Leila Kalliel //
Sexual Education in K-12 schools is a subject which has long been a struggle to implement. From biological essentialism to pregnancy scares, schools just can’t seem to find an appropriate, helpful, realistic middle ground to base their curriculums around. But while the inefficacy of information distributed through sexual education has been a subject in the limelight for quite a few years now, an issue remains to be discussed: the underlying sexism informing the institution of public education, which continues to contaminate the content matter causing its infamy in the first place.
My personal experience in public schools leads me to believe that most programs have a rather essentialist approach to sexual education. We are taught abstinence, and to use condoms, but not about consent or personal pleasure. We learn about pubic hair and periods, but not about the chemicals in tampons or alternative products like menstrual cups.
Sexual education for women is presented to students in a way that, often, completely neglects discussions of female pleasure, and of the female orgasm altogether. Instead, we focus on reproduction, and how to avoid it—topics in which the male orgasm is no secret. Conversations about sex are almost wholly based around male ejaculation: the implicit goal of sex, and where the experience ends. This scientific, male-oriented approach subtly lays the foundation for a sexual culture in which sexual pleasure is ignored (even discouraged) for women, but seen as natural, and inevitable for men. Furthermore, sexual education in schools caters only to the heterosexual, cisgendered student, leaving out huge populations of developing people and stunting their abilities to think about sex as being normal and fun as well.
I think this has much to do with the time allotted, and the importance placed not only on sexual health but on sexual culture in American institutions. We already know about the sexist dress codes most schools implement for women, where a shoulder is immodest and short-shorts, a distraction. This kind of internalized misogyny seeps into all areas of public education, but becomes especially harmful when presented in conjunction with sexual education to developing populations. Women who are open about masturbation, sexuality, and pleasure, in general, are later seen as promiscuous, or as radical. Male masturbation, in contrast, is so normalized that it gets talked about every November.
There is huge neglect in lower education pertaining to women’s health—which is a vast, complex subject relevant to half the population, who are made to learn about it through trial and error, rather than in the very institutions supposed to prepare us for adulthood. Sexual education should be broader than the biological approach schools currently condone for the curriculum. We should discuss the more complicated questions, about things people probably aren’t able to ask their parents: subjects like personal pleasure, reciprocity in sex, clear forms of consent, and even how sex can affect relationships.
Sex isn’t a dirty or unnatural thing. Why would we bother bringing it to school in the first place if it were?