I used to consider myself very knowledgeable about sexual health. I knew the various methods of preventing STIs, as well as several types of contraceptive methods. Defining myself as a feminist, I have also begun to understand the social justice implications of sexuality education.
One quote that I feel helps articulate my thoughts about sexuality education are in the words of Dr. Eli Coleman, the Director of the Program in Human Sexuality at the University of Minnesota: "Sexual health is more than freedom from sexual disease or disorders ... Sexual health is non-exploitive and respectful of self and others ... Sexual health is dependent upon an individual's well-being and sense of self-esteem. Sexual health requires trust, honesty, and communication."
One of my friends, a vocal feminist, and has recently drafted an intersectional teenage feminist manifesto. And though I feel that this was partially in jest, teenage feminism should be and is real, and is inextricably linked to sexuality education.
In my high school sex ed class, our teacher got in trouble for telling us which sexual activities were more risky than others. Though he was able to tell us about STIs and inform us about our anatomy, he had to preface everything with “Abstinence is the only 100% effective method of preventing pregnancy and STIs.” And while this may be true, studies have shown that abstinence-only education is not effective. When teens are both patronized and given ineffective information, the only place left for us is a state of belittlement and ignorance. Though some are able to reach out and search for methods to protect themselves against unwanted pregnancy, others are not afforded the resources to do so, or the knowledge to find them. At this point, sexuality education can become an equalizer between those who have resources and those who don’t. From a feminist standpoint, sexuality education can help allay the cycle of poverty, and especially its feminization.
By providing teens with sexuality education, we are able to educate them while giving them the means to empower themselves and create healthier and more meaningful relationships. Without comprehensive sexuality education, we are condemning not only them, but ourselves.