What Did Your Health Class Not Teach You About Sex? 

Content warning: This blog contains sensitive information regarding sexual assault. 

Were you told that abstinence is key? Were you told that if you have sex you will become pregnant and be tainted with an STI?  That’s what I was taught in middle school. I can remember being handed a notecard that said I would abstain from sex, drugs, and alcohol. That was the end of my sexual education. The education provided in our schools is severely lacking. This is definitely something to consider when thinking about the rates of sexual assault and harassment in our society, especially on college campuses. Among undergraduate students 23.1% of women and 5.4% of men experience rape or sexual assault (RAINN). These numbers are quite shocking and mean that you likely know someone who has experienced sexual violence. So why are the rates of sexual assault and rape so high? Many factors contribute to the problem, but sex education practices may be harmful.  Let’s think about the things many of us were taught and try to understand why some of these practices can be harmful. 

Only 24 states and DC in the United States mandate sex education, and most of them require abstinence as part of the curriculum (KFF). Why is teaching abstinence so harmful? The problem with teaching only abstinence is that we are being told simply not to have sex. This is harmful for a lot of reasons. First, it is discouraging the conversation about sex and placing a negative connotation of what sex is. Nobody wants to say it out loud and nobody wants to ask questions about it. In the few states that do mandate sex education, it is often skimmed over, focused on abstinence, and presented in a tone promoting shame. Where are we supposed to learn about sex? Who are we supposed to have these meaningful conversations with when society makes it such a shameful topic?  What do we do when the one place we are supposed to talk about it they leave out the most important aspects? 

Nobody ever learns what’s right and wrong. We don’t learn that what is portrayed in the media is not an accurate representation of what these experiences are supposed to be like. The media often has little to no representation of consent at all. Even more harmful, media often portrays signals of saying no and refusing consent as a reason to try harder. In our society, the movies we watch, the books we read, and the media we consume foster a stigma and negative connotation of sex. The lack of education around consent creates skewed beliefs and ideas of what sexual encounters should look like. A combination of these factors contributes to the high rates of sexual assault and rape.  

So how do we stop this, and how do we decrease the number of people’s lives that are being devastated by these acts? It is our responsibility to educate each other. To speak up when music lyrics talks about “taking what he wants when he wants it” or when the former president of the United States talks about the same thing. Start the conversation. The more openly we discuss the complexities of sexual relationships, the less stigma and shame will be associated with the topic of sex. We can help people understand that we have a responsibility to treat each other with respect and consideration in sexual relationships. 

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) is an annual campaign to raise awareness about sexual violence and educate communities and individuals on how to prevent it.

-Sarah Frederick

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