Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill earlier this month mandating sexual health education for all students in public schools from seventh to 12th grade as of Jan. 1, 2016.
Prior to this, state law merely sanctioned schools to teach “age-appropriate” reproductive health education and only mandated that they educate students about HIV/AIDS.
Though Brown’s law is a start to securing comprehensive sex education, schools must take a broader approach and widen their spectrum of topic to incorporate LGBT and consent issues.
In a 2013 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of high school students in the U.S., nearly 41 percent did not use a condom the last time they had sexual intercourse, and 87 percent had never been tested for HIV.
The new bill requires that schools “affirmatively recognize that people have different sexual orientations,” but teaching students that same-sex relationships exist is not the same as providing comprehensive sexual education to LGBT students. These students deserve to learn the logistics of sex in order to better protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections and diseases.
Brown also signed Senate Bill 695 earlier this month, which requires schools to teach students about sexual harassment and violence, including the concept of affirmative consent, in districts where a health class is mandatory for graduation.
As wonderful as it is that affirmative consent education is now mandatory for a handful of teenagers, students should be taught about consent throughout their educational career. Building a foundation of affirmative consent is key to changing the culture of victim blaming that surrounds sexual assault, California State Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Kevin de León said in an interview with the New York Times.
“Sexual violence has always thrived in the gray areas of the law,” de León said. “What we want to create is a standard of behavior, a paradigm shift as much as a legal shift. We’re no longer talking about the old paradigm of the victim being blamed for their own behavior.”
In order to achieve such a shift, consent should be taught hand in hand with sexual education, no matter the grade level.
Unlike math, science or English, sex health education impacts the most intimate facets of our lives. By equipping students with the right tools to navigate the complicated sexual landscape at an early age, we can de-stigmatize and demystify sex, helping keep them and their partners healthy.