We, Ndalo LA Mwamba and Crow Delavan, are two college students from Seattle who see that Washington’s approach to school sex education has flaws and shortcomings. We believe everyone should receive comprehensive sex education that prepares them with the resources and information they will need later in life.
Ndalo: Washington passed a law in 2020 requiring all public schools, beginning in the 2022-23 school year, to “provide comprehensive sex education to every student.” Schools should begin with social-emotional learning instruction for children in kindergarten through grade 3. From the fourth year, students must learn sex education several times until their senior year. I commend Washington State for being one of only 30 states who require this course.
I think the act is a good start from where we were a few years ago. But like any system, it can be strengthened to provide a safe space for every student from K-12.
I had my own bad experience with the class. I also believe that when children start learning about consensual sex, sexual assault will happen less because clear boundaries will be drawn. When I say sex education, I am not talking about teaching sex education with the intention of involving young children in it, but teaching sex education so that children, who will later become adults, fully understand the repercussions of their actions because they will be armed with knowledge.
Raven: For me, as a high school student, sex and health education is one of the most important courses taught in schools because basically every student will end up using the information. There is so much good that could come from a more inclusive and comprehensive sex ed curriculum, but also so much harm that can happen with an exclusive and limited curriculum.
Washington is ahead of many states when it comes to consent education. The state defines consent as “an agreement made or permission given without coercion, such as without force, threats, manipulation or intimidation.” State health standards include education about setting boundaries, unwanted contact, and other consent-related topics starting in kindergarten. Consent is multifaceted and can take many different forms, but it is not often featured in the media. For this reason, many students have misconceptions about what consent is and what relationships should look like, according to some researchers on the subject.
Children can and should learn to use consent in kindergarten, such as asking friends before hugging them. As children grow, consent can be taught in the context of all kinds and all aspects of relationships.
Ndalo: The law also lists abstinence as one of the contraceptives to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and limit unexpected pregnancies. While I understand this is just one method, I believe that teaching abstinence, also known as “sexual risk avoidance,” is not a realistic method to teach. Research shows that in adolescents,intentions to abstain from sex often fail.” Adolescence lasts until age 26, at least according to Dr. Daniel Siegel, who wrote “Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain.” This means that a teenager’s prefrontal cortex (where action processing happens) is not fully developed and teenagers think primarily with their amygdala, which is the part of the brain that regulates emotions. When you’re taught not to have sex for pleasure and you’re already not fully processing the information, your emotions will likely dominate you. I would rather accept that some teens engage in the sexual act and provide them with the tools to prevent negative repercussions than have them participate in the act and have no tools to deal with their actions.
Raven: Sex education often excludes any education or discussion about sexual pleasure, even if many students across the country believe it should be included. Most sex education classes discuss sex through the prism of prevention: preventing pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, or other undesirable consequences. But Studies show talking about pleasure in sex education classes can increase condom use. Lessons and conversations about sexual pleasure could also include basic education about masturbation, which is a safe way to experience sexual pleasure (without the risk of STDs or pregnancy).
Another thing often not mentioned in sex ed classes is porn. The problem: porn is very unrealistic and often an unhealthy portrayal of sex and what bodies should look like, and many college students see it as the norm when it comes to sex. Pornography has been linked to more internalized body ideals and gender roles. Sex education in schools could give students tools to differentiate pornography from reality.
LGBTQ-inclusive sex education is one of the biggest gaps in sex education in schools. Although openly gay students are a minority in most schools, gay sex education is helpful for everyone. I attended a trans sex education workshop at my school and was both excited to finally have a health lesson with useful information for me and disappointed that this kind of inclusive education didn’t not been given to everyone. Everyone is affected by LGBTQ issues, directly or indirectly, so it is not enough to passively acknowledge queer and trans people in sex ed lessons.
Ndalo: While I appreciate the progress Washington State has made, there are some things I find concerning. Teaching sex education once a year is not enough. Sex education classes should be mandatory throughout the school year if students are expected to retain the lessons they have been taught.
I hope this article reaches everyone on both sides of this issue and helps them understand that this course is not a requirement to encourage students to have sex, but to educate them about the results of sex . My dream is for sex education to become more focused and targeted so that sexual assaults nationwide decrease. When I learned that a third of women worldwide said they had been assaulted at least once, it made me feel like this world is failing women. Comprehensive sex education should teach about consent, help students recognize the onset of abusive relationships, and teach children how to move through the world being better people. From kindergarten to their senior year of high school, they should have the tools to protect themselves, and that’s what matters most.
Raven: I don’t want anyone to be afraid of the comprehensive sex education that we believe is necessary under Washington law. I want students to feel comfortable learning about their own health, and I want parents and teachers to understand why truly comprehensive and accurate sex education is important. We are not protected when information is withheld from us. We are safer when we have all the facts and tools we could possibly need.