I interned at the Planned Parenthood development department my sophomore year in high school. And while I learned a lot about targeted mailers and digitizing donor files, it in no way prepared me for the dozens of questions my peers have asked me throughout the years about sex, pregnancy and reproductive health.
I am not a doctor, nor do I intend to become one. But students lacking a safe space to candidly discuss their relationship issues felt comfortable talking to me. I, however, do not feel comfortable with the fact that many students felt that the only way to seek information about these issues is to ask their peers. As a senior in high school, I have yet to learn the state-mandated HIV and sexually transmitted infections education and prevention program, and my school does not offer any type of sexual education.
While some might consider this simply problematic, I find it dangerous.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost half of students have had sex once, with 33 percent reporting frequent sexual activity. A review of 48 comprehensive curriculum-based sex and STD/HIV education programs found that none of these programs increased the likelihood of teens having sex, while about two-thirds had a significant impact on reducing sexual risk behaviors among young people.
The CDC believes that schools play a critical role in STI and teen pregnancy prevention and are vital partners in helping young people take responsibility for their own health. There is significant evidence that shows the correlation regarding access to sex ed and lower rates of sexually transmitted diseases. This is even more important for campuses serving communities that are traditionally at a greater risk for contracting STIs. These schools have a greater responsibility to ensure students have the full scope of knowledge in order to make informed decisions about sex.
I attend a charter school, and I question how the lack of accountability to the standard school curriculum furthers the debate of how charters negatively impact students. I worry about how informed my peers’ decisions about sex are, and I’m concerned that parents aren’t engaging in dialogues about sex because they assume schools are providing it. I think about how my own, self-identified liberal parents didn’t talk with me at-length about the topic, because their other children received the necessary information via the education system. And while for some, sex-ed may evoke imagery of awkward high school gym teachers lecturing their students on the importance of contraception, the curriculum mandates are changing to meet the needs of LGBTQ and minority students.
Last June, I invited folks from Planned Parenthood to a school-wide exhibition of student work centered on public health issues. I got great feedback from parents, students and teachers who valued having access to information regarding reproductive health.
I’ve spoken to some teachers about what we can do to integrate state curriculum into the classroom, but there needs to be a more holistic approach to sexual education in San Diego schools, because too many students are slipping through the cracks.
Students deserve to be equipped to make responsible, healthy choices when they need to, whenever that might happen. Students deserve to learn about consent, and that sexual, or any type of abuse is never OK. Queer students deserve to have their identities affirmed. And all students have the right to be respected, heard and valued.
Ignoring the need for (or lack of) sexual education perpetuates taboos about sex, myths about contraception and can ultimately lead to ill-informed decisions. In an education system that promotes preparing students to become happy, healthy and productive adults, we are missing something. California’s new curriculum, which went into effect at the start of this year, has made providing information on abortion, sexual assault and consent and sexual harassment mandatory, but that doesn’t mean anything if it’s not actually being implemented by schools.
The state stopped auditing schools for curriculum compliance due to decreased funding from the CDC, but I believe that holding schools accountable is sometimes the only way to ensure students get access to sex ed.
Accessible sexual education is a right. And students have the right to utilize resources provided by the state without censorship. Without accountability, there is no action. I believe districts, including charter or alternative schools, must be audited for compliance. We need sex education for all – and it should be equitable, transparent and without apology.
Ana Little-Saña is a senior at e3 Civic High. Little-Saña’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.