Research Findings: Young People Know What They Want To Know About Sex

Throughout the research period, I will post research findings in an academic format to show off my fancy knowledge. This Research Findings report details the stuff sex education teachers left out that students noticed – and went online to learn about.

Any teachers, politicians, administrators, or parents who thought sex education with limited information was helping to keep their kids out of trouble (or whatever nonsense adults believe) were wrong. This probably isn’t surprising to the 95 percent of American teens who do it before they get married, or the eleven percent of women who engage in same-sex sexual acts despite never having learned they were possible in class – both scenarios that I discussed earlier. Young people are very aware of the shortcomings of their sex education curricula, and they’re not missing a beat in figuring out what is left unsaid.

Louisa Allen engaged over 1180 young people in surveys and focus groups in order to collect data for her article “‘They Think You Shouldn’t Be Having Sex Anyway’: Young People’s Suggestions for Improving Sexuality Education Content.” The article illuminates that one of the main problems with sex education is that the curriculum is written by the presumably well-educated-via-actual-experience, only those people are about thirty years older than their students:

“It has been recognized that to be effective, sexuality education must meet the needs and interests of young people … However, this acknowledgment has often manifested in adults ultimately determining what young people’s needs and interests are” (573).

When Allen sought out data, she learned that students were not quite as simple as educators had hoped. Respondents expressed desires to disuss controversial topics ranging from abortion and pregnancy to (I can’t even say how big a gasp this is) pleasure in their curriculum. For educators, she has seen that this is easily dismissed – but they should not be so eager to forget what students want (581). Students are more likely to engage and actually learn when they are discussing topics they find relevant and meaningful in the classroom, so listening to them may be the best idea anyone has ever had (589).

Students expressed that sex education had provided them with a clinical approach to sex that kind of grossed them out, and left them wondering exactly what the big secret was (588). When educators act as though they’ve never enjoyed sex, teens see right through it – and they want something more genuine. They are interested in learning about sex from an emotional and intimate perspective, instead of a technical approach (588).

One of the largest commonalities across data occurred in the arena of pleasure. 56 percent of respondents in Allen’s study expressed that they wanted to know more about pleasure, and alluded to never having heard a sex education teacher say the word “orgasm,” wishing they know where the “g-zone” was, and learning about consent, or, “how to get it” (578). This also shows that young people are sexual beings, and that their sex education should reflect that they may already be experiencing sexual activity or sexual desire. By presenting sex as a scientific process that occurs later in life, sex education is thwarted in purpose by appearing out-of-touch and irrelevant (581).

Similarly, Christopher Michael Fisher’s findings about sex education, based in interviews with gay male youth and entitled “Queer Youth Experiences With Abstinence-Only Sexuality Education: ‘I can’t Get Married So Where Does That Leave Me?’,” exposed that queer youth recognize when they are being rendered invisible in the classroom, and that they aren’t happy about it:

“I think the fact that also I never really saw another person or felt like I saw another person like me made a huge impact as well, because I felt just like such, I don’t know, an outcast, ostracized completely” (70).

“The silence perpetuated by abstinence-only sexuality education reinforced a heteronormative environment which led participants to feel excluded, depressed, and psychologically disadvantaged. […] When asked how not being talked about in class made him feel, Jose, age 21 at the time of the interview, responded, ‘FUCK that! NOT good! Not good at all'” (71).

Fisher states that “heteronormativity is a central tenet of abstinence-only-until-marriage sexuality education,” and that it encourages queer youth to “play into” heterosexual ideals in order to belong or experience pleasure (69). This is a form of active silence – it renders queer experiences invisible, unwanted, and degenirated (69).

Young people are having sex and they want to talk about sex – because let’s face it, if we didn’t, why would I have chosen this topic in the first place and why would have of these sources I’ve used even exist? Beyond that, however, lies statistical proof that sex education is in the wrong. There are steps that can be taken to queer the classroom: including senstivity training, the traching of queer life stories in the classroom, providing more queer learning spaces in schools, and allowing queer faculty and staff to speak up (Threlkeld).

We’ll discuss queering the classroom later – because first we have to discuss some of the queerest sex education available on the Internet for all of the young ladies.

Images without credits are always found innocently via Tumblr. Please let me know if any are yours!

Works Cited

Allen, Louisa. “‘They Think You Shouldn’t Be Having Sex Anyway’: Young People’s Suggestions for Improving Sexuality Education Content.” Sexualities. 11-573. 2008.

Fisher, Christopher Michael. “Queer Youth Experiences With Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Sexuality Education: ‘I Can’t Get Married So Where Does That Leave Me?'” Journal of LGBT Youth. 6:61-79. 2009.

Threlkeld, Aubry D. “Virtual Disruptions: Traditional and New Media’s Challenges to Heteronormativity in Education.” Beyond Current Horizons. December 2008.

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