Answer is seeking a full-time Social Media and Web Manager for the AMAZE program. The Social Media and Web Manager is accountable for developing and executing social media strategy for AMAZE, overseeing growth of its youth-facing social media channels and managing content on AMAZE.org. The Social Media and Web Manager provides leadership on AMAZE’s social media and marketing teams to ensure maximum exposure on Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube and optimization with Google Adwords and YouTube keywords. Learn more about this position.
Facebook. YouTube. SnapChat. Apps are everywhere, often playing a major role in teens’ daily lives. Technology can make information more accessible to teens and supplement what is (or isn’t) taught in the classroom. Some adults are not comfortable talking with young people about sexuality and some young people are not comfortable asking adults about the topic, which is why apps and online resources or—digital tools—can be especially important in helping teens get accurate sexual health information.
Many organizations have designed digital tools aimed at teens and young adults. From helping teens track their menstrual cycles to answering sexual health questions via chat or text, these tools have a variety of uses. To help those who work with teens develop a better understanding of what tools are out there, Answer reviewed some current sexual and reproductive health digital tools in a recent report, “Reaching Teens Where They Are.” The report acknowledges that adults in the field of sexual and reproductive health are always looking for new and better ways to engage young people and offers information about how to use digital tools to provide information to teens. Thirty-one initial digital tools were narrowed down to 19 that fulfilled seven different criteria, such as targeting young people between the ages of 13 and 24 and addressing some aspect of sexual and reproductive health. Teen staff writers and national contributors who write for Sex, Etc., Answer’s award-winning national sexual health magazine and website for teens, then reviewed the selected tools. Their feedback appears throughout the report.
The report makes several recommendations for educators looking to reach young people with sexual health information. One of those recommendations is to involve teens and young adults in the development of tools intended for them. Tools could be improved by conducting focus groups and surveys to gather teens’ feedback. Another recommendation is to explore ways to integrate sexual health information into already popular tools. Few teens make the effort to specifically search for and download an app they may only use once. But tools that are connected to platforms many teens already use will naturally reach more young people. Creating information that is compatible with the giants of social media, like Facebook and YouTube, is a great way to reach young people where they are.
With feedback from teens informing their development and appealing features that catch teens attention, digital sexual health tools can not only answer teens’ questions teens, but also improve their quality of life.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a report last week that provides guidance on how pediatricians can provide sexuality education to their patients. Answer executive director, Nicole Cushman, MPH, provides commentary on the report on Rewire. She shares her thoughts and recommendations on what it will take to implement these guidelines and how educators and parents can partner with health care providers to ensure young people get the medically accurate sex education they deserve. Read more.
Health classes across the country, many parents and MTV reality television shows, like Teen Mom, send out the same, forceful message to teenagers: Don’t get pregnant!
Lots of organizations, including Answer, recognize May as National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. It’s definitely important that anyone who is or plans on becoming sexually active knows how to prevent pregnancy.
At the same time, having a month focused on preventing pregnancy puts a huge stigma on teenage sexuality and makes sex seem like something scary and shameful. Overwhelmingly, sex is taught about in the same way that drug and alcohol prevention is: with fear-driven warnings about how young people’s lives can be ruined if they take part. Sexual health curricula for teens often forgo mentioning that becoming sexually active is in any way pleasurable or a normal part of growing up, and instead teenagers mostly hear repeated warnings about the potential negative repercussions of sex (such as unintentionally becoming pregnant.) Learning information about the seriousness of being sexually active is vital, but a focus on danger and prevention pins a scarlet letter to teens who are already sexually active or young parents. It also reinforces the idea that sexuality is illicit and taboo.
More than that, focusing only on the risks of pregnancy when teaching teens about sex is way too limited. Teen pregnancy rates have actually been dropping in recent decades, and while there is absolutely more work that needs to be done related to the issue, there are so many other aspects of teenage sexuality that should be talked about just as much as how to prevent a pregnancy. Plenty of people think that all there is to learn about sexuality is how to put a condom on a banana, but sexuality education should include so much more. Rarely do teenagers hear about what to do if they face abuse in their relationship, or where to go if they need to access sexual health services. The process that many teens go through of coming to terms with their gender identity or sexual orientation is rarely talked about by the media, parents or health teachers, and most lesbian, gay or bi teens don’t learn about relationships between same-sex couples at all unless they turn to the Internet.
