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Comprehensive Sexual Education Should Be a Right, Not an Afterthought

Maybe you remember your first time — where you were, how nervous you were to get it wrong, maybe how it felt to finally get it just right. We’re speaking of course about the first time you parallel parked — for real, without coaching, all on your own. You probably had some training to prepare you for this small feat — perhaps through a class, reading about it, or seeking the advice of an expert driver you know. Learning these life skills is important to keeping yourself and others safe.

Did you know that while driver’s education is mandatory for drivers under the age of 18 in Michigan, sex education is not? Education on HIV transmission is the only information required by law at Michigan public schools. All other information is at the discretion of each district. While many districts do offer further education, some do not. In those districts that do choose to implement further education, the curriculum often fails to be comprehensive, up-to-date, developmentally appropriate, and evidence-informed. Few districts work to ensure that lessons are inclusive and affirming of all sexual orientations and gender identities, so if you’re LGBTQkknd and wondering how that kind of safe sex works, good luck.

If you ask parents what they hope for their child’s sexual relationships in the future, many will have a lot to say. They might include all sorts of qualifications about when and with whom, but usually as a whole, they also want these experiences to be healthy, safe, and maybe even enjoyable. This starts with education.

What kind of education did you receive? Perhaps none. Maybe you remember sneaking into the magazine aisle of your grocery store to read sex tips before you even knew how sex worked, or giggling with embarrassment while hearing stories from your peers. Nothing has really changed about that, but what we have seen is a rise of misinformation online, the ability to engage in sexting, and the lack of understanding about consent during sexual acts. Education starting in high school is not soon enough. It is never too early to talk with a child about these topics — it is a lifelong conversation.

Let’s look at what we know. Research shows that young children who know the proper name for their body parts and who understand consent are at a far lower risk of sexual assault. LGBTQkknd youth experience fewer adverse sexual health, mental health, and social outcomes when they’ve had inclusive and affirming sexual health education. Receiving both knowledge and skill development around contraception, STI transmission, healthy relationships, and health services access allows young people to make informed choices about their sexual health. Maybe it’s a wild thought, but based on what we see, knowledge about how our bodies work really should be a basic human right.

These conversations need to be happening more. We need more champions for these issues, particularly from supportive adults like policymakers, health professionals, and parents. So next time you nail that parking job, thank the person who taught you how to safely parallel park — and maybe thank the person who taught you about sexual health, too.


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