Let's Talk About All The Good Things and The Bad Things
A Closer Look: Piedmont Highlander Staff, April 9, 2019
The students giggle uncomfortably as they are taught to unroll the slimy condom over the banana, or in the case of PHS students, a wooden penis model, named Woody by sexuality health educator Ivy Chen. Everyone who attends public school in California undergoes this rite of passage at same point in their K-12 education, but this is not the case for all students across the U.S.
Only 24 out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education, and only 13 states require this education to be medically accurate, according to the Planned Parenthood website. California is one of the states that requires the education to be medically accurate.
"Only 24 out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education, and only 13 states require this education to be medically accurate"
- Planned Parenthood Website
"Just telling somebody not to do something, or filling them with shame, or filling them with misinformation is dangerous and leads to a life of not being happy or empowered," said health and sexuality educator and Project Coordinator of ETR Narda Skov.
Out of these 13 states who require the education to be medically accurate, only two, California and Louisiana, also require that sex education does not push religious beliefs, Skov said. However, California does not require independent schools to teach sex education.
"Most independent schools offer (sex education), but if you go to O'Dowd (Catholic High School in Oakland), it teaches Christian Sex, which is omitting contraception because that's within the Catholic doctrine," Skov said.
In states where schools are not required to have sex education, students learn about sex in ways similar to students attending independent schools in California, including groups outside of school, watching videos online, or through their church (or other religious institution), Skov said.
"(These outside methods are) not necessarily bad, but (they are) not comprehensive," Skov said.
A comprehensive sex education is medically based and covers a wider range of topics than solely preventative measures, including the impact of drugs and alcohol, access to health clinics, how to define consent, and teaching sexuality with an emphasis on inclusiveness, Skov said.
"California is really unique in that we just passed a law three years ago on January 1, 2016, called CHYA which is the California Healthy Youth Act," Skov said. "This law states that you everything has to be inclusive, meaning you have to use all genders. You can't just say sexuality must be between a boy and a girl, for example."
Inclusive education of LGBTQ identities is required in nine states, according to the Planned Parenthood website. But in seven states, it is either against the law for sex educators to discuss LGBTQ relationships or identities, or it is required for sex educators to teach LGBTQ relationships or identities in a negative way, which can be extremely detrimental to people who identify as LGBTQ.
Sex education has the potential to convey societal biases to students, including stigma surrounding people who identify as LGBTQ and false ideas of the difference between the men and women in sex, Thea* said.
"The idea that men should be enjoying sex more than women is considered almost scientific, and it's problematic."
- Thea / Anonymous Source
"The idea that men should be enjoying sex more than women is considered almost scientific and it's problematic", Thea said. Thea said that she remembers this stigma in early sex education class. "The boys and girls are separated," said youth advocate and sex educator Charis Denison. "The boys are told, 'You're going to start to have wet dreams; masturbation is totally healthy; everything's great.' And girls are taught 'You're going to start to bleed, you're going to start to smell bad, and don't get pregnant. There are so many things wrong with that."
Thea said in their group, girls talked about their period instead of women and sex, which she assumed was the point of sex education. The boys, on the other hand, were taught to be proud of their sexuality.
"I know lots of girls who have had sex dreams, which is super normal and is something in sex ed where I think they literally say, 'Oh, boys will have sex dreams' but do not say that girls will also have sex dreams, which is super weird," Thea said. "I know girls who have had sex dreams and genuinely felt like they were dirty people as a result of that."
Skov said parents and administration are often skeptical of the fact that she does not divide classes by sex. They especially question why boys are taught about menstruation. "Of course I teach (boys) about pads and tampons and all those things because they probably live in a house where there's at least one woman," Skov said. "They need to know what those things are underneath the sink, or they need to know what's happening to their mom's body, or their sister's body, or their wife's body, or their partner's body."
Separation also perpetuates very clear messages that society sends boys about how they are supposed to behave, Skov said. "We have movies and magazines and different stories where men are taught not to be vulnerable, to not show their emotions, to 'be a man'," Skov said.
Stella* said that although she did not experience being separated from her peers, she feels that she was not given the opportunity to learn about things other than preventative measures like pleasure.
"The discussions about consent and the discussions about pleasure are connected, but people don't want to talk about pleasure in an academic setting, and I see why," Thea said. "It definitely is uncomfortable, but it's necessary."
Skov said that there are extremely effective aspects of Piedmont's sex education program like the consent assembly. However, she believes that the sex education curriculum could be more comprehensive. This is mainly because of the lack of access to basic reproductive health treatment like contraceptives through the school and the fact that the sex education curriculum is taught in a disconnected fashion, he said.
"We satisfy the sex ed requirement through social psychology and then by bringing in an occasional speaker like Al Vernacchio," said Skov. Therefore, these pieces do not seem to fit together, Skov said. But it is important to also note the state law only requires five hours of sex education, which Piedmont fulfills, she said.
"Access to comprehensive health education only allows for better, more informed young people to go out into the world and be their true selves," Skov said. "(It allows them to be) armed with knowledge and confidence that they have the right to choose and do whatever they want to with their body. (It allows them to know) who they really are. They get to decide."
*All names have been changed to protect the identity of our sources, who are current PHS students.