The idea of having a month focused on teenage pregnancy prevention comes from a good place, and teens should understand what they’re getting into if they want to have sex. In addition to this, sexuality is something that is fun and healthy to explore and learn about, and all parts of it should be discussed more openly so we are informed and prepared. It’s time everyone began thinking of sexuality as a normal part of life, not as a danger.
Every October, Answer joins colleagues across the country to mark Let’s Talk Month—a time to acknowledge the important role parents and caregivers play in nurturing their children’s sexual health by encouraging open, honest communication about sexuality, dating and relationships. Young people consistently cite their parents as the biggest influence on their decisions about sex, and they report wanting to hear more from their parents on these important topics. The data are also clear about the impact of these conversations. Young people who report having positive conversations with their parents about sex and sexuality are more likely to wait to have sex and to use condoms and contraception when they do become sexually active.
As I prepared for Let’s Talk Month this year, I spent some time reflecting on my own parents and all the things they did right in addressing sex and sexuality as I grew up. I was fortunate to be raised by parents who fostered open communication on a range of topics, cultivated a close and trusting relationship between us and set clear expectations around healthy behaviors. I have vivid memories of conversations with my mom and dad that helped me develop boundaries and personal values to support healthy decision-making. Here are a few things I recall my parents doing especially well.
They took advantage of teachable moments.
I’ll never forget one particular car ride with my mom, on our way to the swimming pool, when Color Me Badd’s “I Wanna Sex You Up” came on the radio. (I’ll pause here to allow readers of my generation to collect themselves.) As I began to hum along, my mom slowly turned down the volume and asked, “What do you think they’re singing about?” I’m sure my face quickly flushed to match the red of my cheerleading skirt, but my mom pressed on. She recognized an opening to have an important conversation and she took advantage of it.
Popular media—music, television, movies and the like—presents endless opportunities to address topics ranging from love and affection to consent and abuse. Rather than fast-forwarding through a steamy scene or ignoring unhealthy behaviors modeled by some of our favorite fictional characters, parents and caregivers can use these moments as a springboard for meaningful conversations. Once my mom had my attention that day, she shared what she thought was important for me to know about sex and relationships, illustrating the next skill my parents mastered.
They communicated a clear set of values around sex, dating and relationships.
As we pulled into the parking lot outside the swimming pool, my mom recited a message she would reiterate throughout my adolescence: “Sex is a beautiful, special thing, and it’s best when shared between two people who love and are committed to each other.” What’s important here is not the content of what she said, but the fact that she articulated a clear set of values my parents believed in and wanted to instill in me. My parents viewed sexuality as a positive aspect of life, and they placed a high value on expressing love in the context of a relationship.
Every family will develop their own unique values around sex and sexuality. An important task for caregivers is to get clear on what values they hold and to seek opportunities to express those values to their children. Being proactive about initiating such conversations demonstrates a critical value in its own right: that communicating about sex is a priority. Ideally, these conversations should be ongoing, forming the basis for a dialogue that evolves as young people grow up. Had my mom simply let that song play and not spoken up, I might have absorbed a very different message about sexual relationships and been left thinking that my mom viewed the topic as inappropriate or that she would not be open to answering my questions. But my parents didn’t stop at communicating their values.
They made sure I had access to the health services I needed.
As I got older and began to have my first relationships, my parents talked to me in more detail about how to determine if I was ready for sex and how to prevent pregnancy and STDs. They let me know they would love and support me no matter what decisions I made, and they emphasized that I had control over my body. They made sure I knew about the available options for birth control and told me they would take me to see a doctor if and when I wanted. I knew I had the right to access health services on my own, without my parents’ knowledge or consent, but I chose to involve them when the time came because they had built a foundation of trust and I wanted their support.
Many parents and caregivers fear they won’t have the knowledge to answer all their children’s questions about sex and sexuality and some worry that talking openly about sex will encourage young people to become sexually active. In reality, parents don’t have all the answers, and that’s OK. Children just need to know they can come to their parents who will help them find the information they need. Young people want to hear their parents’ views on dating, relationships and sex, and communicating clear values on these topics has been shown to help them make healthy decisions. Parents don’t need to have all the answers in order support their children in navigating the transitions and milestones of adolescence. They do need a clear set of values and expectations and a willingness to initiate the conversation. So Let’s Talk!
