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Sex Education in Schools

Sex Ed in public schools is usually oriented to heterosexual monogamy and contains little material pertinent to sexual and gender minorities. However, there are many online sources to which you can send your teens for good information.

 

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There are two types of sex education that are currently practiced in the United States. The first is AOUM, or abstinence-only-until-marriage; it focuses on heterosexuality and teaches that monogamous relationships are the standard of sexual activity and any sexual activity outside marriage leads to harmful physical and psychological effects [7]. The second type is EBIs or “evidence-based interventions” that claim to be more comprehensive and include scientific evidence as curricula. Yet, the sexual and reproductive health policies funded by the federal government are exclusionary and do not benefit from the scientific understanding of adolescent and minority sexualities. 

 

AOUM programs were the only federally funded sex education programs between 1998 and 2009 [1]. It wasn’t until 2004 that some states began refusing federal funding in order to curtail the presence of AOUM curricula. Since 2009, for a state to be eligible for federal funding, their respective school districts must choose between 35 EBI sex education programs [1]. EBIs are determined based on their effectiveness in three categories: preventing teen pregnancy, reducing STD/STIs, and reducing rates of sexual risk behaviors (described as any form of sexual activity, lack of contraceptive use, and multiple partners) [1].  These types of programs implement sex education for the sake of optimizing statistical results, not benefiting the lives of the students they reach. This is not a helpful structure for educational programs to follow.

Some states have adopted “No Promo Homo” laws [9,13]. These laws mandate that sex education must either be entirely silent about non-heterosexuality or discuss non-heterosexual orientation and sexual acts in a negative light [13].

Some states have adopted “No Promo Homo” laws [9,13]. These laws mandate that sex education must either be entirely silent about non-heterosexuality or discuss non-heterosexual orientation and sexual acts in a negative light [13]. Even in cases where states do include minority sexuality and sex in their curricula, sexual orientation and gender topics are only superficially covered [11]. Only 12 U.S. states require that sexual orientation be a topic of discussion [9]; 8 states restrict the teaching of LGBTQ+ related content entirely.

Other states have mandates that sex education must focus on monogamous heterosexual marriage exclusively [12]. The Sexuality Information and Education Council (SIECUS) of the U.S. defines comprehensive sex education as “age-appropriate medically accurate information on a broad set of topics relating to sexuality including human development, relationships, decision making, abstinence, contraception, and disease prevention.” [11] Unfortunately, this model is not the current reality of sex education in the United States.

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Various anxieties limit the possibilities for discussion of diverse and unique ways of experiencing gender and sexuality. These include the belief that minors will be confused by this information, that it will cause inner doubt and turmoil, that it will encourage reckless behavior, or otherwise that it is irreligious and “sexualizes children.” Many others, however liberal-minded they may be, simply believe that sex education should be confined exclusively to the role of protecting public health, and limit its coverage of sex and gender minorities to mere toleration.

Yet the belief that the diverse manifestations of sexuality and gender are “just not important enough” to fully explore in a school setting is marginalizing to students who are forced to listen continually to advice designed for the “norm,” while the apparently insignificant “aberrations” are ignored. Furthermore, it is simply not true. A lack of understanding about minority sexuality has been proven to foster more homonegativity and toxic school environments [1,5,6,13]. Plus, when LGBTQ+ terminology and sexuality are taught and understood, peers are more likely to intervene in situations where one student is being bullied based on their sexual orientation or gender expression [11].

Understanding the traditional vocabulary is one of the gateways to comprehensive and healthy conversation about minority sexuality. So, let’s start by reviewing some of it, beginning with the LGBTQ+ acronym. L stands for lesbian: a female who is mostly attracted to other females. G stands for gay: a male who is mostly attracted to other males. B stands for bisexual: a person who feels attractions to both males and females. The definitions of gay, lesbian, and bisexual rely on the concept that gender does include a binary: male and female. Although we understand that gender is not binary, but a spectrum, these two genders are integral to LGB as sexual orientations. If a gay, lesbian, or bisexual person’s gender does not fit within the binary, this does not make their sexual identity or orientation any less valid. Similarly, attraction to trans or gender fluid partners does not easily fit into gay vs. straight binaries.

T stands for transgender: a person whose gender identity is different from the sex that they are assigned at birth. Other terms that are important to know when talking about trans people are AFAB and AMAB. AFAB stands for “assigned female at birth” and AMAB stands for “assigned male at birth.” These two acronyms are helpful and non-violent ways of discussing trans people’s bodies without including potentially triggering names of genitalia or “biological sex.” Some trans people have had surgery or taken hormones to alter their bodies, but many who identify as trans do not. Never assume, and respect their privacy until they wish to share such information with you.

