Regardless of whether teenagers continue education through college or university, curricula must address sexual assault by clearly outlining the importance of consent.
Despite advocates of abstinence-only curricula, current sex education is failing our students. With frequent cases of sexual assault on college campuses, it is critical for schools to prioritize adequate instruction of consent.
Not too often do we reminisce over the infamous PowerPoint visuals of STI’s, the cheesy films with dreadful acting, or the commentary from our teachers. Indeed, another course of Sex Ed has been completed and discarded. Another class of students has been freed. And another abstinence-only curriculum has blatantly ignored the evolving culture of young teens and growing influences from social media.
Recent strides to integrate technology into classroom settings has begun to enforce a new protocol of education within the digital age. Yet, archaic instruction of sex education still persists across schools. Of course, abstinence is a perfectly valid and personal decision, and exposure to this choice should certainly have a presence in health classes.
However, the sole focus on abstinence does more harm than good. The growing access to the internet combined with the blatant omission of the discussion of sex in classrooms directs students to social media and online forums when questioning body wellness and sex.
In addition to this lack of information, many health and sex education curricula only focus on heteronormative relationships, excluding students of the LGBTQ+ community from the conversation of safe sex and healthy relationships. Those few classes that do emphasize safe sex and body wellness have rigid definitions of gender and alienate students of differing sexualities.
The failures of status quo sex education
No, this is not a criticism of how politically incorrect sex education is, but rather a glance at how status quo instruction threatens the well-being and safety of students. LGBTQ+ students often direct their questions and concerns towards unreliable internet platforms, increasing the risk of inadvertent harm done to their bodies.
I recently asked a few students from a nearby school about their experiences within their health classes. They shared that, because their classes only talked about straight couples, they associated sexually transmitted infections with heterosexuality. The lack of accurate and inclusive information may be responsible for the high rates of STI’s and, specifically HIV, among members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Perhaps abstinence-only education is a contributor to the “rape culture” that infiltrates too many college campuses.
With a primary purpose of preparing students for a potential future in higher education, high schools are definitely slacking. Current studies highlight disturbing trends of sexual assault that appears to be rampant on college campuses. Many students often accept this problem as a mere portion of the college experience. I recall my first semester of high school in my health class, as my teacher explicitly cautioned the girls to avoid college fraternity parties. Only now do I realize how misguided this approach was. Instilling a fear among young girls to prevent their sexual assaults is an embarrassing testament of the failure of sex education.
Perhaps abstinence-only education is a contributor to the “rape culture” that infiltrates too many college campuses. In the attempt to avoid controversy and discomfort associated with frank discussions of sex, schools have blurred the lines of what defines consent.
The reality is, sex is part of our culture. It is used as an agent of marketing, a tool of entertainment. Most of the literature taught in schools alludes to (or even explicitly discusses) sex. Yet the most popular criticisms of comprehensive sex education are that it will corrupt teens and therefore make them more inclined to participate in sexual activity.
However, research done has uncovered that students solely exposed to abstinence education and who have taken pledges not to participate in premarital sex have the same rates of sexual activity as non-pledgers. The dangerous part is that these pledgers are less likely to use contraception and practice safety measures.
It is time to hold schools accountable to fully prepare students for their futures. Regardless of whether teenagers continue education through college or university, curricula must address sexual assault by clearly outlining the importance of consent. While it is perhaps too idealistic to assume that policies shifting away from abstinence-only education would end horrific acts of rape, receiving honest and accurate sex education may change how we respond to instances of sexual assault and could remove the stigma facing victims. Teaching youth about what constitutes consent would eliminate the shaming and degrading questions that victims of sexual assault too frequently receive. “What were they wearing?” “Were they alone?” “Why were they out so late?” The totality of these questions neglect the problem and blame the victim.
In a time when schools are beginning to adapt to global challenges, health and sex education classes must not be ignored. Inaccurate and exclusionary practices can no longer function in an evolving and diverse society, and schools can no longer pretend to prepare their students for success when the significance of consent is not stressed in classrooms.