Inclusive sex education could save lives 


Sex is everywhere: explicit music lyrics, risqué music videos, sexual innuendo on commercials and family sitcoms. In a culture where we sexualize anything and everything, are we having the most important conversations with youths about sex and how to keep ourselves and others safe?

According to the 2017 National School Climate Survey — conducted by GLSEN, formerly known as the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network — only four states (California, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Oregon) require LGBTQ-inclusive sex education programs. This survey reported that less than 22 percent of students went through LGBTQ-inclusive sex education programs. Sex ed programs are usually tailored to heterosexual students and can easily bypass safe sex practices for LGBTQ individuals altogether.

According to Colorado’s Department of Education, the law mandates that schools to adhere to sex education program requirements such as: encourage communication from parents and guardians, “emphasize abstinence,” help students develop skills to make responsible decisions, and “be age-appropriate, culturally sensitive, and medically accurate.” The department does not have a written definition for “age-appropriate” or “culturally sensitive.”

With more and more teens openly embracing bisexuality, pansexuality and gender nonconforming identities, schools and families need to restructure what sex education looks like. In order to lead emotionally and physically healthy lives, LGBTQ teens should have access to information regarding their gender identity and sexual orientation, especially because not all parents are accepting of their LGBTQ children. With LGBTQ youths facing high rates of sexual assault, sexual harassment and depression and a high risk of suicide, LGBTQ-inclusive resources in schools could save lives.

A rep from Harrison School District 2, which oversees Harrison and Sierra high schools, explained that its one- to two-week sex education programs cover topics like healthy relationships, consent, STIs, body parts and mechanics, emotional and financial aspects of being sexually active, and contraception and protection methods. The district also partners with nonprofit organizations to provide more focused information, such as TESSA, which offers support for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence; AspenPointe, which specializes in mental health issues; and the local LGBTQ youth center Inside Out Youth Services.
Similarly, Palmer High School in Colorado Springs School District 11 informs students about dating violence, communication, STIs, STDs and contraception over the course of five to six weeks.

Although the state-level regulations may seem vague, it seems like these local high schools really seek to provide their students with information and tools to make healthy decisions.

While public schools are required to adhere to state regulations, charter schools can avoid providing sex education programs to students altogether. The Classical Academy in District 20 doesn’t offer sex education programs at all. Their website reads: “We value a staff that recognizes the honor, gravity, and responsibility that has been entrusted to them by parents and respects the domain of the home in areas such as sex education and religious upbringing.”

The local charter high school I attended offered one week of abstinence-only curriculum. I have no memory of anyone telling us about contraception, dating violence or consent. So when a classmate emotionally and physically abused me, I didn’t understand his actions as degrading and dangerous; I couldn’t work through my trauma until after I had a thorough sex education in college. I do feel like my school missed an important opportunity to educate us, and that I paid a price.

On Jan. 30, a crowd of more than 300 people signed up to testify in a 10-hour hearing for House Bill 1032, a Comprehensive Human Sexuality Education bill that, if passed, would define terms such as “age-appropriate,” “culturally sensitive,” and “consent”; require schools not to promote abstinence as the primary preventive method available to students; teach students how to communicate, recognize and withdraw consent; teach students how to avoid making unwanted sexual advances; prevent sex ed programs from perpetuating gender norms and stereotypes; and also prevent programs from excluding experiences of LGBTQ individuals. Though many testimonials were offered in opposition to the bill, it passed the Democrat-controlled House Health and Insurance Committee on a party-line vote, and now moves to the House Appropriations Committee.

We must prioritize comprehensive and inclusive sex ed programs like those supported by this bill to create better futures for our youths with their range of diversity in mind. They deserve to be informed and lead healthy lives.


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