Gen Z might be in the midst of a sex crisis – they aren’t having much of it. Instead, they’re opting for the less fulfilling, and more reputationally risky, act of sexting. And who could blame them? For those teens who are actually interested in having sex, helpful advice is hard to come by, especially if they’re queer.
Like many health policies in the U.S., sex education requirements are all over the board. According to Planned Parenthood, only 24 states and Washington, D.C. mandate sex education in their school systems; 34 mandate HIV education. And the quality of that sex education is wildly inconsistent. Fewer than half of high schools and only a fifth of middle schools teach everything in the outlined curriculum. A significant portion of teens report receiving no sex education at all.
Several states still incorporate information about abstinence. And then, there’s the practice of opting in. In 2018, Indiana introduced legislation that would only allow students to participate in sex education and discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity if their parents opted in. So, even if an adequate sex education curriculum was available, teens could still be denied the opportunity to access it.
The state of sex education in America is bleak – a lot of kids won’t get it, many of those who do won’t get a complete curriculum, and some will even be denied access. But there’s an even bigger problem – queer sex topics are rarely broached in these classes.
You don’t need to be told – navigating queer sex as an inexperienced, uneducated virgin is frightening. Queer teens may not get “the talk” from their parents if they identify as straight. They can learn from porn, but with that comes unrealistic expectations about the type of sex they should be having, the kind of behaviors that are permissible, and the way they and their partners should look.
However, when school excludes you from the conversation and you don’t have any other reliable resources, what are the options?
The solution is easy to pinpoint. The country’s sex education curriculum needs a complete upgrade. In addition to adding more current topics like consent, to help kids navigate sex in the post-#metoo era, they need more relevant, inclusive information about how it all works.
Inclusive sex education could have a lot of benefits for queer teens. Among them, they could learn about preventing STIs, recognizing the signs of intimate partner violence, practicing safe sex, and respecting the gender expression and identification of their partners. Additionally, they’d have the language to navigate sexual encounters respectfully, and they’d feel supported and seen during a vulnerable time in their lives.
Without inclusive sex ed, queer kids could feel abandoned, ostracized, or even vilified. Lacking this essential knowledge, they could make some bad sexual decisions, which could have implications for their entire lives, not just their awkward teen years.
But as easy as it is to pinpoint this solution, enacting it is another story. There are social conservatives, in communities, on school boards, and in government offices, who find any acknowledgment of queer kids’ existence and sexual desires controversial. As long as they maintain this view, they’ll stand in the way of progress.
All hope is not lost though. Washington and California have both passed versions of the Healthy Youth Act, which requires schools to teach sex education that speaks to sexual orientation and gender identity, among other more contemporary topics. And other states are following their lead. This is a start, a gentle push in the right direction.
But all queer kids need this, not just those who live in the nation’s most progressive states. When it comes to inclusive sex ed, we’ve got a lot of work to do.