It’s no secret that sexual education in American schools is inadequate and that this failure has dire consequences for American youth. Since the emergence of abstinence-only sex education in the 1990s, we have failed to provide American students with the information they need. The US continues to rank first among industrialized countries for pregnancies of adolescents between the ages of fifteen and nineteen. STIs also disproportionately impact American youth—while those aged 15 to 24 years represent about a quarter of the sexually active population, they account for approximately half of all new STI cases. Experts from the medical community, including the American Academy of Pediatricians, the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine, agree that abstinence-only sex education is not effective; states that utilize abstinence-only sex ed have the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the nation and often have higher rates of teens engaging in sexual activity. The American public is in agreement with the medical community (something that has become something of a rarity as of late.) The 2006 study “Public Opinion on Sex Education in US Schools” indicates that American adults, regardless of political ideology, favor a more balanced approach to sex education than the abstinence-only programs funded by the federal government.
While American youth at large are unprepared for sexual activity, the lack of comprehensive sexual education is especially damaging to LGBTQ+ youth, who are already at an increased risk for STIs, sexual violence, and suicide. Unfortunately, this vulnerable population is not receiving the information they so desperately need; according to GLSEN’s 2019 National School Climate survey, only 8.2% of students received LGBTQ-inclusive sex education. This statistic is not an outlier, as only seven states have policies that include affirming sexual orientation instruction on LGBTQ+ identities or discussion of sexual health for LGBTQ+ youth, and nine states explicitly require instruction that discriminates against the LGBTQ+ community. Without LGBTQ+ inclusive sexual education, queer youth are unable to make informed decisions about their health, and this can have dangerous consequences for future generations. Gen Z, born in the mid-to-late 1990s through the early 2010s, is the queerest generation yet, with one in six Gen Z adults identifying as members of the LGBTQ+ community.
As many young people are faced with a lack of information, it is only natural for them to turn to the internet, the home for many members of this generation, which could be both a blessing and a curse. The lack of adequate sex education in public schools has caused many members of this generation to fill in the gaps using pornographic material, which can have serious consequences, such as creating unhealthy views about sex and relationships.
What can we do? Call your local school board and check on the type of curriculum offered at your local public school and better advocate for comprehensive, inclusive sexual education. Break down barriers to health created by stigma and regressive lawmaking by having open and honest conversations with the young people in your life about sex and sexuality using credible sources—such as Planned Parenthood!