In this third installment of Answer’s blog series, Inter(sex)tions, sexuality educator Deborah Roffman tells us why human sexuality is the ultimate interdisciplinary topic. Ms. Roffman has been teaching sexuality education for over 40 years in grades 4-12 and is also the author of three books: Talk to Me First, Sex and Sensibility and But How’d I Get in There in the First Place. Sexuality is a topic that is too often reduced to genitals and sexual behaviors. Ms. Roffman shares how sexuality educators can begin to get at the complexity of human sexuality by making connections from sexuality to just about any other academic subject area. She encourages all teachers to make deliberate, ongoing connections for students between the topic of sexuality and other academic disciplines, to promote students’ critical thinking about a topic that is too often portrayed in simplistic ways.
“Years ago I read that the average American adult processes information about sexuality on a second grade level,” explains Ms. Roffman. “That really struck a chord, because of what I know about cognitive development. Before ages 7 to 8, children process information very concretely; they can’t yet mentally step back far enough to ‘see’ or grasp the context around the content of life. While most adults are fully able to think contextually about many, many other topics, because of the poor quality of the ‘sex ed’ they likely experienced, they may be ‘stuck’ at a concrete level of understanding.”
With such a wealth of teaching experience and a deep commitment to broadening how we think, talk and teach about human sexuality, we were excited to have Ms. Roffman share her insights into teaching sexuality education and teaching across topic areas.
Answer: You have noted that sexuality educators need to help students move beyond a limited understanding of sex and sexual health that narrowly focuses on the genitals. Why is this so important?
Roffman: The excessive emphasis in our culture on the genital aspects of sexuality—rather than the whole human being attached to those genitals—reflects and reinforces what in my mind is an ultimately dehumanized understanding of who we are as sexual beings. My mantra to my students is that, no, they are not “walking talking genitals.” They are thinking, feeling, caring, valuing, relating, communicating, decision-making, self-care taking human beings, who (also) happen to have genitals.
I want them to understand too that “human sexuality” is not just longhand for “sex” or “sexual health.” It is an exceptionally broad field of study that encompasses anything and everything in the world that connects meaningfully to issues of sex, gender and reproduction. And, if you think deeply enough about those three issues, that is just about everything in the world! After all, sexuality is the fundamental life force. Why wouldn’t it be connected to everything?
So, the point, on both the personal and macro levels, is to engage students in thinking deeply and critically about themselves and the world around them in as many ways as possible. That’s the point of education, right?
Answer: Given the constraints on the time many educators have to provide sexuality education, what can educators do to help broaden students’ understanding of sexuality?
Roffman: My first response to this type of question is that, as sexuality educators, we must also be child and youth advocates. We have to be prepared to articulate persuasively—to administrators and everyone else who needs to know—that the way we are most often required to teach this subject matter is neither pedagogically sound (large groups, brief sessions, few classes, little continuity across age groups) nor developmentally sound (way too little too late), and how that needs to change for us to do well by our students. Until it does, I find that assigning meaningful readings, especially those that relate to our curriculum or to relevant current events, keeps the learning exciting and dynamic. In any three-month period, practically all of the topics I want my students to think deeply about will appear in print or online media.
Answer: Can you give us a few examples of how sexuality educators can use other disciplines—such as math, history or even astronomy—to teach about human sexuality?
Roffman: This skill comes with the recognition that the topic of human sexuality and all of life itself are astonishingly interconnected. Think about the myriad ways that sex, gender and reproduction intersect with the following disciplines, by no means an exhaustive list: history (Henry VIII’s domestic and public life, for example, was all about sex, gender and reproduction!), religion, economics, politics, government, war and peace; all of the basic sciences, all of the arts, literature; mental and physical health, disability, child and adolescent development, health education, public health; race, gender, ethnicity, and class; world cultures, social studies, social justice, psychology, sociology, marriage and family; psychiatry, medicine, pharmacy, law; the armed services, criminology, journalism, linguistics, and anthropology; communications, mass media, technology, social networking, marketing; philosophy, morality and ethics.
