Sexual Education in America: Federal Mandate on Bodies Not Books
Updated: Sep 5, 2022
The reality of federal mandates on American bodies, and no federal mandate on sexual education in United States classrooms
TW: mentions the topic of sexual assault
For 8 years, I have been honored to work for youth 6 - 18 years old, in multiple roles, for nationally renowned youth organizations. During my time as a youth development professional, I have become hyperaware of the harms that stem from having no federal mandate on sexual education in the United States.
With the recent supreme court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, a 49-year standing court decision that federally protected bodily autonomy and access to abortion, I fear there will soon be a further dissolvement of the already limited sex ed access provided to American youth.
Sex Education 15 Years Ago
The bulk of what I learned about sex as a curious pre-teen came from the internet, my peers, and my friends.
The internet is the primary place that I learned about topics that were bigger than my 900 people, no stop-light town such as simple coding from the OG Myspace! Unfortunately, the internet was also my primary access to self-education on sex topics; the place where I learned more about my body, others’ bodies, sexual identity, sex, porn, and what I thought was “everything”...
When I entered the 7th grade, we were provided sex ed by our homeroom teacher who utilized a curriculum called The Game Plan which enforced the idea of abstinence or not engaging in sex before marriage.
I, as a now 26-year-old, took this course in 2009. In 2009 the percentage of married Black adults was only 32%, with even lower figures where I lived as an Illinois youth (28%). Until 2016, gay marriage was illegal in the United States. These two factors signify that sexual education solely teaching abstinence was likely less effective to be viewed as realistic for both Black and LGBTQ youth who were taught to “save ourselves until marriage.”
If my peers and I were provided realistic, comprehensive plus sex ed that was rooted in protecting kids, I likely wouldn’t have experienced some things that I have.
This “game plan” left me a victim of grooming by a K-12 teacher from 6th grade – my freshman year of college, not knowing how to advocate for myself nor having a safe space to discuss my thoughts on my sexual orientation, before being outed as a 12-year-old, having to illegally obtain emergency contraceptive medication as a 14-year-old due to, now lifted, age restrictions on Plan B, contracting Chlamydia, misdiagnosed as a UTI numerous times, at an early age; and ultimately being out of touch with my body while allowing others access to it because I thought “that’s what people who want love do”.
Sex Education Now
Although 15 years have passed, not much has changed for American youth when it comes to where they receive sexual education, partially due to the lack of federal mandate, and quality assurance within the sexual education curriculum.
Within the 50 United States, 39 states, and the District of Columbia require sexual education, though the type of education, and whether the information within this instruction must align with scientific data, differs.
Of the states that do require sexual education, the laws vary from state to state, as well as throughout each state, and can even vary from school to school within the same school district.
The two primary types of sexual education that are offered in America are abstinence-forward sexual education and comprehensive sexual education, neither of which teach sexual consent.
Why is this relevant now more than ever?
Lack of fact-based, realistic, and comprehensive plus sexual education while especially harmful for American youth, is simultaneously harmful to the adults that were likely given the same sexual education.
“You don’t know what you don’t know” is true, but harmful when it comes to the reality that there is youth currently being sexually assaulted and molested by family members, leaders in their communities and classrooms, friends, and other individuals whom they love and trust.
Kids are being assaulted by people that they don’t realize are harming them and are oftentimes too young to understand what is happening to them is not okay. Some kids know what is happening is not okay and are scared to tell somebody /don’t want to be perceived as “bad” or as though they “did something wrong.” Some kids may even enjoy the attention of someone else, not realizing that what is happening to them is still not okay.
The current legislation surrounding sexual education allows some of our most marginalized citizens – children– left susceptible to harm from educational negligence and left even more susceptible should they have consensual sex that results in an accidental pregnancy, or even worse be impregnated as a victim of assault, within a state that does not protect their body from having to bear children whilst being a child.
At a time when it is most critical to understand the need to protect what rights we have left to our bodies, we must ensure that we protect young people by empowering and educating them to better understand their bodies and bodily autonomy.
Young people are going to learn about their bodies, learn about sex, and learn about dating. It is vital that we, as the adults in this nation protect our kids by advocating for them to receive quality, comprehensive plus sexual education.
Education that is inclusive, engaging, and data-backed that covers human anatomy, bodily autonomy, consent, self-care, verbal and nonverbal communication, sexually transmitted infections, sex, identity, healthy relationships, grooming, sexual assault, domestic violence, and other topics that need to be delivered by realistic and forward-thinking educators, with the safety of our youth as the #1 priority, and not centered around adult’s feelings.
Alexis ‘Lex’ Williams-Cavanaugh (she/her) is a professional resume writer passionate about helping clients with their job search. Lex is simultaneously passionate about connecting through written word with self and others as a poet, storyteller, song writer, copywriter, and blogger. She plans to utilize her writing and advocacy for The People to one day write policy rooted in quality of life improvement for marginalized folks.
When Lex isn’t writing she is exploring St. Louis, taking photos, managing social media, binge-watching shows and movies, swiping on Tinder, spending time with family, and educating others on the lived realities of marginalized people.
Find her on social media @lexshedlight or visit www.lexget2work.com to connect!