In the expanded LGBTQ+ (LGBTQQIAP) acronym, there are two Q’s. Queer, as a sexual orientation, is defined as an umbrella term for non-heterosexual people or people who are attracted to many genders. Queer can also be defined in reference to one’s gender identity or expression, in that it does not fit cultural norms [9]. The second Q stands for Questioning which is defined as a person who is unsure of and/or still exploring their sexual or gender identity.

I stands for Intersex: “a general term used for a variety of situations in which a person is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit in the boxes of ‘female’ or ‘male’.” It is important to remember that doctors still assign intersex babies a binary sex at birth [14]. Although there are many physical conditions that make a person intersex, the most common understanding of intersex individuals accounts for 1 in 1500 to 1 in 2000 births [18].

A stands for Asexual: this is an umbrella term for folks who generally have a lack of sexual desire and attraction towards others, a state that characterizes about 1% of the population; they may nevertheless be capable of emotional intimacy with a partner [17]. The Asexual umbrella also includes people who are aromantic: folks who might be able to create physically intimate connections more easily than emotional ones [16]. Some people who are asexual might have a complete aversion to sexual activity, others might have very limited or specific preferences and it is important not to generalize individuals based on the label they assume.

Finally, P stands for Pansexual. Pansexual is defined as people who have romantic or sexual attraction to people of all genders, including Trans and Gender-fluid individuals [9,15]. This is different from bisexuality per the definition not including specific genders; pansexual includes any and all genders.

Transgender, non-binary, and genderqueer identities have always had an uncertain position in the gay and lesbian rights movements throughout the 1970s and 80s. Some genderqueer people have been uncomfortable seeing transgenderism discussed under the same rubric of gay and lesbian sexualities, seeing genderqueer as an issue of bodily integrity and self-image rather than an issue of sexual acts and orientations [19]. At the same time, there have been some gay and lesbian activists who have felt that non-conforming gender identities and expressions are not comparable with the capacity to desire and love a person of the same sex [20].

However, both sexual orientation and gender identity are issues integrally connected to the notion of gender, and more specifically, the ways gendered bodies are culturally expected to perform [21]. Thus, anti-trans prejudice that opposes/mocks individuals for identifying and appearing as another gender is anti-homosexual as well, and vice versa [21]. This is why gender identity must be present in any inclusive sex ed curriculum.

Unfortunately, genderqueer issues are often discussed in an awkward and confused manner, even by educators with the best intentions. For one thing, there is a common assumption that all genderqueer people uniformly wish to transition into another gender immediately and entirely. This is not true. For one thing, many people identify as non-binary, which can include being “agender” (identifying as having no gender), “bigender” (identifying as both male and female), and “genderfluid” (being flexible about one’s gender identity and fluctuating between genders at various times) [22,23,25].

Some people may also feel more inclined to transition in one aspect of their lives than in another, e.g., perhaps someone who is AFAB may cut their hair short and wish that they had a goatee, yet not be as concerned about binding their breasts or deepening their voice [24].

Furthermore, gender dysphoria comes with its own unique set of complications in experiencing pleasure and intimacy. Not all genderqueer people, nor even all transgender people experience gender dysphoria, which is the sense of uneasiness people feel when their biological sex does not align with their gender identity [22], but those who do often have uncomfortable experiences during sex related to this dysphoria. Also, not all gender dysphoria is experienced in the same way. This is how one individual describes it:

“For me, I feel dysphoric about the size of my breasts. During sex, I usually ask my partners to avoid acknowledging or touching my chest in any way…sometimes my chest dysphoria is so strong that it’s all I can think about during sex. Any acknowledgment of my chest when my dysphoria is severe completely kills my sex drive. Other times, I feel more comfortable with the presence of my chest and want to be touched there. I have also had partners who…do not want to be touched below the waist at all. Other times, however, they may specifically ask me to touch them below the waist because they are not feeling dysphoric at the moment” [24].

Unfortunately, these issues are not often addressed in most sex ed classes, which contributes to transgender individuals scoring lower in both sexual self-concept and sexual pleasure than cisgender individuals [26,27]. This does not mean that we should in any way interpret genderqueer realities as a “problem” that needs to be solved. In fact, it can help open the door to more sexual communication in society, and even lead the way for cisgender people to express their fears and anxieties around sex.

Lastly, it it vital that all students, regardless of gender identity, hear about transgender, non-binary, and other genderqueer people, so they understand that presenting as another gender, identifying as another gender, and wanting to be affirmed by others as another gender do not stem from a personal flaw, an immorality, or a cognitive deficiency. It is a perfectly appropriate mode of self-expression and it is a genderqueer person’s human right to be treated with dignity and respect.

 Schools should therefore encourage the students to call people by the pronouns that match their gender identity, and destigmatize those who present in a gender non-conforming way. Studies show that gender affirmation has a considerable benefit to trans people’s mental health [28]. This is especially necessary considering the high levels of bigotry and violence genderqueer people are faced with. In fact, in some jurisdictions trans people can be charged with rape if they do not disclose their biological gender to a sexual partner [29]. This is due to the assumption that trans people are deceptions by their very existence. Genderqueer inclusivity in sex education is necessary for remedying such prejudices.

