Whenever you catch me on my computer, 94% of the time I’m checking my Facebook in lieu of studying. No surprise that this is how I become aware about all the drama bombs and shindigs in my hometown. A few weeks ago, I was shocked to see my friends sharing a controversial press release about my former high school’s sex education program.
With a medium-sized student body in a smallish suburban town in the Bay Area, my school is pretty unordinary and also pretty liberal. Later that week, however, the issue started to garner some real momentum as Fox News covered the story. Every time I saw it pop up on my newsfeed, I got increasingly angry.
Essentially, parents of the freshmen class were upset over the sex education that their kids were getting from Planned Parenthood. Local group NOISE (No to Irresponsible Sex Education) consequently seeks to disband my high school district’s partnership with Planned Parenthood.
My parents NEVER talked to me or taught me about sex. Maybe it was too embarrassing for them, but I think that was a big mistake. Being aware of and comfortable with our bodies and their functions are important messages, and the potential consequences of ignorance are too dangerous. Instead of having to piece together information by myself, sex education courses at my school elucidated many, many things for me.
Adolescents need all the information they can get to ensure they feel safe about the choices they make, because it’s so hard to be a teen. On one hand, our brains and bodies are like, “Yo, now’s the right time for you to reproduce and have all the babies. LET’S GET DOWN TO THE SEX!” while our culture has been teaching us that we definitely don’t want kids at age 15.
Pulling a comprehensive sex education program that teaches various ways to prevent pregnancy and STDs will not discourage teen sex. Reports have even revealed that abstinence-only education is ineffective in reducing dangerous sexual activity. Accordingly, high schoolers need the tools and information (i.e. birth control methods) to make sure they are engaging in safe sex. The powerful biological desire to have sex is in conflict with powerful cultural values. We can fix this by providing a thorough curriculum, which Planned Parenthood does. A NOISE member claims that Planned Parenthood is doing all of this to make students their “future clients,” that kids are getting encouraged to have sex. Although I find this way of thinking ridiculous, it’s not too shocking to me. Viewing children, especially those who are white, as sexually pure and vulnerable has been a huge part of American culture. It has perpetuated a fear-based education in order to protect our “innocent” teens from the “dangers” of sex. This isn’t an effective way to teach high schoolers.
Instead, we should look to a desire-based method that acknowledges the pleasures of sex. One that doesn’t infantilize freshmen. Because they will do things that you would never think they do. Never underestimate the horniness of your teen. Which goes back to the necessity of a curriculum that teaches safe, healthy sex.
Regarding the specific methods that the parents are complaining about in the press release, I do not see anything wrong. As mentioned earlier, equipping high schoolers with the tools they need to have for safe, consensual sex is imperative; Planned Parenthood's sex checklist sounds like a great way to do this. “Being ready” for sex isn’t just a matter of having a condom. It’s about how comfortable you are with your partner, how much you trust yourselves and your decision.
I also see no fault with the description of the "Genderbread Person" diagram. It is critical to cover all sexual orientations and gender identities. A sex education that only teaches heterosexual, cisgender people completely socializes teens into systems of inequality, as it would delegitimatize anything that is not heteronormative by viewing it as "other" and "unnatural.”
Sexuality is not the same for everyone. To completely dismiss anything that does not conform to what a NOISE member might only see as acceptable is terribly exclusionary and discriminatory. Sex education isn’t just a lesson plan for being prepared to have sex. It can also be an opportunity to interrogate societal forces and systems of power. However, the belief that an aspect of someone’s identity can be less legitimate than someone else’s completely erases this possibility. Instead, adolescents would continue to be taught to have heteronormative attitudes.
Yes, parents should maintain the ability to decide whether or not their kids will attend sex education courses. But they shouldn’t be able to change what the rest of the kids should learn.
If NOISE thinks that Planned Parenthood is inappropriate and should be removed from the district, then what kind of program do they offer instead? One that makes young teens ashamed, embarrassed, and scared of their own bodies and their autonomy? One that leaves out comprehensive methods for engaging in safe and consensual sex? One that disregards individuals who aren’t both heterosexual and cisgender? I see any of these as ways to clutch onto positions of power, a giant stop sign that prevents anyone from challenging hegemonic sexuality.
I fail to understand how pulling a comprehensive sex education is beneficial in any circumstance. To me, a sex education program that is fear-based, abstinence-only, and/or heterosexist is truly disturbing.