead of delaying sexual activity, abstinence-based education just leaves young people vastly unprepared for sex and unaware of the various types of contraception and sexually transmitted infection (STI).
This lack of knowledge surrounding contraception and STIs can be very dangerous for a young woman. Some STIs, such as syphilis and HIV can be life-threatening. This is general information that everyone should be aware of, but it’s important to note that some STIs do not present symptoms in the female body. Despite this, they can lead to very severe consequences. Chlamydia and gonorrhea, when left untreated, can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can lead to issues such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy and chronic pelvic pain. Students need to learn about the options available to prevent STIs or risk facing serious health consequences.
If contraception is discussed in sex education classes, it is usually limited to condoms. Young women should know about other forms of contraception such as the pill, shot, implant and intrauterine device (IUD). Not only do these prevent pregnancy effectively, they can also help with other health issues such as irregular periods, heavy bleeding and cramps. Knowing about these forms of contraception also increases a young women’s sense of autonomy because these are decisions she can make on her own.
There are many other reasons why sex education in America needs to be changed. Young women aren’t the only ones suffering. Young LGBTQ+ people are suffering, too. It’s time for the United States to move away from abstinence-based sex education if it truly wants equality among all people. Until things are changed, AU should help fill in the gaps in some student’s education. There should be more information available on campus about STIs, contraception and access to it and condom usage, as well as more sex positive messages. Considering AU prides itself in being tolerant and supporting equality, this should not be a difficult task.
Katherine Marx is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She is an outside contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Eagle and its staff.