Sex is not an intellectual exercise, yet a life of sexual health, pleasure, and satisfaction requires thoughtfulness and intentionality. An especially critical component to a positive sex life is consent – both giving and receiving. Consent alone, however, is a poor barometer for measuring the ultimate quality of a sexual encounter. A person can say yes to sex and still have felt pressured, expected, or required to consent based on social and/or gendered scripts of when a person is “supposed” to say yes to sex [30,31].

“Autonomy” may be a better goal to strive towards. Children and teens should not only learn how to say no, they should internalize the fact that saying no is their right and the fear of causing offense, losing a partner, or being called a “tease” or a “prude” should never be leveraged against them to obtain sexual favors. That being said, children and teens should also understand the immorality of manipulating consent out of a person who is uncomfortable or uninterested. This is important, as this behavior is often seen as innocuous, and is sometimes even imperceptible to one or both partners as well as bystanders.

The simple reality of socio-sexual roles in modern culture is already a force limiting young people’s autonomy. These roles are usually built on hyperbolized and generalized depictions of sex differences. Boys are viewed as having an innate sexual urgency and an incapability of waiting, while girls are depicted as instinctively reluctant towards sex. According to popular wisdom, girls require affection, attention, romance, and courtship, with sex as the final frontier in the list of their desires. This puts girls who are interested in dating in a difficult spot: if they want sex early in a relationship they may be called a “slut,” but if they refuse sex for too long, they might be called a “tease” [30,32]

Boys, too, are expected to try and get through “all the bases” as fast as possible until they reach what is supposed to be their ultimate destination: full penetrative sex. Thus, if a boy is content with taking things a little slower, he may feel his masculinity challenged [30,31,32]. Sexual education needs to question these scripts and foster a sexual culture where people are both encouraged to communicate their personal erotic values and taught to never expect anything out of someone simply because their friends or the media told them to.

For rainbow youth, sexual autonomy is critical. Rainbow teens experience more sexual harassment than their heterosexual peers. This can involve unwanted touching, rumors spread about their sex lives, and inappropriate gestures and comments. Rainbow people are often seen as deviant by nature, which is why authorities tend to dismiss their complaints of sexual harassment as unimportant or something that they brought on themselves/“asked for” Bullying and Mental Health. Educators need to assert that members of sexual and gender minorities deserve no less respect or dignity than anybody else, and that their sexual orientation or gender identity is not an invitation to ignore their boundaries. In fact, rainbow students in states that fund comprehensive programs have lower odds of experiencing school-based victimization and mental health disparities [2,10].

Autonomy is no less important within same-sex relationships. As public same-sex dating and courtship are relatively new phenomena for straight parents, the “right” path a same-sex relationship should take has yet to be fully codified: who should be the first to ask for a date, who should initiate the sexual activity, when is it flirting vs. homosocial friendliness. This can cause confusion, but it is also a great opportunity for developing new relational modes outside of coercive social expectations.

Of course, this project becomes stuck in its track when educators leave the bulk of sex education to common prejudice, hearsay, media, and porn. Even though there has been no scientific evidence found to prove that consensual sex in adolescence is psychologically harmful, and school-based sexual education that teaches refusal skills lessens rates of sexual assault and exploitation during college, many who adhere to the “harmful to minors” doctrine would prefer to see minors abstinent even at the risk of lower self-confidence and knowledge as adults [7,8].

Teaching young people about sexual health should help to teach and instill feelings of sexual self-efficacy [3]. Wearing condoms, paying attention to a partner’s signals, and applying lubricants should feel as natural as changing clothes or brushing teeth. Having a higher level of comfort and experience talking before, during and after sex also puts teens in a better position to discuss contraception and STD/STIs [5]. Risks of HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections

For parents of trans children, as mentioned above, it is important that their children understand the potential danger of engaging in sexual activity with someone who may not be entirely aware of a transperson’s anatomical body [5]. Apart from a charge of sexual assault, transpeople may be attacked and even killed by partners who feel enraged after discovering their biological sex [33,34]. This is sometimes normalized as a justified response in a heteronormative culture fearful of all gender ambiguity. Teaching trans youth how to survive in such an environment must be done in conjunction with instilling in them a sense of pride and confidence.

In addition to discussing the diversity of sexual relational modes in a rainbow inclusive curriculum, it is also important to explore diverse sexual acts outside of the penile-vaginal penetrative model. Learning about sexual activities that acknowledge multiple forms of sexual desire prepares young people for engaging in them responsibly and safely once they feel ready. Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) has more success reducing sexual risk behaviors [7] if it includes discussion of non-penetrative sexual acts.

