Op-ed: Asexual Benefits of Comprehensive Sexual Education
Written by an Advocates intern who wishes to remain anonymous
Sex education is awkward for everyone. Some young people recognize its importance, but listening to an adult you hardly know teach you and a room full of kids about sexuality is not a comfortable experience. With that as the baseline, you can imagine what asexual young people, like myself, might think of sex education. I don’t feel sexual attraction towards anyone of any sex or gender, so I thought of sex ed like it was a class on cattle ranching or ice climbing — vaguely interesting but not exactly applicable to my life. This outlook changed just this summer.
My work with the sex education nonprofit Advocates for Youth helped me understand how critical inclusive, honest, and complete sex education is for all young people, including myself and other asexual teens. Providing this kind of education is not nationally required, and this must be corrected. Sex education remains controversial in many communities. There are two main factions. Some argue for sexual risk avoidance (SRA) programs, which are just rebranded abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) programs, which instruct young people to delay sexual activity until they are in a monogamous, marital relationship, with emphasis on heterosexuality as the default. Others advocate for comprehensive sex education (CSE) programs, which include information on abstinence, but don’t stop there. These programs provide medically accurate, age-appropriate information about safer sex, sexual risk behaviors, healthy relationships, sexual and gender identities, human development, and more. Even though I am asexual, so information on safe sex is not directly applicable to my life, AOUM programs exclude information important to my life whereas the extensive CSE curriculum I received was incredibly valuable to me.
The most valuable unit for me was the one on LGBTQ+ issues. My school was imperfect in this area. Important issues were left out and the teacher made mistakes, but they still covered them. On the third day of the unit, my teacher mentioned the term ‘asexual,’ and something in me just clicked. For a long time, a part of me had thought I was broken. I had never had a crush or found anyone attractive, and I had no idea why, but my teacher’s passing comment gave me a name for what I felt, or didn’t feel, and assured me that there were other people like me. Sadly, many AOUM and SRA programs misrepresent LGBTQ+ issues by not mentioning LGBTQ+ people or only doing so in negative contexts, such as death and disease. If I had gone to a school with such a program, I might not have found this label, at least not yet, and I might still feel a little bit broken.
Through sex ed, I also gained a clinical understanding of sex, sexual relationships, and sexual risk behaviors. This made me a better friend because it allowed me to recognize unhealthy relationship dynamics and support my friends. Moreover, CSE curricula help build a foundation of skills, resources, and information that is invaluable to those not interested in sexual and romantic relationships. For example, our course covered open communication, healthy boundaries, and mutual respect, all of which are vital in platonic and familial relationships, as well as romantic and sexual ones. The central goal of sex education should be to help young people; to prepare them for a world full of complex choices surrounding sex, love, and relationships. Sex ed has the potential to provide this vital service, but it hasn’t yet lived up to that potential. Coverage of healthy relationships, sexual risk behaviors, and LGBTQ+ issues is invaluable for both sexually active teens and students like me. Comprehensive programs are required to cover these topics, but current federal grant eligibility requirements and state guidelines fail to require AOUM and SRA programs to do so.
As it stands, instead of equipping young people with the information they need to make informed decisions AOUM and SRA programs leave many young people in the dark left to their own devices to form their attitudes and understanding of sex, sexuality, relationships, and more. Our country’s patchwork quilt of inadequate sex education laws and regulation allows programs to leave out valuable information that can help equip students with the knowledge and skills to live healthy lives. Access to sex education that is honest, complete, and inclusive would produce well-informed young people and a better and safer world for us all. It is on all of us, students, teachers, administrators, officials, parents, and other adults, to make that a reality. It is time for us to urge our representative to take the health and wellbeing of young people seriously and improve sex ed regulations. Time to tell them that all students deserve the tools they need to build relationships, recognize sexual risk behaviors, and find their own identities. Every student deserves the chance to understand sex, love, and relationships. It is time our laws reflect this basic truth.