Sex Education; Why It Matters and Who It Affects
By: Meg Robinson
Growing up in the South I know first hand how poor our nation’s sex education policies and practices are. Most sex education programs provided in schooling lack vital information on how to keep oneself safe and healthy in any sexual activity, if one so chooses to participate in sexual activity.
Most people don’t even have the information necessary to take care of their own reproductive organs. This is all caused by a harsh stigma that coats the topic of sex. In our society, this conversation is one that people would rather not have, but it is a necessary one.
In a conversation with Elizabeth Amoa-Awuah, assistant director of educational programs at the Women and Gender Advocacy Center of Colorado State University, she got into the nitty gritty of why sex education is an important lesson in adolescents lives. It’s a lesson that is overlooked and avoided, which can be extremely damaging as people begin to eventually become sexually active.
As we both hopped onto the virtual meeting, Amoa-Awuah instantly filled the room with her smile and voice. Her hair plopped in an artfully crafted curly pile, held together with a black scarf.
Her earrings were shining golden circles that wiggled around with every exciting hand gesture that Elizabeth Amoa-Awuah used to express the obvious passion she has for this topic.
When talking about the positive effects people who are able to receive a comprehensive sex education experience, there’s a lot to celebrate. However, this is only the beginning of this conversation and sex education has a long way to go in order to ensure everyone has the same representation and access to this information.
A comprehensive sex education experience has many benefits including reducing unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and learning to develop one’s sexuality in a safe and healthy way. Not only that but as Elizabeth Amoa-Awuah said, “I think about the ways that sex ed can empower people [again] to better understand their own bodies”.
Amoa-Awuah describes how in every educational session she has done, you can see the realizations on people’s faces. She describes the variety of emotions that cover the room as, “The looks on peoples faces that they have when they’re like I can do what”.
Amoa-Awuah continues to describe how once people realize that their sexuality doesn’t have to be a topic that can never be spoken about. They feel confident in expressing this piece of their identity, whether they are choosing to be sexually active or not. She continues, “some of that shame starts to dissipate”.
When we have these opportunities to talk about our bodies in safe spaces, the conversation can spark new understandings of sexuality and how that is a part of ourselves. It can make us more confident to know how our bodies should be respected. Amoa-Awuah describes it as, “To better understand their own bodies, what they want out of sex, if they are having sex, and then what they want to offer in sex”.
Sex education has astounding results when it comes to reducing the harmful consequences of not receiving an adequate and accurate sex education. In an article by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists it is stated, “Studies have demonstrated that comprehensive sexuality education programs reduce the rates of sexual activity, sexual risk behaviors (eg, number of partners and unprotected intercourse), sexually transmitted infections, and adolescent pregnancy”.
Elizabeth Amoa-Awuah has even seen the sex education programs that she is involved with have a positive effect on how people are approaching and understanding sexual assault and interpersonal violence. She says, “We’re normalizing talking about sex, if we can’t even talk about sex we’re not gonna talk about the harmful pieces that come along with sex. So thinking about sexual assault in particular”.
People need this information available and taught to them because it empowers all people to confidently get to know and talk about their bodies, and more importantly their boundaries.
Talking about our bodies and sexuality is something that can feel daunting when there is so much left unspoken on the topic. It’s a deeply personal experience and in order to understand this we also spoke with Emma Hanson, a CSU student in her third year.
As we sat down for our interview Hanson seemed a little nervous about the conversation ahead.
Emma Hanson previously attended high school in Colorado Springs and was raised in a typically more conservative household that doesn’t necessarily bring sex up at the dinner table.
In her sex education experience, there wasn’t one.
Hanson described her sex education as, “I wasn’t taught or didn’t go through a sex education program, I didn’t have that in my school up until college”.
In Emma’s case there was not an accurate representation of how to stay safe and healthy while being sexually active until she reached her freshman year of college and participated in CSU’s orientation.
The presentation from the Red Whistle Brigade during freshman orientation at CSU was brought up in my interview with Elizabeth Amoa-Awuah. I mentioned this freshman orientation experience being one of my only accurate sex education experiences as well and Elizabeth Amoa-Awuah was surprised. She explained that the freshman orientation talk isn’t actually about sex education at all.
Amoa-Awuah explained, “it’s interesting because it’s not even sex ed its entirely about consent”.
The topic covered in sex education have become so hushed that most people, myself included don’t even know what sex education actually includes in the curriculum.
As Amoa-Awuah has mentioned before, to even understand consent we need to be talking about all aspects of sexuality. She continues, “When I think about a big reason people don’t know how to ask for consent it’s because they don’t know how to talk about bodies and what they want to do”.
In this case, Emma Hanson had not received any curriculum growing up even at the most basic level of consent.
Insufficient sex education is also why we see rape culture so present in our society. People aren’t educated on the topic so the same jokes and stereotypes continue to be perpetrated daily.
When asked if she sees rape culture active in her life Hanson responded, “Absolutely. Unfortunately with friends and in classrooms and honestly sometimes in different curriculums you can see rape culture, which is pretty sad”.
If we can’t talk about important issues that come with the likes of sex education, our bodies, sexual abuse, and more then we will never be able to come up with solutions for growth in these areas as a culture.
These same issues will continue to create victims purely out of lack of education.