Not all gay male teens will want to engage in anal sex, but if they do, they should learn to take the time to discuss their desires and comfort levels, and remember the importance of condoms and plenty of water-based lubricants as necessary to avoid internal damage. Risk of bleeding and injury can also be mitigated by gradual relaxation of the sphincter with fingers or sex toys. Additionally, PrEP should be a topic of conversation for sexually active gay and bi-sexual boys and transwomen. PrEP is pre-exposure-prophylaxis which, when taken consistently, can reduce the risk of HIV transmission anywhere from 90 to 99% [13].

 In countries where young people have access to contraceptive education and counseling, the rates of pregnancy and STD/STIs are lower [7]. Even if a teen comes from a culturally conservative family, there are still ways to approach sexuality that are comprehensive and teach safe sex, while remaining respectful of both cultural and religious traditions.

A more inclusive and competent program would provide content that explains different desires people commonly experience, different sexual activities associated with different sexual orientations and gender identities, and an honest and informative presentation of non-heterosexual and non-penetrative sexual behaviors [4]. This includes anal sex, oral sex, and various approaches to masturbation. Teaching children and teens that masturbation and fantasizing is healthy and normal gives them the opportunity to explore their own bodies and figure out what feels good to them before engaging with other people’s bodies.

Every child and teenager is going to be learning something about sex, so it is best that they have as many science-based and life-affirming sources as possible. If they don’t hear it from adults, they will hear it from other kids, who are not always the best sources of accurate and responsible information. Teach them to be curious about sex and its possibilities for self-cultivation; show them that it is okay to feel shy, but never ashamed of their bodies and desires, and encourage them to ask for the answers to any questions they have. If your gay teen does not feel satisfied with their school’s sex ed curriculum, there are many possible alternatives you can point them towards. Don’t persuade them to believe that they need to be lectured by one person until they finally reach a point of “competent” sexual understanding. Rather, they should try to learn from many different people and consider all of them their equals, not their trainers.

Depending on your state, city, town, or county there may be other organizations outside of your children’s school that provide comprehensive, inclusive sex education. Some of these include Planned Parenthood, other local sexual health or medical clinics, local churches, and youth and/or community centers. Finding these might take a bit of research depending on your area and community, however, these organizations can help parents and children build a community of socially active and educated peers. A second valuable and reliable form of supplemental sex education may be accessed through the internet. If you do not have access to reliable internet, we have linked a few documents that work well as print-outs to be able to bring home and review with your children as well as helpful books and published literature.

 

Planned Parenthood: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn

OWL (Our Whole Lives): https://www.uua.org/re/owl

Scarleteen Website: https://www.scarleteen.com

Scarleteen is an excellent resource designed to give advice to teens and young adults who are struggling to figure things out. Teens can submit their own questions. We especially recommend the following articles:

(on asexuality)

https://www.scarleteen.com/article/advice/whats_wrong_with_a_lack_of_interest_in_or_desire_for_sex_nothing

https://www.scarleteen.com/article/advice/do_i_need_to_come_out_as_asexual

https://www.scarleteen.com/article/advice/im_asexual_but_my_partner_wants_to_have_sex_should_i_just_compromise_and_do_it

(dating for trans teens)

https://www.scarleteen.com/article/relationships_sexuality/navigating_dating_beyond_the_binary

(on bisexuality) https://www.scarleteen.com/article/advice/if_i_only_want_to_have_sex_with_women_but_not_date_them_am_i_bisexual

https://www.scarleteen.com/article/advice/internalized_biphobia_is_making_dating_seem_impossible

https://www.scarleteen.com/article/relationships/im_a_gay_guy_but_theres_this_girl

https://www.scarleteen.com/article/advice/yay_im_bisexual_how_can_i_block_out_all_the_negative_messages_stereotypes_i_hear_abou

https://www.scarleteen.com/article/advice/i_might_be_bi_and_am_not_sure_this_is_forever_is_it_wrong_to_have_sex_with_her

(on lesbian sex)

https://www.scarleteen.com/article/advice/how_can_a_lesbian_have_sex_with_a_dyke_or_how_good_consent_communication_is_the_answe

(on anal sex)

https://www.scarleteen.com/article/advice/we_really_liked_anal_sex_but_should_we_do_it_again

https://www.scarleteen.com/article/advice/im_a_guy_interested_in_receptive_anal_sex_does_that_mean_im_gay

All About S.E.X.: The Scarleteen Book: https://www.scarleteen.com/article/read/all_about_s_e_x_the_scarleteen_book

GLSEN Pronouns Guide: https://www.glsen.org/activity/pronouns-guide-glsen

GLSEN What Does It Mean To Be Gender Fluid: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4zL0siwE1DI

National LGBTQ Task Force – Institute for Welcoming Resources: http://www.welcomingresources.org

