Sex education tends to be one of the most awkward parts of school health classes. Learning about STIs and pregnancy prevention, often through abstinence, is important to keeping youth safe and informed but it is also just the tip of the iceberg of things parents and schools could be teaching to youth to help them on their journey to adulthood. Providing youth with comprehensive sex education that includes information on sexuality, consent, communication, boundary setting, and all the fun things that go along with healthy relationships will give them the confidence and skills to be healthy and successful adults.
It is a natural part of adolescence for youth to experiment and question things on their quest to discover themselves and blossom into adults. The best thing that adults can do for them during this tumultuous time is to educate and support, both in school health classes and in open discussions with parents/other trusted adults, to teach youth how to be confident and safe in whatever situation they may find themselves in. The most important thing to understand and remember is that sex education is about more than just sex.
One of the most important things that comes out of comprehensive sex education is an understanding of consent. Although there are other ways to teach consent, starting at a young age, having a direct understanding of how consent works in a sexual context is one of the most important things to preventing sexual assault. A lot of teenagers grow up thinking that just because someone does not explicitly say “no” to something means it is okay or that being in a relationship with someone gives automatic consent or a plethora of other misconceptions about what consent actually is. Belief in those kinds of misconceptions leads to the growing number of sexual assaults that have been brought to light in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
It is important that kids and teens understand the underlying concepts of consent such as power and control, coercion, healthy communication, boundary setting, and respect. Comprehensive understandings of all of those topics can both help prevent people from potentially committing sexual assault and also help people be more prepared and confident advocating for themselves in their relationships. For more information on consent culture, check out Stop the Hurt’s Outspoken podcast episode 4, entitled “Breaking Down Consent”.
With consent comes the concept of bodily autonomy, that your body is yours and you get to decide what you do with it. This is an important thing for everyone to understand; adults, teenagers, even younger kids can be taught the concepts of consent and bodily autonomy by asking them if they would like a hug instead of just hugging them. However, an understanding of biology is potentially the most important tool for even young kids to have when it comes to bodily autonomy. Shifting from the notion of “private parts” to a more realistic understanding of anatomy that uses correct terminology provides an opportunity for kids to learn about their bodies and how to keep them safe. If kids know they can talk to their parents about their bodies, they may be more likely to tell adults if abuse was to occur. Sex education for younger kids is all about body safety and boundary setting. It’s important kids know their bodies and understand that their body is in their own control. (Here’s a link to an article that talks about this in more depth: Normalizing “The Talk” ).
Sexuality and Gender
Everyone deserves happy and healthy relationships and access to resources to help them get there. Including information about LGBTQ+ identities and relationships in regular conversations about sex and relationships can promote equality and acceptance. It can also help LGBTQ+ youth feel valid and seen, which could make them more likely to reach out for help in unhealthy/abusive situations if they know they will be helped and supported. All relationships are different and all people are different, so covering all types of relationships and their unique dynamics in sex education classes and discussions about healthy relationships is important to make sure that all people, not just those in heterosexual relationships, are safe and secure. (For more information on healthy/unhealthy LGBTQ+ relationships, check out this article that talks about it in more depth: LGBTQ Relationships).
One of the best ways adults can support youth as they grow into adulthood is to make sure they have access to comprehensive sex education. While the conversation may be awkward, including conversations about communication, consent, boundary setting, and bodily autonomy in sex education at home and at school provides kids and teens with skills to have healthier relationships as they become adults.
For more information on sex education, specifically in Texas, check out episode 1 of Stop the Hurt’s Outspoken podcast entitled “Health Education in Texas”.