Gaps in sex education patched by FSU, SAPA

Illustration of birth control pills, condoms, hearts, text "Let's talk about sex!"
Rosalie Zuckermann / The Mossy Log

As college students, the idea of sex is one that we all come in contact with, whether in the physical sense, in media, class or just in theory. But how many of us have been properly educated about sex and the nuances that come with it? 

I grew up in Utah, which is one of too many states that emphasizes abstinence in sex education. Not only is complete abstinence an unrealistic expectation for teenagers, but this kind of discourse promotes stigmatization and feelings of guilt when people want to learn more about their bodies and prepare for safe encounters. 

This narrative is rooted in purity culture, which causes various harms to young people, including making people feel ashamed of their bodies and natural desires. Purity culture is detrimental to everyone, but it disproportionately harms women, often suggesting that their bodies are a commodity which can be “damaged” or “used up.” This is just one example of lackluster instances of sex education, of which I could give several.

According to the Planned Parenthood website, only 39 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education in high school or middle school, although most states include it in their curriculum in some form. However, what is included in this curriculum varies widely based on individual states and school districts. The 2018 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention School Health Profiles show that less than one half of high schools and one fifth of middle schools teach all 20 of their recommended sexual health topics.

In a country where over half of 18-year-olds have been sexually active, this is unacceptable. School curriculums should prepare us for the real world by educating adolescents about various methods of contraception, types of STDs and how to prevent them, the importance of consent and queer sex education. Unfortunately, this does not usually happen.

Adelle Kelly is a representative for Lewis & Clark’s Feminist Student Union (FSU), an activist organization that works to challenge sexism and other forms of oppression. 

“Across the board, there’s definitely a deficit in how sex education is taught,” Kelly said.

Regardless of what they are taught in school, people will learn about sex. A lack of comprehensive education in schools leads to people gain information from other sources, such as peers, social media and the internet, which are still useful, but not always accurate. Misconceptions about sex–such as how STDs are contracted, how unrealistic sex in porn is and the fact that Plan B doesn’t work for every situation–can have major consequences.

At LC, there are a few resources for students to learn about sexual wellness and get access to helpful materials. Kelly explained that the short sex education discussion at the beginning of New Student Orientation each year can be helpful for students to get a better understanding of sexual health and consent. This program is not directly connected to FSU, but both follow a similar mission. 

FSU offers many resources ongoing throughout the year to help students practice safe sex and avoid dangerous situations. They typically hold Sexual Assault Peer Advocate (SAPA) trainings annually, which teach students how to help prevent against sexual violence in community settings where authority is not always present.

They provide condoms, lube, period products, Plan B and other resources either at their office or available for pickup by emailing FSU or messaging their instagram page. The organization also strives to be a space for students to engage in open conversation and ask any questions they might have. I encourage students to be using these resources, which I feel strongly that all educational institutions should provide. 

“I think there’s so much room for ongoing conversation regarding sex education, especially in a college setting,” Kelly said. 

This education is extremely important because sex is something that can have a very profound impact on a person’s life, whether positive or negative. The stigma that so often surrounds these topics is concerning and something that needs to change. Schools must work harder to develop intersectional and inclusive sex education, and invest resources into providing students with the supplies that they need.

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