Listen to the Kids: Sex-Ed Is More Important Than You Think, an Excerpt
By Michelle Seucan
An excerpt of an article I wrote where I interviewed eight students from across the city, country and world on their sex-education experiences.
At age 13, Vasco Vidal realized he was gay. But he didn’t know the mechanics of homosexual intercourse, because no one educated him about it—adults and schools alike. He ended up turning to the internet and basing his view of gay sex and relationships off of pornographic material, which is notoriously inaccurate, degrading, and dramatically exaggerated for the sake of financial gain. “Pornography made me think that within couples, one should always sexually please the other, even if they don’t want to. It made me think that I didn’t have to ask for the other’s consent,” he said.
While his experience is based on the school curriculum and familial cultures in Peru, it resounds on a much larger global level. In collaboration with Planned Parenthood, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) found that a third of LGBTQ+ youth (“A Call To Action”) in the U.S. do not have an adult that they feel comfortable consulting with on sexual matters, thus forcing them to seek out misguided information online. Well into the 21st century, sex education is still seen as taboo, with classes showing outdated VHS videos explaining sex organs in textbook terms—some students are even lucky enough to have old, torn-up textbooks on the topic. It not only has done nothing to prevent teenage pregnancies and STD transmission, but the lack of an accurate and inclusive sexual education in schools is also leaving out an entire population of students in the LGBTQ+ community. For decades, their voices have gone unheard, and finally, they have the chance to shed light on how their knowledge of their own sexuality has been affected by poor sex education. These are their stories.
Somewhere in New York City, a gay high school senior (who wishes to remain anonymous) has also had a taste of what it is like to come of age in the shadows. He is a part of Teen Activist Project (TAP), where NYC students collectively work together to fight for justice and equality in all socioeconomic areas, including advocating for a more diverse and tangible sexual education. This topic especially resonates with him, considering his own frustrating encounter with how the public school system handles sex.
“I never saw information about how I was going to have safe sex with another man in all three courses of health that I have ever taken. The only reason I understand how I would have sex with another man is because I used a website on the internet called ‘Scarleteen.’” His school system also failed to properly educate the student body on how trans and intersex people, disabled people, and other members of the LGBTQ+ community have sex.
So for the sake of our future generations, education and government officials must learn to pay attention to how neglecting sex-ed can prove detrimental to a student’s well-being and individual growth in society.
After all, the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Network (GLSEN) 2013 National School Climate Survey has recorded that less than five percent of LGBTQ+ youth have ever taken a health class that shed equal light on the LGBTQ+ community. Additionally, their 2007 National School Climate Survey found that queer youth who reportedly received a heavily abstinence-based sexual education (which has had over $1.8 billion allocated in funding since 1996) were less likely to feel safe in their academic environment and over three times more likely to miss school, be afraid to ask health educators about their sexuality, have lower GPAs and have higher levels of depression compared to their heterosexual peers. Heteronormative teaching methods not only alienate LGBTQ+ youth, but they also pave the way for hostile discrimination.
Overall, the NYC health education system is thoroughly flawed. In a report called “Birds, Bees, & Bias” published on NYCLU’s website, the examination of sex-ed materials presented in schools from 2009–2011 is quite shockingly underwhelming. Many points were made about the lack of accuracy on reproductive anatomy, excessively juvenile dismissals of sex organs (one district even referring to the vagina as a “sperm deposit”), reinforcements of gender stereotypes, sex-shaming undertones, failure to mention thorough methods of contraception or any concept of consent or rape; there was also a large heterocentric bias, along with a complete ignorance of LGBTQ+ sex.
There’s so much more work to be done to fix sex education in schools around the world. “If other students who are in underrepresented minorities are forced to go online in order to learn how they are supposed to have sex, then it’s clear as day to see that those students have been failed by the curriculum,” says the anonymous NYC teen as a final note. So for the sake of our future generations, education and government officials must learn to pay attention to how neglecting sex-ed can prove detrimental to a student’s well-being and individual growth in society. Sex is not taboo; it never was and never will be.
Last summer, I did a virtual internship at the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) held exclusively for Teen Activist Project (TAP) leaders and organizers. During the 8-week program, our TAP coordinators hosted panels for us with guest NYCLU speakers, each of whom had different career backgrounds: some worked in voter’s rights, environmentalism, and media, while others focused more on education policy and administrative law. The point of these panels was to introduce us to many social justice issues that we may want to center our final projects on, which was up to us on what it can be. Given my passion for journalism and interest in the socioeconomic disparities of sex education in schools, I chose to write an article highlighting the many stories that students from across the nation and globe have had with sex-ed. I interviewed a total of eight students on how their school’s health curriculum has failed them and what education officials can do moving forward to solve this. My piece was then edited by my wonderful mentor Stevie Borello, who helped clarify my ideas and convey my point across more concisely. This piece has also been published on the Finxerunt website.
Michelle Seucan is a writer and poet who is currently a senior in high school in Staten Island, NY. She is the Arts & Culture Editor of HALOSCOPE and the Co-Director of Research at ReDefy. She is also a Teen Activist Project organizer at NYCLU and previously the Co-Director of Journalism for Finxerunt, a student-run nonprofit that aims to address socioeconomic issues. She is an internationally published poet and has won several Scholastic gold & silver keys, along with being an American Voices Award Nominee. She is looking forward to building her network and honing her craft as a creator.