What was sex ed like for you in high school? Did you even get to have sex education classes? Did they talk about sex beyond men and women and the ~birds and the bees~? Did you even get to see a condom demo?
The fact of the matter is that we have a lot of reasons to be disappointed in the sex education we received.
And a new study is looking into exactly why teens are being let down by their sex ed curriculum — and all the researchers did was ask them.
The study is a thorough global analysis of students aged 18-25 years old. The researchers examined qualitative studies of students from 10 different countries over a time period spanning 25 years. And while there were a few examples of positive and comprehensive sex education, the students overwhelmingly reported a lacking curriculum.
The short explanation for why the students are disappointed is that the lessons are negative, judgmental, and out of touch. Students also want to learn how to say “no” and engage in conversations about sexual consent.
As noted by the Huffington Post, the surveyed students’ critiques of their sex ed curriculum could be broken down into a few categories.
Sex ed doesn’t discuss pleasure or desire — it only tries to scare you.
As one student from Canada said in 2015:
“They didn’t really help you with your sexual feelings, they made you kind of feel bad about having them..”
Other students — particularly young girls — found that discussions of female desire were completely absent from the lesson plans. In 2009, an American girl said:
“I think that they depict it [as] the guy wants to have sex and the girl doesn’t. And the guy is like, ‘Oh it will feel good.’ They don’t realize that a lot of girls want to have sex, too.”
Teachers are too embarrassed to teach the subject.
This is especially infuriating. Many students mentioned being unable to ask their teacher questions about sex because they were too uncomfortable to answer. Some students added that they turned to pornography to get more information — and we all know that pornography does not provide realistic depictions of actual sex.
Lessons are too scientific, and not LGBT-inclusive
Lessons only focused on reproductive organs and sex cells. Of course, solely teaching human reproduction means that there is no room to discuss LGBT relationships, pleasure, sexual health, or consent.
Gender stereotypes prevent the classroom from being a productive space.
When the researchers spoke to young women, they found that female students were often harassed and slut-shamed when they asked questions in class — and teachers did not deescalate the situation. Researchers also found that young men in the class became disruptive, admitting it was a method to cope with their nervousness and discomfort about sex.
Pandora Pound of University of Bristol, the study’s lead author, writes:
“This study shows that it is not only important to get the content of [sex ed] right, but also vitally important to get the right people to deliver that content.”
We couldn’t agree more. Let’s make sure that the next generation has access to better sex education than we did.