“Behind the Gender Binary” by Alok Vaid-Menon: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/611537/beyond-the-gender-binary-by-alok-vaid-menon-illustrated-by-ashley-lukashevsky/

Trans Youth Sexual Health Booklet: http://cdn0.genderedintelligence.co.uk/2012/11/17/17-14-04-GI-sexual-health-booklet.pdf  

ACLU Know Your Rights: A Guide For Trans and Gender Nonconforming Students: https://www.aclu.org/other/know-your-rights-guide-trans-and-gender-nonconforming-students

Finally, it is important that not only your child has access to quality sex education, but that the school they go to is committed to cultivating an environment of sex positivity and rainbow inclusivity. While it is of great importance that parents maintain a healthy and open conversation about sex and sexuality within the home, kids should also be having rich discussions about sex and sexuality at school alongside same-aged peers.

You and your teen both can contribute to building and guaranteeing comprehensive sex education. It is important to remain aware of the LGBTQ+ inclusion and rights movements so as to participate productively in dialogue with your children’s schools, school districts, state and federal governments. Below are informative resources to help parents and guardians contextualize their rainbow child’s education and social engagement.

Step 1: Familiarize yourself with your state’s sex education laws and policy. There are multiple ways to access this information. Some state Departments of Education will provide access to the most current state mandates on bullying, anti-discrimination, and sex education. Others may not have mandates on sex education. SIECUS has created a collection of state profiles and a policy map of sex education. Here you will find details of the most recent state policies regarding sex education, anti-discrimination and bullying laws: https://siecus.org/state-profiles-2019/ and https://www.glsen.org/policy-maps. Additionally, SIECUS has compiled resources from state legislatures each year with a list of upcoming legislation: https://siecus.org/resources/2022-state-of-sex-education-legislative-look-ahead/. Your resident state likely has at least one organization dedicated to LGBTQ+ rights and inclusive sex education. Using keywords from policy and legislation, you can often find these organizations with a simple Google search. These organizations often provide tool kits for inclusive education, advocacy, and local training/classes.

Step 2: Familiarize yourself with federal legislation, policy, funding, and organizations in order to further understand sex education in your state, school and home. The funding that your state receives is dictated by federal planning and lawmakers. Here is a list of national organizations that have compiled resources and information on funding and educational tools.

SIECUS: https://siecus.org

Federal Programs Funding Chart: https://siecus.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Federal-Programs-Funding-Chart-FY19-Mar-2019.pdf

AASECT: https://www.aasect.org

PFLAG: https://pflag.org

GLSEN: https://www.glsen.org

Action Center: https://www.glsen.org/action-center 

National LGBTQ Task Force: https://www.thetaskforce.org/

Queer the Census: https://www.thetaskforce.org/queerthecensus.html

Advocates for Youth: https://advocatesforyouth.org/resources-tools/

The Aro and Ace Advocacy Project: https://taaap.org/category/projects/creating-change/

Step 3: Familiarize yourself with your school district’s board and its sex education policy. Since sex education is dependent on policy-and content-contingent funding, certain school districts have more mobility to negotiate sex education resources and curricula than others. Attending school district board meetings is a great place to start. A productive goal to have would be negotiating one-on-one relationships and meetings with board members. Each board member has a different stance on educational priorities. It is important to have engaged in the larger state and federal discussions on LGBTQ+ social activism and comprehensive sex education so meetings are informed and productive. Having a child in the rainbow community only gives parents more leverage in discussing these life-affecting policies with policy makers and educators. SIECUS has a “Community Action Toolkit” that provides templates for in-writing and in-person questions or policy interventions for parents and community members: https://siecus.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/CAT-Sept-2018-Final.pdf.

Step 4: Check to see if your child’s school library, or your local library, has books with rainbow inclusive content. According to the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) 2019 School Climate Survey, only 48.9% of students said that they could find information about LGBTQ related issues in their school library, and 55.9% reported being able to access LGBTQ related information via school computers [35]. Parents can make sure libraries are committed to representing sex and gender diversity by letting school officials know when they are failing to include a proper range of materials. These books are sometimes unfairly targeted as “obscene” [36]. For a detailed look at censorship of LGBTQ materials in schools and ways to resist it, see this document prepared by Lambda Legal https://www.lambdalegal.org/sites/default/files/publications/downloads/fs_preventing-censorship-of-lgbt-information-in-pubilc-school-libraries_1.pdf.

Finally, the history of censorship in American schools as described above in step 4 deserves particular attention, especially considering recent developments in this country’s climate. American schools, spurred largely by political representatives and religious organizations, have a long history of banning books. These books are often those that challenge dominant socially conservative values such as nationalism, obedience to parents, deference to police officers, and the nuclear family. Lately, various forces have aligned themselves and mobilized against the teaching of more and more topics in public schools, and as of 2021, there have been 1,597 book challenges or removals. This is compared to 377 in 2019 and 273 in 2020 [37].

