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Are Schools Providing Students the Knowledge and ResourcesThey Need to Be Sexually Safe and Healthy

By Yusdivia Rojo (She/Her/Hers)

Sexual health education is sometimes a sensitive and awkward topic to some but it is a discussion that we need to talk about. Are students really being provided the information they need to be safe while being sexually active? Are the schools providing the students with the resources they need in order to stay safe and healthy? These are questions that need to be asked and demanded in order to ensure that schools are providing students with all the correct information they need.

For many years schools stressed abstinence-only as the only way to prevent pregnancies and

STIs. Research shows that by stressing to students to wait till marriage is actually putting them at risk. Students are more likely to contract a sexually transmitted disease because they weren't given all the information about what causes STIs and the information on how to prevent contracting those STIs withheld from them. Eventually, schools started to realize that their methods were not working but actually increasing the number of teenage pregnancies and students with STIs. Some schools eventually required students to be taught about human sexuality and HIV prevention. However, there are still some schools that only provide abstinence-only programs for their students and withhold information they need to be safe and healthy. By withholding the correct medical information for these students is a violation of their rights. Students deserve to know all the information and the available resources they need if they do decide to engage in sexual activity.

According to Guttmacher Institute as of July 1, 2021, out of the 50 states in America, 28 states and the District of Columbia require schools to teach both sexual education and HIV education, and only 18 states require that the information be medically accurate. This just goes to show how states and schools are putting students in danger by withholding the information they need. 37 states and DC require information on abstinence, 28 states out of those 37 stress to students about abstinence, and the other 9 and DC cover abstinence. I think it's important to mention that yes, it's okay to inform students of abstinence as a way to prevent unwanted pregnancies and STIs, however, it is also important to acknowledge that

some students will have sex regardless of the stress on abstinence which is why it is so important to provide them the knowledge they need in order to be safe while being sexually active.

The California Healthy Youth Act 2016 requires school districts in California to ensure that all

students in 7th to 12th receive an inclusive and comprehensive knowledge of sexual health and HIV prevention education. Although this law requires schools to be more inclusive for the LGBTQ+ youth, are schools really going through with it? Some schools have welcomed the new curriculum with open arms while some schools have not. According to the Bay Area Reporter, the state does not track what districts are teaching, so it is unclear just how many school districts are complying with the law.

How does the lack of inclusivity affect students? I had a conversation with a brave young man who is “part of the LGBTQ+ community to talk about his experience in Sex Ed. When asked if, in his sexual education health class, queer sex was taught about. He replied that in his class queer sex was briefly mentioned but the teacher admitted that it wasn’t required. He stated “I was already questioning my sexuality by the time we were learning about Sex Ed in high school. They didn’t go over much about queer health which made me want to stay in the closet even longer.” In his class, he was taught that the key to avoiding unwanted STDs and pregnancy was abstinence. He mentioned how unprepared this made him feel as a, then, questioning teen. I was curious to see that when they were learning about STDs if he felt that the topic of AIDs or HIV gave a bad stereotype to the LGBTQ+ community. His response was, “In Sex Ed, we were told that AIDS appeared more in the LGBTQ+ community but that straight people got it too. However, we were also told that gay people spread it faster because they have multiple partners compared to straight couples which as a questioning teen made me terrified to be gay.” I also wanted to know if he thought schools should provide students access to the resources they need to be safe while being sexually active. He expressed that schools should provide students with condoms and make it easier to access the resources they need to prevent STIs and pregnancy as a teen.

I also had the amazing opportunity to have a conversation with a strong woman who was a young mom. I had asked her if she believed that schools are failing to teach their students about all their options on how to prevent pregnancy. She mentioned only remembering learning about sexual education once and that was in the fifth grade. She also expressed not being provided the information of where to get access to resources she needed as a pregnant teen. Curious to know, I asked if she had any support from her school throughout her pregnancy, she did have support from a teacher who motivated her to be successful

in school. As a recurring theme in my research, I wanted to know if she thought schools should provide students with access to the things they need in order to be safe while being sexually active, such as condoms, birth control, Plan B, etc. She replied, “I strongly believe that schools should provide these to students.” What can schools do to help support young parents who are also students? She suggested that there be support groups/meetings and free child care so that students can still attend school so that they can be successful for both themselves and their child's future.

I sent out a survey to the people in my community asking about their experience in Sex-Ed. The data gathered was shocking. Many showed that their sexual health education wasn’t very inclusive. When asked if they were taught about queer sex 100% of the responses said No. When asked if they were taught about trans health 100% said No. When asked if they were taught about sexual health for disabled individuals 80% of the responses said no. I was also interested to see if students are being provided the knowledge and resources they need in order to be sexually healthy. When asked if they were given the proper knowledge of STIs 75% of the responses said Yes and 25% said No. However when asked if they felt confident that Sex-Ed provided them with everything they needed to know in order to have a healthy sex life 62.5% responded No, 25% responded with Yes and 12.5% preferred not to say anything. When asked if they felt confident that they were given all the knowledge and resources on how to prevent pregnancy the responses were tied, 50% said No and 50% said yes. When asked if they were given all the options available for them if they were to get pregnant 50% said No and 50% said yes. I also asked if they were provided with the resources available in their community of where they can get access to contraceptives, abortion, Plan B, STI testing, PEP, PrEP, pregnancy tests, trans health, etc. 85.7% responded with No and only 14.3% responded with Yes. However when asked if they wished schools provided them with those resources the responses were divided. 42.9% responded No and 42.9% responded Yes the other 14.3% preferred not to say. I would say that my data shows the lack of inclusivity in the sexual health education curriculum of schools in my community. Although it does show that they are providing most students with the proper knowledge of STIs they are also failing to prepare for them by not being inclusive and providing students with the resources they need.

Under the California Healthy Youth Act requires students to learn about the local resources for sexual assault and partner violence. It is also their right to access those resources. So I was interested to see if the schools in my community were teaching students about rape culture and if they provide students with the resources they need if they were a victim of sexual assault. In my survey, I asked if in their sexual education class they were taught about consent 87.5% responded Yes and 12.5% responded No. When asked if they were taught about rape culture 71.4% said No while 28.6% said yes. Interested to see if schools provided them the resources for counseling I asked if they were provided the resources where to get help or counseling if they were a victim of sexual assault and shockingly 85.7% said No and only 14.3% said yes. Although schools seem to be doing a good job about teaching consent they also aren't teaching their students about rape culture and its effects. Students are also being deprived of the resources to seek help if they were a victim of sexual assault.

Throughout my research, I’ve noticed the lack of inclusivity and resources that schools are

providing our students. I also noticed that some schools in my community are not following the California Healthy Youth Act. By schools withholding the important information and knowledge needed for students to have a healthy sex life is a violation of their rights. As things begin to change it is important that we demand this change for our community, for the well-being and safety of our students. As students, we need to demand our schools to provide us the resources and proper information we need because it is our right.

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