Even topics that may seem totally unrelated to sexuality aren’t really: architecture (would women throughout the ages have designed all of those phallic-shaped structures?); agriculture (the invention of which established the sexual double standard and solidified the notion of women as property), geology (Mother Earth); and astronomy (think constellations).
Answer: How can educators in other fields be sexuality educators? What opportunities could there be for educators in sexuality education to partner with their colleagues in other academic fields?
Roffman: Human sexuality is the ultimate interdisciplinary topic. That means all teachers are potential human sexuality educators. A middle school math teacher was sitting in a faculty group at his school when I quoted the statistic that if two people begin to engage in sexual intercourse at 16, with each having two and only two partners that year and repeating that exact pattern each year thereafter with two new partners, by age 20 each will have been exposed directly and indirectly to 100 partners. Intrigued, he went straight to his 7th grade class the very next period, tossed his lesson for the day and instead challenged them to work out this interesting and important mathematical progression!
Integrating human sexuality into every-day learning was a genuine gift to his students, who within 40 minutes broadened their practical understanding of math (and STIs), made important connections among subject matters, and learned to think more critically about human sexuality. Most importantly, they identified yet another adult in their school community who was “askable” and available for conversations about sexuality. Imagine a whole school full of teachers playing these roles, even if only briefly and once in a while!
Answer: What advice do you have for educators?
Roffman: I’ve advocated, well, forever, for a reframing of our subject matter from “sex” to “human sexuality,” and meaning it in the broadest possible way. In the general public, the work we do is most fundamentally associated with “sex” (which, by the way, makes us more vulnerable to attack) and sexual parts, not the growing, developing human being attached to them and the infinite ways that issues of sex, gender and reproduction play themselves out in human life. That’s the way, I think, to get us all past second grade.
The fields of sexual health and sexuality education are constantly changing. Consider how social media and other technologies have changed the way teens form relationships and interact with each other or how emerging methods of contraception have transformed pregnancy prevention. Taking these changes into consideration, how can school-and community-based health educators be prepared to provide up-to-date information and answer student’s questions with confidence and accuracy? We spoke with Jessica Hastings, who has been teaching health and science to grades 6 to 12 at the Sussex County Opportunity Program in Education (SCOPE) in Delaware. She just completed all seven of our online professional development workshops and has a unique perspective on how our online workshops can help increase school-and community-health professionals’ comfort and skill teaching sexuality education.
I asked Jessica to share her thoughts about the workshops and offer some advice for fellow educators who want to be on the forefront of using best practices to teach comprehensive sexuality education. Here’s what Jessica had to say:
Ty Oehrtman: What changes have you made in the way you teach sexuality education as a result of participating in Answer’s online workshops?
Jessica Hastings: The workshops offered games and lesson plans that I use in class, PowerPoint presentations, short videos (with teens sharing their views) and many useful resources for parents, staff and students. I have also new, up-to-date information, language and perspectives for teaching a diverse population of students. For example, the training on LGBTQ Issues in Schools included lessons on understanding male and female gender roles, which was great. There are very few resources for teachers and students on sexual identity, sexual orientation and gender roles. This year we had a transgender student who was born as a female biologically but is male. LGBTQ Issues in Schools helped me create opportunities for an open dialogue about terminology, experiences and opinions.
TO: What advice would you give a fellow educator who is considering using online workshops for their professional development in sexuality education?
JH: I highly recommend these trainings. I completed all seven this year, and each one is great. The workshop instructors provide immediate feedback, and the online format was easy to navigate, well organized, self-paced, fun and interesting.
Each unit within the trainings also offered current information focused on issues and questions that arise in the classroom with my 6th-to 12th-grade students. The courses gave me resources I could use to look up many of the questions students have asked me regarding sexual health. In the course about sexuality and anatomy, the myth buster activity was an awesome resource. The pregnancy course also taught me new information, which surprised me since I have been teaching for 13 years now. Another great feature in a couple of the courses was the state-by-state sexual health data and statistics.
I now feel very prepared to assist other educators and students with questions they may have because of these courses. I also enjoyed using the discussion boards to communicate with educators from around the country; this is a great way to get new ideas and advice. I am looking forward to participating in the new online workshops that will launch next school year.
