Sex…. (un)education?

Why This Matters | Adriana Parker | March 1, 2016

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For many of the near 20 million students enrolled in undergrad, American Pie was the first depiction of college life. Full of sex, humor, drugs, and more sex, this notorious series of college debauchery does not paint a very accurate picture of what it’s like to be a 20-something at most universities, and certainly not at Duke.

Well, except maybe for the sex.

College are the years where we learn who we are, learn about other people, and for many, begin to explore sexuality unapologetically. We all know Duke is a place full of people from all different places and although sexual exploration and “hooking up” is in full swing (evident by that near stranger from your Chem lecture you might have brought home after a night at Shootz), the lack of sex education most students received prior to coming here is astounding.

I’m sure you’re wondering who (or what) is the blame in this? (Almost) all fingers point to sex education in public schools across the nation.

At a glance, only 23 states have state-mandated sex education in public schools. Of these, only 13 require that information given to students be medically accurate. 50% of states that do give sex education (whether state mandated or not) require that abstinence be stressed, 19 states stress sex only in the institution of marriage, and only 13 states also discuss and provide information on sexual orientation.

Sex education as it exists in the public school system fails most young adults, whether they are in college or not. STD/STI incidence rates are the highest for people aged 15-24 and unwanted pregnancies are the highest for college aged women. But exactly how has sex education failed the millennials and beyond?

“Avoiding talk about sex will never stop people from getting it on; they will just do so irresponsibly.”

For starters, the stress on abstinence neglects to address natural feelings of attraction and sexuality around the onset of puberty and afterward. It paints sex as something shameful and dirty that we should all stay away from (until you’re in holy matrimony of course). No proper attention is given to what safe and responsible sex looks like. There are little to no discussions about contraception, STD/STI prevention, and you can FORGET about consent.

On college campuses, unequal access to this information continues to increase statistics of sexual mishaps already known to be true. This can really be a problem at a place like Duke, where privilege often dictates what kind of education is available to whom. The lack of proper discourse regarding these topics, particularly consent, creates vestibules of trauma at centers of horny folks in their late teens and early twenties. When sex education programs are absent of a section or two on consent, however minor, it leads to the tragic statistic of 1 in 5 women being sexually assaulted upon attending college. And those are just the women who report. There are others that we cannot even begin to count.

Secondly, sex education is strongly centered on religious values, which are rooted in cis-heteronormativity and patriarchy. Because of this, sex education for LGBTQ+ youth is erased or stigmatized. Some states, namely Arizona and Oklahoma, even allow their sex education programs to teach that a “homosexual lifestyle” is the cause for HIV/AIDS. Similarly, female-bodied individuals withheld of this information are not equipped to affirm agency over their own bodies. It follows that rural, conservative communities have some of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the country.

Unfortunately, these truths are even more evident in red states, who often receive more funding for teaching sex education through these conservative lenses. In these states, regulation proves to be difficult because sex education is often determined on a county by county basis. Staying conservative on sexual education is detrimental and these statistics prove it. Southern conservative states and states with high populations have the highest STI rates. Avoiding talk about sex will never stop people from getting it on; they will just do so irresponsibly.

Recently, President Obama has proposed to cut all funding for sex education programs that stress abstinence only. Abstinence only programs have proven to be ineffective, and while this is a start, we need motions to create more comprehensive, inclusive, and accurate sex education programs. After all, not everyone is doing it, but for those who are, #SSC (Safe, Sane, Consensual) is the way to go. Without the proper education, none of that is possible.