Feminism | Posted by Alexa S on 05/4/2011

In Defense of Comprehensive Sex Education

A very hot-button issue that has brought feminists to the forefront is comprehensive sex education. It is something that Jessica Valenti defends vehemently in the notable Full Frontal Feminism, and that many teens have written passionately about here on the F-Bomb. As someone who believes that ignorance should be avoided at all times and that the current state of education is largely condescending to high school students, I have always been on the defensive side on this issue as well.

In the past month, I have experienced sex ed at my public high school, and my defense of comprehensive sex education has become infinitely more fervid. The majority of my friends, including the three that I spend my health class with, are virgins. Out of the four of us, none of us are in relationships and have not been in relationships in which we felt a desire to lose our virginity. Two of us are fully supportive of premarital sex; the other two are more divided, as their parents oppose the action. None of us were planning to have sex in high school, although we were not opposed to the idea and would not judge any of our peers by the action. It seemed like a perfectly okay thing to do, if you were confident that you wanted to have sex with your partner and you used protection and whatnot. Right?

Our teacher educated us on prevalent STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) and their transmission and (grotesque) symptoms. The three girls I was with and myself all have A or A+ averages in school, are fairly eloquent, and informed on basic current events. None of us, though, knew a thing about syphilis or oral herpes before this lesson.

The best part about this, though, was that our health teacher spoke to us in a way that she made it sound like it was okay if we had had sex at the time. She was not condescending. It was awesome. I’d always imagined sex education would be like that scene in Mean Girls where the gym teacher says: “Do not have sex, because you will get pregnant and die!”

I can now say with confidence that comprehensive sex education is far more effective than abstinence-only. I have read dozens of accounts and excerpts of abstinence-only sex ed lessons, and they are, in my limited experience, far less realistic. Telling kids they shouldn’t have sex “just because” doesn’t get anything done; most teens inherently want to rebel against what they’re supposed to do. Besides, expressing the unpleasantness of genital warts and painful urination are far more effective than just saying that something is “bad.”

The bottom line, applicable to this just as much as any other (as in, every) issue that effects teens: if we are treated like mature adults, with rights and opinions, we are far more likely to listen to what you have to say.

Alexa also writes for her own blog Blossoming Badass

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  • Katherine C. @ at 11:34 am, May 4th, 2011

    I got comprehensive sex education through my liberal-ass CHURCH, which I think is awesome. They gave us all a button that says “Just Say KNOW!” which has been a GREAT conversation starter.

  • Sunny @ at 12:13 pm, May 4th, 2011


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  • Rainicorn @ at 6:37 pm, May 4th, 2011

    I got an okay sex education at school – certainly much better than that abstinence-only nonsense – but there was still huge scope for improvement. Our sex ed completely glossed over gay people, asexual people, trans* people (who do not necessarily belong in sex ed as such, but we have GOT to start talking about trans* people sometime)…

  • Katie @ at 11:22 pm, May 4th, 2011

    LOVE IT!

  • Liz @ at 9:25 am, May 5th, 2011

    @Katherine C. : “Just Say KNOW”– Love it!

    @Alexa S: I’m so glad you got a good sex ed! I had fairly comprehensive/inclusive sex ed in high school (I went to hippie school so we talked a little about non-heterosexual sex) but when I talk to other people about their experiences with sex ed, they usually say it was bad! You’re lucky you got this knowledge, but as you said, everyone should be so lucky!

  • Juliana @ at 10:27 am, May 14th, 2011

    I’ve actually been working on a project about sex education, and some of the things you learn are astonishing. Did you know that only 13 states are required by law to provide medically accurate information in sex education? That’s if sex education is even required. I live in California, one of the states with the lowest teen pregnancy rates, where sex education is probably most comprehensive. However, it is not mandated. Schools are only required to teach about STIs after that, they don’t have to teach about sex (though if they do it has to be comprehensive, culturally sensitive, and inclusive of sexual orientation). Working with the local Planned Parenthood I’ve learned that even though many schools want to give sex ed, they don’t have any teachers who are qualified/comfortable teaching it, so they call Planned Parenthood in. However the division of Planned Parenthood that I work with (PP Mar Monte) just had a lot of their education program cut, and they can reach very few schools.

    So it’s not even just a problem of abstinence-only vs. comprehensive sex, it’s also funds to teach it. One way we can all fight it is to educate ourselves, and our peers. Be that girl/boy/person at school who hands out condoms to your friends, and talks just a teeny bit too much about sex/contraception for everyone’s comfort. People will thank you later.

  • Renee @ at 7:54 pm, May 26th, 2011

    for the record I’m sixteen…ii was (and still am) waaaay to afraid to talk to my parents about anything sexual so I educated myself (its not that hard) I know about the proper use of all kind of birth control and even thoroughly researched 3 types of abortion…i believe comprehensive sex ed is the way to go and I one day hope all schools have them…by the way that gym scence is one of my absolute favorites :D

  • Serena @ at 10:36 pm, June 13th, 2011

    I had two sex ed “arcs” in HS. One was for Health class and the other was the class that teaches you how to write checks, make a budget, how to live life outside HS. (I forgot the name) Both times, we had a nurse who used a slide show to make her point as she gave her speech. It was graphic and blunt. The nurse and the show were graphic, blunt and awesome.

    I think knowing all your options are important for a couple of reasons
    1) your in HS and an adult or close to being an adult, so you should be treated like one and
    2) Because as we all know, abstinence only sex ed works.

  • Golda Cramm @ at 3:35 am, June 16th, 2011

    Amazing write up, bookmarked the website for interest to see more information!

  • Alexa @ at 11:11 pm, January 5th, 2012

    Katherine, Sunny, Golda, Rainicorn, Katie, Liz, Juliana, Renee, Serena- thank you all for reading and for your comments!

    @Juliana- those regulations are atrocious. Your project sounds absolutely awesome, though! Good luck with it :)

    @Liz & Rainicorn- Liz, it’s great that non-heterosexual sex was mentioned in your classes! In one movie we watched about STIs, I recall, two characters were gay. I think the movie was also from 1985, though. And Rainicorn, on the same note, I think that gay/asexual/any non-heterosexual relationships/sex should definitely get more attention in these courses, especially because it’s the topic people typically know less about.

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