TO: What are some of the things you enjoyed most about your experience earning professional development credit entirely online?
JH: I enjoyed the fact that while I was taking the course, I could use resources from the online workshop to supplement activities in my classes and have my students learn with me. This provided additional teachable moments by allowing the students to feel empowered to help the teacher with classwork. This also modeled the importance of education and learning, even as an adult.
TO: Based on your experience participating in the online workshops, what do you think is the greatest advantage of online professional development in sexuality education compared to other ways of earning professional development credit?
JH: My experience has been relaxed and stress free. The quick responses to emails, grading and discussion feedback from the instructors made the trainings feel comfortable.
I was able to complete the trainings around my schedule and in a reasonable time frame; I had 30 days to complete each topic. Being a teacher and mother of two, flexibility is very important. Personally, time was never an issue with these workshops. They are so quick, interesting and fun, so the units went by very quickly. One of the instructors offered some advice that I found helpful: complete the pretest, and the first three units as soon as possible then the rest is a piece of cake.
After finishing the trainings, I do feel as if I had professional relationships with the instructors, as if I was a student in a face-to-face professional development program. The online workshops also allow for interaction with professionals from across the country. I have taken online classes before, but these are by far the best in every area.
Take all of Answer’s online workshops and earn up to 42 hours of continuing education credit completely online. Learn more about Answer’s online workshops.
Al Vernacchio is an English and sexuality education teacher at Friends’ Central School in Pennsylvania and author of For Goodness Sex: Changing the Way We Talk to Teens About Sexuality, Values, and Health. A veteran teacher with 17 years of experience, Vernacchio first realized he wanted to learn more about sexuality and teach sexuality education during his first teaching job.
“The human sexuality curriculum was taught at the end of the ninth grade religion class, which was a class I taught,” Vernacchio explains. “Once I started teaching it, I realized I knew a lot about the spiritual side but not so much about the sexual side of things. I wanted to learn more and help people grow in sexually healthy ways.”
Vernacchio went on to get a master’s degree in human sexuality education and, in his words, has “been teaching sexuality education ever since, whether in my sexuality classes or my English classes.”
It’s just this sort of expertise in cross-topic teaching that made us think Vernacchio was the perfect person to interview for our second installment of our series Inter(sex)tions, which explores how sexuality education intersects with core topics taught in schools.
Answer: As a teacher of both English and a course on sexuality at the high school level, how and in what ways do these two subjects overlap?
Vernacchio: Almost any text taught in a high school English classroom can be used to teach a lesson on healthy sexuality. It’s just a matter of whether the teacher is willing to “go there” when teaching the text and whether the school is open to the teacher doing that. Literature is all about the human experience, and at the core of that human experience is our sexuality. We are sexual beings every minute of every day, from birth to death. Everything we do and every interaction we have is influenced by our bodies, our gender identity and expression, and our sexual and romantic attractions. The study of literature becomes so much richer when we understand the characters as fully human, and that means fully sexual.
I talk about sexuality all the time in my English class, because it’s on every page of every text I teach. It’s hard to teach The Catcher in the Rye without recognizing that Holden Caulfield, the protagonist, is a confused, horny, 16-year-old virgin who has a lot of questions about sex and dating and life, and those questions have an impact on his interactions with every other character. The novel also gives students a glimpse into the world of 1950s America and how sexism and homophobia were present there just as they are today.
One of my favorite experiences of talking about sexuality in the context of literature comes in the 11th-grade American Literature class. We read that old chestnut, The Scarlet Letter, followed immediately by Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: Millennium Approaches. Both texts are about characters scorned by society because of sexual issues. Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter (“A” for adulteress) is mirrored by the Kaposi sarcoma lesions that mark the characters living with AIDS in Angels in America. Both texts talk about the conflict between the American Dream of living one’s life openly and honestly and the prejudice and discrimination that comes from a society that demands conformity and punishes those who stray beyond the boundaries of what’s deemed “acceptable.” Both ask what the price of freedom is and both ultimately give the message that being true to oneself is what is most important.
Answer: When teaching English, what texts do you find foster the most conversations about sexuality or topics related to sex ed?