Of the books banned between July 1, 2021, and June 30, 2022, 50% explicitly address LGBTQ+ themes or have LGBTQ+ identified protagonists or secondary characters, and 40% contain protagonists or secondary characters of color [38]. In 2022, two books in particular are on trial in Virginia for obscenity: Gender Queer, a Memoir, by Maia Kobabe, and A Court of Mist and Fury, by Sarah J. Maas, and, under Virginia law, the court has the authority to block the distribution and sale of these books anywhere in the state by threat of criminal prosecution based on nothing but an allegation of obscenity [39].

Furthermore, Iowa State Representative Norlin Mommsen has even introduced a bill that would place video cameras in all public school classrooms (minus those for physical/special education) to allow parents to monitor their children’s teachers [40-43]. This is a direct assault on minors’ right to privacy, a right especially critical to sexual minority students who need people to confide in when they can’t trust their parents [41].

This unprecedented resurrection of social conservatism in educational policy has managed to get as far as it has by appealing to imagery of child sexual abuse and labelling all in opposition as “groomers,” (people who prepare children for sexual exploitation) [44,45]. For example, country music star John Rich, in a statement before the Tennessee Criminal Justice Subcommittee, asked:

“What’s the difference between a teacher, educator, or librarian putting one of these books…on the desk of a student or a guy in a white van pulling up at the edge of school when school lets out and saying come on around kids let me read you this book and show you these pictures. What’s the difference in those two scenarios? There is a difference by the way. They can run away from the guy in the white van” [46]. 

Conservative pundit Jesse Kelly has utilized Twitter to spread messages such as “Call them groomers and pedophiles,” “Put THEM on the defensive. Make THEM afraid,” and Stop worrying about what the media says. If they parrot Dem talking points, call them groomers too.” [44].

The sexual predator rhetoric, which has rhythmically resurfaced throughout American history in the midst of social change, has a particularly chilling effect and has cleared the stage for the development of measures that erode the privacy, liberty, and dignity of LGBTQ+ students [45]. What has no shelf life is the natural curiosity and defiance of children and teenagers and their ability to subvert adult paternalism. Via student activism and Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs), the young are doing most of this “grooming” themselves, and as they violate their own “innocence” (as it is imposed on them by adults), Michael Bronski writes that heteronormative society “has reason to be frightened not for but of its children” [45].

For instance, this is how one student addressed her high school’s censorship of material. Ella Scott, of Vandegrift High School, started a Banned Book Club. She runs the club with her best friend, Alyssa Hoy, and had the idea when she learned from Alyssa’s mom, a teacher, that their school district, the Leander Independent School District in Texas, had a list of books that were to be removed from their libraries, as well as barred from reading and discussion in English classes. The club meets biweekly and discusses different books that they choose from a document listing all of the books their school has banned [47].

In an interview with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), she explained that they did not have any trouble forming the club, but with getting access to the banned titles. Most teachers were supportive, though the school prohibited them from lending students any extra copies of these books they might have had. Instead, they posted a public Amazon wish list where donors could contribute [47].

When asked what advice she had for “other students who might want to take action against book bans and other efforts from adults trying to limit what they can read,” Scott replied:

I would say don’t be afraid to break boundaries. I think that was something I really learned from this experience. A lot of adults weren’t asking for student opinions in this book ban debate, but our club is giving it in a place where it wasn’t asked for and I think it has made a huge difference. It’s helping a lot of people understand that students do add value in this conversation, and our opinion is just as valid as anyone else’s.

She further stated,

“The best way to fight censorship is to get students involved in the conversation that adults say we shouldn’t be having” [47].

 

[1] Schalet, A. T., Santelli, J. S., Russell, S. T., Halpern, C. T., Miller, S. A., Pickering, S. S., Goldberg, S. K., & Hoenig, J. M. (2014). Invited Commentary: Broadening the Evidence for Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Education in the United States. Journal of Youth and Adolescence43(10), 1595–1610. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-014-0178-8

[2] Proulx, C. N., Coulter, R., Egan, J. E., Matthews, D. D., & Mair, C. (2019). Associations of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning-Inclusive Sex Education With Mental Health Outcomes and School-Based Victimization in U.S. High School Students. The Journal of adolescent health : official publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, 64(5), 608–614. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2018.11.012

[3] Impett, E. A., Schooler, D., & Tolman, D. L. (2006). To Be Seen and Not Heard: Femininity Ideology and Adolescent Girls’ Sexual Health. Archives of Sexual Behavior35(2), 129–142. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-005-9016-0

[4] Pingel, E. S., Thomas, L., Harmell, C., & Bauermeister, J. A. (2013). Creating Comprehensive, Youth Centered, Culturally Appropriate Sex Education: What Do Young Gay, Bisexual, and Questioning Men Want? Sexuality Research and Social Policy10(4), 293–301. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13178-013-0134-5

