Talking about sex, finally

By Michelle Chen Mar 18, 2009

In the wake of alarming reports about the scourge of HIV/AIDS in the Black community and misconceptions on sexual health abroad, the question of how and when to teach youth about sex has gained new urgency. Congress now has a chance to redirect federal resources away from abstinence-only programs, which tend to keep young people in the dark about safe sex and contraception, and toward education that empowers youth to make responsible decisions. The Responsible Education About Life Act, introduced yesterday by Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), would fund abstinence-only’s reality-based cousin, comprehensive sexuality education, which focuses on “age-appropriate and medically accurate information” on the risks and realities of sex. Various studies have shown that abstinence-only programs are largely ineffective in preventing early pregnancy and risky sexual behavior, compared with comprehensive programs. Abstinence-focused education has also been criticized for foisting distorted views of sex on students, including concepts that denigrate LGBT sexuality and promote gender stereotypes. Young people of color may have the most to gain from government-supported, honest sex ed. One major study of sex-ed programs (analysis by SIECUS) found that youth who received no sex education tended to be Black, low-income and from rural areas. Washington’s policies have also heightened barriers to comprehensive sex education in the Global South. The push for abstinence-only programs under the Bush administration’s HIV/AIDS initiatives have led to the globalization of conservative sex ed and an emphasis on just saying no, rather than proven comprehensive approaches. The last several years have exposed the racial and economic dimensions of the issue of reproductive justice. Shedding Bush-era blinders on sex education could advance that struggle for future generations. Image: Feministe