Birds, bees and LGBT+
Sex. It’s still something of a taboo subject, especially in America’s schools where abstinence is typically one of the only forms of sex education offered. Comprehensive sex ed is often a missing variable in health curriculum, and when sex ed does expand beyond abstinence, it is rarely inclusive of students who aren’t heterosexual and cisgender.
Many students don’t feel prepared for adult relationships when they come to college. WRAC intern Jade Moorse offered her opinion on sex ed in schools.
“In all honesty, [sex ed in schools] doesn’t really teach anyone about how to have healthy relationships or even consent,” Moorse said in an email. “Many people draw on what is idealized in the media, which isn’t always the most healthy of relationships shown. I know that some people had great sex ed, but my personal experience was we learned the anatomy of the reproductive systems (not even including a conversation of intersex folx) and STIs, which were meant as more of a medical scare tactic than talking about the fact that many STIs are treatable.”
Sexual Health Educator (SHE) Melissa Peirson gave her perspective as well.
“I personally went to Catholic private school for 13 years, so no, I was not prepared and I believe that many others were also not ready/educated,” Peirson said in her email response. “I had a very minimal amount of sexual education — once in fifth grade for two days and then again in high school. It mainly consisted of the basic anatomy of the penis and the vagina.”
Peirson noted that STIs are often used as a scare tactic in sex ed.
“In my mind, I thought STIs were the scariest and most deadly diseases out there,” Peirson said. “My sex ed was mainly used to scare me into never participating in sexual encounters because the repercussions I was taught included having a baby and dying from an STI.”
Most sex ed programs don’t touch on important topics like consent, either.
“I didn’t learn [what] consent was until I was in college,” Moorse said. “I learned it in a medical form, but not in a sense of relationships.”
With many students coming to college with misconceptions about sex, Wellness Coordinator Dori Decker provided some insight on what UMD offers in terms of sexual health education.
“The importance of communication in relationships, and affirmative consent, are included in every presentation we give,” Decker said in her email. “We use gender neutral language. We discuss safer sex practices from multiple perspectives.”
Decker also reported that they cover “social norms and UMD specific survey data, for instance, the number of students at UMD who report practicing abstinence in the past 12 months (40 percent); sexual anatomy including the definition of intersex; sexually transmitted infections (with the intention to reduce stigma); and types of birth control methods.”
LGBT+ students may be left even more uninformed than others, since most sex education neglects to discuss sex other than sex between a cisgender man and a cisgender woman.
“I personally did not know what the word “lesbian” correctly meant until my junior year of high school,” Peirson said. “And even then it was seen as negative and used as a slur. The problem is that our schools are not teaching inclusive education. . . causing conformity in children rather than curiosity. Instead many sex ed courses use gender binary terms and do not even scratch the surface of LGBTQ+ topics.”
Second-year student Alexis Kostek offered her experience with LGBT+ inclusivity in sex ed.
“It wasn’t even a topic in sex ed,” Kostek said. “I literally had to scour the Internet to find how anything worked, relating to same-sex sex or even the notion of it.”
Kostek noted that sex ed doesn’t discuss other identities, which can leave students without words to describe how they feel.
“I didn’t know that that was even a possibility [being any identity other than straight] until I was in ninth grade and discovered some really open friends and found out that I didn’t have any interest in guys,” Kostek said.
Kostek thinks that sex ed needs to change.
“[It should] be more inclusive,” Kostek said. “It should include how lesbians have sex, how gay men have sex, you know, anyone, and the protective measures you have with that. [You should] have education about dental dams or lubes or whatever you need.”
Regardless of your school experience with sex ed, or what your gender identity and sexual orientation are, there are resources available at UMD for students to learn more about their sexual health. WRAC hosts events surrounding sexual health throughout the year, and SHE is a group dedicated to educating others about sexual health, including inclusive perspectives.