[5] Newcomb, M. E., Feinstein, B. A., Matson, M., Macapagal, K., & Mustanski, B. (2018). “I Have No Idea What’s Going On Out There:” Parents’ Perspectives on Promoting Sexual Health in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Adolescents. Sexuality Research and Social Policy15(2), 111–122. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13178-018-0326-0

[6] Colpitts, E., & Gahagan, J. (2016). The utility of resilience as a conceptual framework for understanding and measuring LGBTQ health. International Journal for Equity in Health15(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12939-016-0349-1

[7] Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine (2017). Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Policies and Programs: An Updated Position Paper of the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine. The Journal of adolescent health : official publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, 61(3), 400–403. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2017.06.001

[8] Santelli, J. S., Grilo, S. A., Choo, T. H., Diaz, G., Walsh, K., Wall, M., Hirsch, J. S., Wilson, P. A., Gilbert, L., Khan, S., & Mellins, C. A. (2018). Does sex education before college protect students from sexual assault in college?. PloS one, 13(11), e0205951. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0205951

[9] Rissacher, J. (2019). 7 Things They Should’ve Taught You In Sex-Ed But Didn’t. One Love. https://www.joinonelove.org/learn/7-things-shouldve-taught-lgbt-inclusive-sex-ed-didnt/

[10] Slater, H. (2013, June 21). LGBT-Inclusive Sex Education Means Healthier Youth and Safer Schools. Center for American Progress. https://www.americanprogress.org/article/lgbt-inclusive-sex-education-means-healthier-youth-and-safer-schools/

[11] Baams, L., Dubas, J. S., & van Aken, M. A. (2017). Comprehensive Sexuality Education as a Longitudinal Predictor of LGBTQ Name-Calling and Perceived Willingness to Intervene in School. Journal of youth and adolescence, 46(5), 931–942. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-017-0638-z

[12] Hodel, D., Levi, J., & De Biasi, A. (2016). Furthering the Adaptation and Implementation of LGBTQ-Inclusive Sexuality Education. Trust for America’s Health. https://www.tfah.org/wp-content/uploads/archive/assets/files/TFAH-2016-LGBTQ-SexEd-FINAL.pdf.

[13] Williamson, H., Howell, M., & Batchelor, M. (2017). Our Bodies, Our Lives, Our Voices: The State of Black Women and Reproductive Justice. In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda. http://blackrj.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/FINAL-InOurVoices_Report_final.pdf

[14] Unitarian Universalist Association. (n.d.). Queer 101: Identity, Inclusion, and Resources. https://www.uua.org/lgbtq/identity/queer

[15] Planned Parenthood. (n.d.). What’s intersex? https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/gender-identity/sex-gender-identity/whats-intersex

[16] Planned Parenthood. (n.d.). Sexual Orientation. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/sexual-orientation/sexual-orientation

[17] LGBTQ Life at Williams. (n.d.). 10 Things You Need To Know About Asexuality. https://lgbt.williams.edu/homepage/10-things-you-need-to-know-about-asexuality/

[18] Intersex Society of North America. (n.d.). How common is intersex? https://isna.org/faq/frequency/

[19] Rubin, G. (2011). Deviations: A Gayle Rubin Reader (pp. 229-230). Duke University Press Books.

[20] Aravosis, J. (2007, October 8). How did the T get in LGBT? Salon. https://www.salon.com/2007/10/08/lgbt/

[21] Stryker, S. (2007, October 11). Why the T in LGBT is here to stay. Salon. https://www.salon.com/2007/10/11/transgender_2/

[22] National Health Service. (2020, May 28). Overview: Gender Dysphoria. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/gender-dysphoria/

[23] Planned Parenthood, (n.d.). What do I need to know about transitioning? https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/gender-identity/transgender/what-do-i-need-know-about-transitioning

[24] Stephenson, S. (2019, June 27). How to Navigate Gender Dysphoria During Sex. Teen Vogue. https://www.teenvogue.com/story/how-to-navigate-gender-dysphoria-during-sex

[25] Kandola, A. (2021, May 10). What does nonbinary mean? Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321529

[26] Kennis, M., Duecker, F., T’Sjoen, G., Sack, A. T., & Dewitte, M. (2022). Sexual Self-Concept Discrepancies Mediate the Relation between Gender Dysphoria Sexual Esteem and Sexual Attitudes in Binary Transgender Individuals. Journal of sex research, 59(4), 524–536. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2021.1951643

[27] Gieles, N. C., van de Grift, T. C., Elaut, E., Heylens, G., Becker-Helby, I., Nieder, T. O., Lann, E. T. M., & Kreukels, B. P. C. (2022). Pleasure please! Sexual pleasure and influencing factors in transgender persons: An ENIGI follow-up study. International Journal of Transgender Health, https://doi.org/10.1080/26895269.2022.2028693

