During sex-ed in seventh grade, a girl asked if sperm could crawl up your leg and impregnate you in that way. We all laughed while secretly waiting for the answer. Sex and sexuality have become such taboo subjects, that they can feel almost impossible for youth to navigate. As a now 20-year-old girl, I wish that I had gone through an adolescence where I didn’t cry out of embarrassment the first time I had my period, and realized that masturbation wasn’t only okay for guys.
As a 5-year-old, I wish I’d practiced setting boundaries and ways of telling my friends that I didn’t want to be hugged at that moment.
As an 8-year-old, I wish I’d discussed gender stereotypes and been taught about self-image.
As a 10-year-old, I wish I’d had conversations about the changes that happen with puberty, gender identity and sexual orientation.
As a 12-year-old, I wish I’d been taught about the impact of social media, in terms of expectations as well as confidentiality when it comes to personal conversations and images.
To put it simply, I wish I’d had a comprehensive sex education. This would mean that by the time I reached an age where sex was discussed, my understanding would go far beyond simply risk prevention. In ninth grade, pregnancy wouldn’t be taught only as an issue for women, because we would’ve had time to unpack aspects of gender and gender stereotypes in 4th grade. LGBTQ+ youth and students of color wouldn’t at the end of high school be disproportionately affected by untreated STDs, because awareness of resources and loss of taboo would’ve been promoted equally from the beginning of middle school.
An open space to have conversations about sex, gender and sexuality should be available to all students in the SMMUSD. This can be accomplished by getting this comprehensive version of sex-ed implemented into the curriculum every year, K-12.
This is not simply my own wishful thinking. These ideas are based on research conducted by the Dutch Institute for Sexual Development in Youth, and what they deem developmentally appropriate for different ages. It’s another way of understanding sex-ed and it reshaped the Netherlands’ school curriculum: one I wish I’d had access to.
The SMMUSD lives up to the California sex-ed requirements of teaching medically accurate sexual health and HIV prevention. While it is great that every kid learns what birth control and a condom is, teaching sex-ed in this way only is a misconstrued idea of everything that sex education can and should be. Sex-ed should be a place where we’re taught how to navigate our bodies and feeling, and not only how to “be safe” but also feel safe.
It may at first seem counterintuitive that these topics should be taught in a classroom, as they’re social rather than academic concepts. But it’s a mistake to write school off as entirely academic. It is where we have our first socializations and experiences outside of the home. Sexual development, a vital part to coming of age, therefore also has a place.
Some parents are strongly against sex-ed, believing that it violates their right to control how much their kids know about sex and sexuality. However, sexual development is something that all kids experience. The questions exist, whether they’re answered or not. So shouldn’t the children’s right to accessible and medically accurate information on the subject matter trump parents want to control?
This is especially true, considering the impact comprehensive sex-ed has on teen sexual health. The Netherlands have been conducting sex education in this way for years, usually starting at age 4, and their results are remarkable. Contrary to popular belief, Dutch teens do not have sex earlier, but they do commonly have safer as well as “fun and wanted” first sexual experiences. In comparison, a majority of American teens regret their first time. The U.S. also has higher STD rates and a teen pregnancy rate 5 times higher than that of the Netherlands.
Comprehensive sex-ed will result in fewer STDs, unintended pregnancies AND make youth more capable of expressing themselves, their wishes and their boundaries. The narrow focus of American sex-ed on the other hand, leaves youth untrained at handling their feelings and navigating decisions in terms of sexual encounters – resulting in youth both feeling and being unsafe. The long term mental and physical health benefits of thorough sex-ed are undeniable. With physical and mental wellbeing directly related to academic performance, devoting time to comprehensive sex-ed is not in contradiction to the desire for better academic results for students, but can instead be seen as a contributing factor. As a leading district on so many parameters – academics, sustainability, music – it is time that the we also up our sex-ed standards: for the health and wellbeing of the children that go through it.
Melker, Saskia de. “The Case for Starting Sex Education in Kindergarten.” PBS, Public
Broadcasting Service, 27 May 2015, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/spring-fever.
Schalet, Amy T. “Beyond Abstinence and Risk: A New Paradigm for Adolescent Sexual
Health.” Women’s Health Issues, Elsevier, 1 May 2011,
UNFPA. “Comprehensive Sexuality Education.” United Nations Population Fund,
Siri Storstein is a Santa Monica resident.