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Sex education in America is crippled with a pulsing Victorian hangover. Today, less than half of American States mandate sexual education, and even fewer require that it is medically accurate. This only leaves pornogrpahy to fill in the gaps.

It’s easier than ever for younger generation to enter adulthood with a false sense of what sex should and shouldn't look like. That lack of accurate education on sex is a societal failure; our inability to address safe sex openly directly harms our youth. It's time to break the cycle and bring conversations about sex out into the open at home, where they belong.

Fear around sexual education is full of misconceptions. The most common is that it promotes earlier sexual activity. That assumption is simply incorrect; research conclusively shows that children exposed to early sexual education are more likely to be sexually active later on in life compared with those who never have any formal sexual education at all.

In the Netherlands, a country that consistently ranks amongst the happiest in the world, the conversation about sexual health and safety starts in Kindergarten. Comprehensive sex education lays the foundational skills everyone needs to develop healthy sexuality. It also works: the Dutch maintain one of the lowest teen pregnancy rates globally. The USA, on the other hand, is among the highest.

In the USA, only 24 of the 50 US states mandate sexual health education, and only 13 of those require that education to be medically accurate.

Here in America, we can thank the Victorians for our backward sex-ed approach. In the early 1900s, Stanley Hall, the first person to coin the term 'adolescence,' and developed an 'abstinence-only-until-marriage' sex-ed program. Over 100 years later, many of his theories live on in the American education system.

Since 1982, the federal government has spent over $2 billion on abstinence-only-until-marriage "sex education" programs. However, we should have learned from our drug education programs that condemnation from a teacher is a powerful advertisement for a student.

The vacuum of quality sex ed has been filled with pornography. Today, pornography has been ranked as the 'most helpful source of information on sex' for many young people. Anyone of age knows just how far removed the real thing is from the performative online version. The solution is to get accurate, engaging early sex ed to our children.

Proper sexual health education can help our kids stay safe. Covid-19 saw a surge in sexual abuse against children worldwide, with increased reports of children being abused during lockdowns. Yet even into adulthood, rape is the most under-reported crime. Just 37% of adult sexual assault and 12% of child sexual abuse gets reported to authorities due to shame surrounding the issue and kids being unable to accurately name their own body parts. Early comprehensive sex ed empowers young people to be knowledgeable about themselves, giving them more understanding and control over their own bodies.

The internet poses yet another threat for children today. In the USA, an estimated 5 million children have been cyberbullied in the last six months. In 2019, 14% of 12 to 17-year-olds reported sending nude images, compared with 12% three years earlier. One explicit message can go viral through schools and on social media. The internet never forgets. In this new digital age where graphic imagery can run wild, healthy and balanced sex education is more important than ever for keeping kids safe. But we can’t wait for schools to get it together to provide this necessary foundation, which is where parents enter the picture.

It’s time for parents to take more responsibility for sex education inside the home. According to one survey, only 74% of parents talk to their children about how to say no to sex, while only 60% talk to their kids about birth control.

Sending positive, empowering messages to girls can help them stop viewing themselves as objects of the male gaze. It allows them to feel in control and make their own decisions about when they feel ready to have sex. Fundamentally, empowering women at a young age leads to higher self-esteem, better education, and higher wages in adulthood.

These are not exclusively female issues. It is also young teenage boys who need to understand that pornography is performance, not guidance. Adolescents who consume violent pornography are six times more likely to be sexually aggressive than those who viewed non-violent pornography or no pornography at all. If you're hopeful that sex ed programs combat this, think again – only seven states require consent education to be included in their curriculum. Yet another motivator for parents to seek out resources that support them getting their kids quality sex ed.

America's sex-ed remains dangerously rooted in the past for a country that proportes being a beacon of modern progress. Let’s wake up from this Victorian hangover.

Parents need to understand the broken nature of sex ed in the USA and seek out resources that support them in bringing accurate sex ed directly into the home. While making scientifically informed, precise, and medically accurate sex education compulsory in every state is a worthy goal, waiting for the Federal Government to make these changes could take multiple generations. Right now, we have a nation full of kids that cannot wait for that type of legislative reform.

It’s never too early to start the conversation. No matter what age your kids are, start giving them accurate information and having honest conversations with them. They will only benefit from your effort and overcoming any barriers or discomforts you may need to address in order to rise to the occasion.

As parents, we get to take responsibility for better preparing our kids and getting them the early sex education they deserve. Only then can we look forward to a future where every child feels safe, loved, and empowered as they navigate the complex world of the birds and the bees.

Ariel Saint White
Ariel Saint White Ariel Saint White