Vernacchio: There are certainly texts that foster conversations about sexuality more easily than others because their subject matter is directly related to sexuality in some way (think Romeo and Juliet or Their Eyes Were Watching God). But I think what’s much more important is the attitude of the teacher and the community created in the classroom. Is it one that is safe for discussing “real” issues? Are the students encouraged to look at the way gender and sexual orientation may impact what’s happening in a novel or a story? For instance, when reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, of course it’s essential to talk about race and the dehumanizing effects of slavery in the United States. But Huck and Jim are also both men (well, a man and a boy), and that also impacts how they relate to one another. It’s also interesting to notice the place of women in that novel; they are oppressed by their gender in similar ways that slaves are oppressed by their race. Twain didn’t set out to write a novel about the place of women in nineteenth-century America, and I hope no teacher would avoid the racial issues in the novel to talk about that instead, but talking about the intersection of race and gender in the novel can enrich the experience and give students a new way of looking at issues of freedom, fairness and oppression.
Answer: For health teachers who are looking to more deeply engage students using content from other classes, what advice do you have?
Vernacchio: Health teachers have the ability to be extraordinarily creative in their classrooms. Teaching from novels and real-world experiences is so much more effective than using an out-of-date health textbook. There are amazing young adult novels, poems and essays that cover topics like navigating puberty, coming out, surviving sexual assault, being transgender, etc. These are easy reads and can open up discussions among students in powerful ways. Beyond fiction, teachers can use things like advertising to teach about gender role inequity. I’ve sent my students out to look at the display of Valentine’s Day cards in a store and count how many cards can be used by people in same-gender relationships. Television commercials can be a great focusing tool for a class and cover every sexuality-related issue imaginable. You-tubers like Laci Green are another valuable resource. Websites like Sexetc.org, Scarleteen and Go Ask Alice allow students to explore topics of their choosing and guarantee them accurate, thorough and up-to-date information.
Answer: What tips do you have for teachers fielding questions about sexuality when sexuality isn’t their area of expertise?
Vernacchio: Whether you know the answer or not isn’t the issue. It’s the way you answer the question or respond to the statement that’s important. If a teacher seems nervous, shocked or disgusted, that’s going to send a powerful message to the student. When we normalize students’ natural curiosity about sexuality, we do them a great service. It would also be great to have resources available in every classroom that answered basic questions about sexuality—pamphlets, books, posters. One thing every great teacher knows is that where to find an answer is just as, if not more, important than knowing the answer. Most of all, though, teachers who model authenticity and show their humanity to their students are teaching a terrific lesson about healthy sexuality.
I read Nicholas Kristof’s recent column “When the Rapist Doesn’t See It as Rape” with a heady mix of revulsion, familiarity and gratitude that such a widely read and respected journalist had devoted white space to this issue. Kristoff drew on Jon Krakauer’s new book Missoula to call attention to the discrepancy between the public’s perception of rapists as menacing strangers and the much more common reality of rape committed by acquaintances who often don’t perceive their actions as rape at all.
The cognitive dissonance that resides in many perpetrators’ minds is hardly news to those who have advocated, educated and fought to end rape and sexual assault for decades. This latest commentary brought to my mind a three-year-old Reddit thread in which rapists told “their side of the story.” Predictably, the collective effect of thousands of comments was chilling. Men (primarily) described plying women (nearly exclusively) with alcohol and physically overpowering them, and they excused their behavior by blaming peer pressure, biological necessity and, above all, the women they assaulted, whom they perceived as sending mixed signals.
While reading rape apologia ad nauseam can seemingly lead to nothing but despair, once you cut through the victim-blaming, I believe these accounts do a better job of laying bare the nature of our rape culture than many erudite feminist analyses. It is hard to deny the pervasiveness of gender double standards, biological determinism, slut-shaming and a good old-fashioned “boys will be boys” mentality when faced with such firsthand accounts.
So how should we respond? I believe that sexuality educators can and must play a fundamental role in dismantling rape culture by addressing these issues head on in the classroom. A good place to start is with age-appropriate discussions about gender and power. For example, educators working with elementary school students can ask students to reflect on the types of toys and clothing marketed toward boys and girls as a way to introduce the concept of gender roles and societal expectations about gender. In middle school, students will be ready for discussions about gender roles and stereotypes in friendships and romantic relationships. These conversations lay the groundwork for more detailed lessons for high school students to analyze the ways gender roles and expectations influence young people’s ability to refuse or consent to sex, negotiate condom use and set and maintain boundaries.
