Sex Education MUST Evolve to Save Our Young Women and Men
Does Your State Require Consent Education in Their Program?
Let's dive right into some of the statistics for sex education in the United States, shall we?
Only 29 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education.
35 states require schools to stress abstinence when sex education or HIV/STI instruction is provided.
Only 16 states require instruction on condoms or contraception when sex education or HIV/STI instruction is provided.
But even more staggering . . . only nine states require sex education or HIV/STI instruction to include information on consent.†
That's less than 25% of our teenagers attending public school who have state-mandated access to what it means to give consent to a sexual act. This is one of the reasons why it's so critical for us to talk to our children about what it means. Not only do we need to prepare our teenage girls who are at more risk of being sexually assaulted, but we also need to teach our teenage boys how to handle these situations when consent might not be clear.
Note: I am not saying that teenage girls are the only victims of rape, and I'm not saying that teenage boys are the only ones committing rape. But I'm writing from a place that I understand: what it's like to live in a society where so many young girls and adult women have to be proactive when they are traveling alone or in small groups. I do not personally understand the challenges and experiences of teenage boys, so I can't speak on what it's like for them. I also think it's important to discuss those issues as well, so in the future, I'll work to schedule interviews with experts on this topic.
Of course, sex education is primarily a family concern because this is an intimate and delicate issue with far-reaching implications that involves religious, moral, and family values. So, as parents, we should take it upon ourselves to ensure our children understand how we feel about their sexual activity (or lack of it). At the bare minimum, we need to make sure they understand the emotional and physical effects that can come after becoming sexually active for the first time, including body image issues/dysmorphia, sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancy, motherhood/fatherhood, and whole host of mental challenges (anxiety, depression, etc.). But sex education, to be honest, should not ever be a bare-minimum conversation—nor should it be treated as a one-and-done dialogue.
With that in mind, we also should be teaching our teenagers about consent. Here are some things to consider talking to your teen about:
The differences between good touching and bad touching and the effects bad touching can have on everyone involved.
We also need to constantly work to build our teenagers' self-esteem. "At age thirteen, 53% of American girls are 'unhappy with their bodies.' This grows to 78% by the time girls reach seventeen."††
This age period is a great time to start the conversation about consent. Start asking them questions to lead them into discovering what it truly looks and feels like when a partner consents to touch and sexual attention.
When you catch your teenager engaged in what we tend to call "locker room talk," you need to stop it right there. Use it as an opportunity to discuss why this is harmful to others and what we can do in place of gossip and demeaning talk about the opposite sex (or same sex in LGBT+ teenagers).
Prepare you teenagers for the hormonal changes they are already starting to see and talk about how it will change their emotions and their bodies.
Mentor teenaged boys and college-aged men about what masculinity means. You can use these conversations to explore what they don't like about masculinity, leading them into the more positive aspects of it. (Check out the video below for another perspective on masculinity.)
7. You want to be able to speak the truth about partying (drugs, sex, tobacco, alcohol) with your teenager—not just about abstinence. Engage them in a dialogue about these things and allow them to explore their curiosity in conversation in a safe space.
8. No matter how much your teenager says they know all about consent and the implications of sexual relationships, keep having these conversations.
9. Naturally, your teenager will want to know more all about these things—and maybe even things beyond the normal conversations. Have an open mind and keep the door open so you can be the one providing accurate, loving, and positive information about this. They will grow up to become adults in the real world one day, and their perspective will likely influence someone else's experience.
(This list is derived from Talk with Your Kids.†††)
Bearing in mind that positive sex education should begin in the home, we still need to work to advocate for healthier sex ed programs in public schools. No parent or family is perfect, and we all have access to different resources and have different strengths. For this reason, I see public policies as a fail-safe to ensure that all of our children have access to responsible information that seeks to educate beyond the one-dimensional abstinence conversations.
Want to learn more about your state's policies on consent and sexual education? Check out this map at SIECUS' website to learn all about the laws, policies, and legislation in your area. That's a great place to start if you want to affect change beyond your family.
† Sex Ed for Social Change (SIECUS). Sex Ed State Law and Policy Chart. PDF. May 2020 edition. SIECUS, 2020. https://siecus.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/SIECUS-2020-Sex-Ed-State-Law-and-Policy-Chart_May-2020-3.pdf.
†† Teen Futures Media Network. "Teen Health and the Media." University of Washington. Accessed November 2, 2020. http://depts.washington.edu/thmedia/view.cgi?section=bodyimage&page=fastfacts.
††† Utt, Jamie, et al. "The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1–21." Talk with Your Kids. March 20, 2013. https://www.talkwithyourkids.org/lets-talk-about/healthy-sex-talk-teaching-kids-consent-ages-1-21.html.