Let’s Promote Shame-Free Sex Ed

Posted on July 8, 2021


Sexual shame is a huge part of American culture. I’ve spent far too much time and energy dealing with America’s sexual hang-ups, in my own life, and as a parent, teacher, and mentor to young people.

What passes as “Sex Ed” in the local school district should be re-titled for accuracy,”Christian Propaganda About Sex: Purity, Patriarchy, and Punishment.” The “Sex Ed” curriculum in high school “Health” class does precious little to promote sexual health in individuals or our community.

In fact, it’s not even called “Sex Ed” or, as the CDC titles it, “Sexual Health Education.” The very framing of the information provided to students raises a red flag. By titling the course, “Family Life Education,” bodily autonomy is denied to students, by implicitly suggesting that all sexual behavior is related to procreation.

In this course, public school students are exposed to Christian purity propaganda, as evidenced by the emphasis on all things CIS-gender, heterosexual, and reproductive. Note the Christian moral tone and vocabulary in the course description:

Family Life Education includes family planning, human sexuality and the emotional, physical, psychological, hygienic, economic and social aspects of family life. Instruction may include the subjects of reproductive health and the recognition, prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted disease. …it shall include abstinence from sex as a responsible method of preventing unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease and as a positive lifestyle for unmarried young people.

ADRIAN PUBLIC SCHOOLS NEPN Code: IGAH-R Policies and Regulations

The poor quality of the local curriculum is evident in what ISN’T said–and who isn’t included–in addition to what is stated. Notice the absence of the individual, LGBTQIA folks, and the overall narrow view of sexuality (pregnancy, disease, and abstinence). Contrast this course description with that of an inclusive, science-based curriculum, such as that found on the CDC website:

What is sexual health education?

Quality sexual health education (SHE) provides students with the knowledge and skills to help them be healthy and avoid human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), sexually transmitted diseases (STD), and unintended pregnancy. A SHE curriculum includes medically accurate, developmentally appropriate, and culturally relevant content and skills that target key behavioral outcomes and promote healthy sexual development. The curriculum is age-appropriate and planned across grade levels to provide information about health risk behaviors and experiences. Sexual health education should be consistent with scientific research and best practices; reflect the diversity of student experiences and identities; and align with school, family, and community priorities.

Quality sexual health education programs share many characteristics. These programs:

Are taught by well-qualified and highly-trained teachers and school staff

Use strategies that are relevant and engaging for all students

Address the health needs of all students, including the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth

Connect students to sexual health and other health services at school or in the community

Engage parents, families, and community partners in school programs

Foster positive relationships between adolescents and important adults.

Adolescent and School Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Another problematic aspect of the local “Family Health” curriculum, and more evidence of Christian propaganda is that the PUBLIC SCHOOL advisory board on sex ed includes local clergy, who are definitely not non-partisan health experts. In a community with a diverse population, including many families that not only don’t practice Christianity, but who reject its teachings as harmful and/or who are in recovery from religious trauma at the hands of Christian or other religious leaders, it is inappropriate to include religious advisors–unless the clergy-person also has formal education in Sexual Health. Adrian Public Schools is not alone in its low-quality sex ed curriculum. Many public school “health” programs are infected with Christian religious propaganda. According to the 2018 School Health Profiles, “Across states, fewer than half of high schools (43%) and less than one-fifth of middle schools (18%) teach key CDC topics for sexual health education.”

When I was a high school senior, I signed up for a course in Human Sexuality at Jackson Community College. I was not yet 18, so I had to have my mom sign a permission slip to view the films that were part of the course, but she had no problem with it. She knew she was too uncomfortable to talk about the subject because of the sexual shame she felt, so she was glad to know that I was getting the information I needed on my own. I am SO glad I took that course! In one semester, I learned that my body, my sexuality, and my sexual health are MINE TO ENJOY, and that humans engage in a wide range of sexual behavior, that each of us has our own likes/dislikes, and THERE’S NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF. I learned about all kinds of human sexual behavior in a safe space, where ALL human sexual expression was presented from a factual, evidence-based, nonjudgmental perspective by an engaging teacher, Dr. Michael Walraven. It was life-changing and enabled me to fully enjoy my sexuality, accept the full range of human sexual behavior, and reject the sexual shame with which Puritanical Christian mores poison conversations about sexuality.

All children deserve to learn true facts about sexuality, free from religious propaganda and sexual shame, but far too many get a load of religious horseshit. In her video, Purity, Promiscuity, and The American Teenager, Elexus Jionde, who earned a degree in History from Ohio State University, explains some of the cultural forces that brought us to a place where our tax dollars pay for public school students to learn religious propaganda in “Family Health” classes. This video is just ONE of her many excellent videos that focus on sexuality from a historical, sociological, and sex-positive perspective.

I remember the day a few years ago, when I listened to my students after they had been forced to listen to a presentation that focused on sexual shame in which a local judge, who was a proponent of a “Biblical model of marriage” called a student volunteer onto the stage, taped her to a boy, symbolizing a sexual relationship, then un-taped them. According to the judge, her tape, symbolizing her sexual self, was now “damaged goods” and would doom her to a weaker bond to her future spouse.

The student was, understandably, mortified that she had been abused in such a way by a representative of the government, and her classmates were outraged. They immediately reported the incident and called for a ban on this mandatory assembly for seniors. But this was not the judge’s first presentation of sexual shame for senior students; he had been doing it for years. The difference was that the students knew that his “dating advice” shtick was religious propaganda, not sexual health education–and they reported it as a violation of church-state separation.

Religious propaganda has no place in a public school Sexual Health course, and religious leaders should have NO place on an advisory board for a public school Health curriculum, unless they are experts in Sexual and/or Public Health. It’s time for public schools to serve ALL members of the public by providing students with comprehensive, evidence-based, shame-free, Sexual Health Education. If Christians want to continue to teach sexual shame, let them do it in their homes, on their own time, and on their own dime. Abstinence Education is Christian propaganda and should be extricated from all public school curricula. Public schools should provide ALL students with a safe environment where they can learn accurate Sexual Health Education that helps them enjoy a long and healthy sex life, free of shame.

lisa eddy is a writer and editor for-hire, researcher, educator-for-hire, youth advocate,  musician, and gardener.

On Twitter: @lisa_eddy
On email: lisagay.eddy1@gmail.com