Sex education doesn’t cover enough bases


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Sometime last year, I was watching a segment of “Last Week Tonight” that focused on our country’s low standards for sex education. As John Oliver critiqued clip after clip of videos shown in health classrooms across the country, I was shocked when I realized that I had seen one of the videos just a few weeks before during the Family Life Education (FLE) health unit at Hayfield. The video featured two teens: a boy attempting to make sexual advances, and a girl reluctantly trying to resist the advances. The point of the video was to offer female students suggestions on how to resist sexual advances from their boyfriends. At the time that I had seen it in class, I didn’t really find the video problematic at all, but Oliver made me realize that the video was missing an important component: it never addressed its male audience about the importance of not aggressively making sexual advances in the first place.

This experience made me realize how horrifically lacking our sex education system is in Fairfax County. The issues don’t end with that clip; one of the major problems with sex education in FCPS and across the United States is that most of it is abstinence based.

The FCPS webpage on FLE states that, “lessons include age-appropriate instruction in family living and community relationships, abstinence education, the value of postponing sexual activity, the benefits of adoption as a positive choice in the event of an unwanted pregnancy and human sexuality and human reproduction.” Clearly, abstinence is emphasized as being the best option for all teenagers.

I remember feeling infuriated whenever a teacher said that “choosing to remain abstinent is the only way to avoid contracting an STI” when plenty of girls who might choose to be abstinent are raped every year. The philosophy that ignorance promotes abstinence, the principle upon which most sex education in the United States is based, is blatantly incorrect and frankly despicable. In 2015, 41 percent of high school students admitted to having participated in sexual intercourse, meaning that, while FCPS teachers preach that abstinence is the best way to live a healthy lifestyle, a little less than half of their students have already lost their virginities (Advocates for Youth). Schools should not guilt trip students for having sex. Instead, FCPS should focus more on informing students about safe sexual practices.

To be fair, different types of contraceptives were covered extensively during FLE in my sophomore year, although bias towards abstinence was clearly present. However, in Fairfax County, teachers are not allowed to bring physical examples of contraceptives into classrooms, meaning that students probably will not know enough about how to use them when the time comes.

Another problem with sex education in FCPS is the extremely narrow definition of sex presented in the curriculum. The entirety of the program focuses on vaginal sex, treating this traditional definition of sex as the only legitimate one. This is both incorrect and horrendously heteronormative. While a brief segment on sexuality was recently added to the curriculum, information about how same sex partners can engage in safe sexual intercourse and what contraceptives they could potentially use to avoid contracting STIs was nonexistent. The internet should not be the main source of information on safe sex for LGBTQ students.

Finally, the notion of engaging in sex for pleasure rather than procreation is completely lost during FLE. This probably stems from the curriculum’s heavy emphasis on the virtues of abstinence. I don’t recall ever hearing the word ‘orgasm’ mentioned in class, and there was certainly no discussion of female ejaculation. If the purpose of school is to educate students, then they should not shy away from teaching students about ordinary bodily functions.

Students are going to have sex. Instead of focusing on preventing the inevitable, the FLE curriculum should prepare students for navigating sexual relationships in a safe and healthy way. By eliminating outdated, abstinence-centric lessons and teaching curriculum relevant to today’s social norms, Fairfax County can provide students with a far more useful education.