Nearly one month into a pivotal election year, the field of presidential hopefuls remains comfortably in the double digits. From billionaires to mayors, those currently in the running represent a variety of experiences and visions for the future of the United States. But one topic has gone largely undiscussed: sex education.
Currently, sex education in the U.S. continues to fail young Americans. Many attribute this to the patchwork approach to sex education policies that vary drastically across the country. These policies, offered at state, district, and local levels, ultimately dictate what young people do (or do not) learn in the classroom. The current landscape leaves a lot to be desired. For example, right now:
39 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education and/or HIV education.
- Only 17 states require program content to be medically accurate.
- 6 states still have so-called “no promo homo” laws, or mandates that require sex ed teachers to either discuss LGBTQ+ people and topics in a negative light or not at all.
- Only 8 states require the importance of consent to sexual activity to be covered.
- 29 states still require that abstinence be stressed within sex education.
Sex ed should be a priority issue area for any candidate.
There are a lot of pressing issues that candidates need to discuss as the 2020 election inches closer. But here’s the thing: sex education is not a single issue. Rather, it is one that connects and addresses many top priority issue areas for both current candidates and the American public at large.
Comprehensive sex education goes beyond simply teaching how to prevent sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies. It teaches young people about consent and healthy relationships. If utilized properly, sex ed could be instrumental in addressing and preventing sexual violence in the U.S. and shifting conversations around sexual harassment.
Comprehensive sex education provides factual information about all pregnancy options–including abortion. This gives young people the ability to cut through misleading political ideologies and flat out lies that often dominate conversations around abortion care.
Comprehensive sex education also names, explains, and affirms LGBTQ+ identities, promoting respect and safety for LGBTQ+ youth in schools.
Ultimately, comprehensive sex education gives young people complete information about sex and sexuality in medically accurate, inclusive, and developmentally appropriate ways so that they can make the best, most informed decisions for themselves.
Bad sex ed has consequences.
As of today, over two billion dollars in federal funding has been poured into dangerous and outdated abstinence-only programs. Abstinence is a critical topic to teach within sex ed. However, programs that only discuss the topic have been proven ineffective and harmful to young people time and time again.
These abstinence-only programs, sometimes called, “Sexual Risk Avoidance,” typically rely on scare tactics and shame young people away from having honest conversations about sex. Some programs go so far as to compare people who have sex before marriage to cups of spit and chewed up pieces of gum.
With this in mind, it is critical for our next president to stop wasting limited federal resources simply to support a stigmatizing ideology. Instead, these dollars must be redirected toward science-based, inclusive sex ed programming.
Good sex ed could change our country for the better.
We cannot address LGBTQ equality without teaching young people, early on, about the array of sexualities and gender identities that exist. We cannot successfully defend the right to safe and legal abortion without providing young people with the facts about this highly politicized yet common procedure. And we cannot adequately respond to this country’s epidemic of sexual violence without raising children who fully understand concepts like consent, boundaries, and healthy relationships.
And the list goes on. Sex education — high quality and complete sex education — can help people cut through the misinformation, politics, and shame that serve as a basis for many issues that everyday Americans care about deeply, right now, in 2020.
Each presidential candidate needs to consider how they plan to fix a broken system that has left Americans with glaring misconceptions surrounding their sexual and reproductive health and rights. It’s 2020. And it is time we start providing young people everywhere with the sex ed they not only deserve–but have a right to receive.