The Arizona Department of Education recently held a public meeting to discuss whether statewide sexual education should be modified.
Some parents and community members at the meeting advocated to keep the current curriculum, which focuses on abstinence-only education, rather than altering it to include LGBTQ+ topics.
However, not allowing students to partake in inclusive sex education in high school predisposes them to both health and emotional risks when they get into college.
John Santelli, a professor of pediatrics and public health at Columbia University, wrote in the Washington Post that studies have disproven the effectiveness of abstinence-only education.
"Abstinence-only programs do not prepare young people for life — and they do a poor job of preparing them to avoid sex," he wrote. "My training in pediatrics and medical ethics suggests that we instead should give young people all the information they need to protect themselves and to promote lifelong healthy sexuality."
Not only is it necessary to have comprehensive and accurate sex education, but that education must also be inclusive of LGBTQ+ students.
“I remember feeling so relieved for dating a man at the time because it sort of gave me some cover," said Anne Mickey, facilitator of advocacy for Rainbow Coalition and a graduate student studying mass communication. "I felt the sex ed curriculum was deliberately trying to exclude people like me."
Familiarity with inclusive sex ed does not equate to being sexually active or even intending to have sexual relations with a member of the same sex or gender.
“Even if you never use the knowledge ... maybe you’ll be the person someone asks if they’re questioning,” said Alicia Coberley, a senior studying medical sciences and member of Confetti.
Teaching sex ed strictly from a heterosexual and cisgender viewpoint alienates students who may not align with such identities, leaving entire demographics vulnerable to harmful situations once they become sexually active.
It also dismisses the reality that for some students, college is a time where the added independence gives them the opportunity explore or discover their sexuality and gender identity.
This can mean that what they learned in their sex ed courses may no longer even apply to them.
According to a 2015 study by the Public Religion Research Institute, only 12% of millennials claim that their sexual education courses covered same-sex relationships at all.
“I knew a lot about contraceptive use and preventing STDs, but it wasn’t helpful for male and male or female and female type of sex," Coberley said.
The Arizona legislature repealed its infamous “No Promo Homo” laws this year, which barred public institutions from referencing homosexuality in the classroom. However, the Arizona Department of Education has yet to implement a new sexual education curriculum to take advantage of the repealed statute.
“I think that it would be a mistake to think the repeal of the No Promo Homo law is in and of itself a step toward progress," Mickey said. "It’s not enough to eliminate overt homophobic language, it’s about replacing those things."
It is the responsibility of public educational institutions to provide all-encompassing sexual education that is accessible to all students.
However, for those who don't receive such education in high school, there are organizations on campus that support a more inclusive curriculum.
Groups such as Devils in the Bedroom, Planned Parenthood Generation Action and Confetti are working to bridge the sexual education gap that students often face.
“Looking back at it now, we should not have had the burden of teaching ourselves and other kids about this,” Mickey said.
Reach the columnist at email@example.com or follow @JennyGuzmanAZ on Twitter.
Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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