High-quality sex education can and should equip young people with the language and tools to understand and critique the roles of gender and power in their friendships and romantic relationships. Creating safe classroom spaces for students to explore these topics can begin to create cultural shifts in gender norms and related behaviors. Research shows that sex education that addresses gender and power is more likely to have positive sexual and reproductive health outcomes. Given that greater than ten percent of high school girls and four percent of boys report being forced to have sex, and more than 14 percent of girls and six percent of boys have experienced sexual dating violence, educators have an imperative to incorporate discussions of sexual violence into their curricula. Only by openly addressing these issues and laying bare the discrepancies and dissonance that underlie rape culture can we begin to create a new paradigm in which victims are believed, boundaries are respected and healthy relationships are established.
If you would like to learn more about teaching about healthy relationships and addressing the unique needs of boys in the sex education classroom, check out our online workshops Boys and Sex Ed and Relationship Skills for Teens.
If you’ve been following the headlines related to sex education in recent months, you may have a rather bleak picture of the (mis)education of American teens when it comes to sexuality and relationships. To be sure, abstinence-only programs are still commonplace in U.S. schools, despite having been discredited over and over and over, and too many young people receive sex education that is too little, too late.
While those of us who implement and advocate for comprehensive sexuality education still have our work cut out for us, at Answer, we remain optimistic about the state of sex ed in America. In fact, we see progress and possibilities nearly everywhere we look. What keeps us so optimistic? Here are our top five reasons to be hopeful about sex education in the U.S.
1. We know that comprehensive sex education works. Study after study has affirmed the effectiveness of comprehensive programs at helping teens to make healthy decisions about sex and relationships. What is more, sex education has been credited with contributing to historic declines in U.S. teen pregnancy and birth rates by increasing use of condoms and birth control. In fact, 85.6 percent of teen girls report using some method of contraception (including condoms) the last time they had sex.
2. Parents, teens and the public support comprehensive sex education. Every state, local, and national poll affirms that the overwhelming majority of Americans support sex education that covers a wide range of topics, including birth control, abstinence and healthy relationships. While a small minority of people opposed to sex education can create some very big roadblocks to implementing comprehensive programs, we feel emboldened by the support of parents and young people across the country.
3. Young people have virtually unfettered access to the Internet. You may ask why this is a good thing for sex education. To be sure, the Internet is rife with misinformation and explicit content that can confuse and mislead young people. It can also act as an equalizing force that provides access to sorely needed information and resources to those who don’t get their questions answered at school or at home. At Answer, we launched the web version of our magazine Sex, Etc. way back in 1999. Sex, Etc. is a resource written by teens, for teens, exemplifying the power of technology to lift up youth voices. We’re proud of our commitment to leveraging technology to reach more and more young people, and we’re thrilled to be joined online by many colleague organizations.
4. We’ve made tremendous progress in supporting LGBTQ youth. While there is certainly a long way to go in addressing the needs of queer youth, anti-discrimination and anti-bullying laws in many states protect young people from harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Federal funding for sex education now requires programs to be inclusive of all youth and implemented in a safe and supportive environment, and the number of gay-straight alliances (GSAs), which have been shown to contribute to safer school environments for LGBTQ students, is increasing on campuses across the country.
5. Young people across the country are advocating for better sex ed. Perhaps most inspiring of all are the groups of young people who are organizing to demand comprehensive sex education in their schools. Recently, The Daily Show highlighted the efforts of teens in Clark County, Nevada to push for curriculum reform in what has become a highly contentious debate. While the outcome in Las Vegas is still undetermined, these teens give me hope that we are moving in the right direction.
I don’t mean to be flippant or pollyanna about the very real and persistent challenges to improving sex education in this country. We face those challenges head-on every day at Answer. That’s part of what keeps us committed to providing top-notch training and capacity building for educators and youth-driven sexuality education directly to young people. We have the privilege of working with dedicated educators and inspiring teens from all over the U.S., and when we look at them, we don’t see doom and gloom; we see hope and possibility.