[28] Glynn, T. R., Gamarel, K. E., Kahler, C. W., Iwamoto, M., Operario, D., & Nemoto, T. (2016). The role of gender affirmation in psychological well-being among transgender women. Psychology of sexual orientation and gender diversity, 3(3), 336–344. https://doi.org/10.1037/sgd0000171

[29] Sims, A. (2016, June 11). Trans people could ‘face rape charges’ if they don’t declare sexual history, warns trans activist. Independant. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/trans-people-could-face-rape-charges-if-they-don-t-declare-sexual-history-warns-trans-activist-a7076546.html

[30] Blueheart. (2021, December 23). Sexual Scripts. https://www.blueheart.io/post/sexual-scripts

[31] Marshall, E. A., Miller, H. A., & Bouffard, J. A. (2021). Bridging the Theoretical Gap: Using Sexual Script Theory to Explain the Relationship Between Pornography Use and Sexual Coercion. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 36(9–10), 5215–5238. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260518795170

[32] Hust, S. J. T., Rodgers, K. B., & Bayle, B. (2017). Scripting Sexual Consent: Internalized Traditional Sexual Scripts and Sexual Consent Expectancies Among College Students: Scripting Sexual Consent. Family Relations, 66(4), 197-210. https://doi.org/10.1111/fare.12230

[33] Mallory, C., Sears, B., Vasquez, L. A. (2021). Banning the Use of Gay and Trans Panic Defenses. Williams Institute. https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Gay-Trans-Panic-Apr-2021.pdf

[34] Winter, E. (2022, August 4). Yes, the gay and trans ‘panic’ defense is still legal in a majority of states. Verify. https://www.verifythis.com/article/news/verify/courts/gay-trans-lgbtq-panic-defense-legal-federally-banned-some-states/536-04e0d3e1-6668-4dbf-b51e-da2a585396f2

[35] Kosciw, J. G., Clark, C. M., Truong, N. L., Zongrone, A. D. (2020). The 2019 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Youth in Our Nation’s Schools. GLSEN. https://www.glsen.org/sites/default/files/2021-04/NSCS19-FullReport-032421-Web_0.pdf

[36] The United States Department of Justice. (2021). Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS). https://www.justice.gov/criminal-ceos/obscenity

[37] Natanson, H. (2022, April 7). More books are banned than ever before, as Congress takes on the issue. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2022/04/07/book-bans-congress-student-library/

[38] Friedman, J., & Johnson, N. F. (2022). Banned in the USA: Rising School Book Bans Threaten Free Expression and Students’ First Amendment Rights. PEN America. https://pen.org/banned-in-the-usa/

[39] Eidelman, V., Block, J., Callahan, M. (2022, June 29). It’s 2022 and Two Books Are on Trial for ‘Obscenity.’ ACLU. https://www.aclu.org/news/free-speech/bans-books-on-trial-for-obscenity

[40] Blest, P. (2022, February 3). The GOP Wants Cameras in Classrooms to Fight Teachers’ ‘Sinister Agenda.’ Vice. https://www.vice.com/en/article/bvnynd/gop-cameras-classrooms-iowa

[41] Webb, T. J. (2022, May 12). Enabling Child Abuse in Florida. Center for a Stateless Society. https://c4ss.org/content/56704

[42] Thoreson, R. (2022, February 17). Florida Advances ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill. Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/02/17/florida-advances-dont-say-gay-bill

[43] CS/CS/HB 1557 – Parental Rights in Education. (2022). https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2022/1557/BillText/er/PDF

[44]  Natanson, H., & Balingit, M. (2022, April 5). Teachers who mention sexuality are ‘grooming’ kids, conservatives say. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2022/04/05/teachers-groomers-pedophiles-dont-say-gay/

[45] Bronski, M. (2022, May 3). Grooming and the Christian Politics of Innocence. Boston Review. https://www.bostonreview.net/articles/grooming-and-the-christian-politics-of-innocence/

[46] Mojica, A. (2022, February 25). Country star John Rich compares ‘obscene’ books in Tenn. schools to predators ‘grooming’. Fox 17 WZTV Nashville. https://fox17.com/news/local/nashville-tennessee-country-music-john-rich-compares-obscene-books-in-tennessee-schools-to-predators-grooming-politics-usa-news

[47] Lopez, E. (2022, September 19). How to Start a Banned Book Club. ACLU. https://www.aclu.org/news/free-speech/how-to-start-a-banned-book-club

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1 Comment

  • Ryan
    Posted June 9, 2023

    Hi, I am preparing to serve on a school board in the pacific northwest and this is a topic of discussion that comes up occasionally. I am curious, is there a nexus between abuse prevention and comprehensive and inclusive sex education?

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