Dear Future Teachers,
In continuing with our series on Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE), I think it's important to debunk myths that are commonly heard about CSE programs. These myths can distract from the very real and important lessons that students can gain about their bodily autonomy and their sexual health. Let's dive in!
Myth #1: Comprehensive Sex Education encourages children and teens to have sex.
This is by far one of the most common myths I've heard about CSE. This can stem from not having an understanding of what CSE encompasses, or believing that talking about sex would make children and teens want to go experiment. However, studies show that CSE that discusses abstinence and contraception does not increase rates of sex in young people (Advocates for Youth). There has been evidence that CSE actually delays sexual activity and allows youth to feel more empowered about their sexuality (Action Canada). It is also found that CSE can reduce the amount of sexual partners teens engage with and provides them with the tools to make responsible choices (Planned Parenthood Advocates).
Myth #2: Sex Education is only about sexual activity.
Comprehensive Sex Education discusses so much more than just sex, and a lot of it functions to keep children and teens safe. Some examples of other important topics CSE covers are (Planned Parenthood; Action Canada):
Recognizing healthy relationships (romantic and platonic)
Building communication skills; understanding consent
Learning about puberty and bodily functions/changes
Learning about STI's and how to best avoid them
Understanding Gender and Sexuality
Myth #3: Comprehensive Sex Education teaches kids how to have sex.
CSE does NOT teach the mechanics of sexual intercourse to children. CSE should be age-appropriate for the developmental level of the students (Advocates for Youth). CSE helps provide students with the tools they need in order to protect themselves when they eventually do become sexually active; not giving them tips on how to initiate sexual activity. At the elementary level, Sex Ed can focus more on the body and changes that occur during puberty, which eventually leads into more comprehensive information about protecting themselves as they grow older.
Myth #4: Elementary school students are too young to talk about sexuality.
Elementary school is definitely not too early to begin CSE as a preventative method. There are several reasons to begin these conversations at younger ages than middle/high school. First, while the majority of individuals having sex are older, there are children who have been sexually active before they even reach the 6th grade. Second, "influencing behavior is more effective than modifying it afterwards," (CHAMPSS), meaning CSE can delay sexual behavior and work well as a proactive measure. Third, CSE content is meant to be age-appropriate so students would not be exposed to material that is beyond their developmental level. Finally, young students may be exposed to sexually explicit content via TV, music, or media, and should have medically-accurate, evidence-based, and informative content provided in order to counteract any unrealistic and potentially dangerous ideas about sex. (CHAMPSS).
Myth #5: Comprehensive Sex Ed is against morality and faith.
CSE does not disregard religion, faith, or personal morals. It is important for the Comprehensive Sex Educator to be aware of diverse religious backgrounds or different beliefs surrounding sex. CSE does not encourage students to go against their values, or the values instilled by their families; rather it helps educate and empower students to understand their individual values and operate safely within those values. Learning the language around CSE can help students more clearly define their boundaries and live within their morals. (Action Canada).
Myth #6: LGBTQ+ specific sex ed is unnecessary.
CSE should include everyone. LGBTQ+ content should not be left out of sex ed because members of the LGBTQ+ community also deserve to understand how to protect themselves and stay safe, making responsible choices. Having LGBTQ+ inclusive content helps all students to better understand their gender identity and feel more accepted. Studies in Canada have shown that bullying and harassment amongst youth declines with more inclusive sex ed lessons, and that schools with inclusive policies tend to have lower rates of suicide or risk-taking behaviors in students (Action Canada).
Myth #7: Comprehensive Sex Ed does not promote abstinence.
Finally, I want to address the myth that CSE doesn't promote abstinence. In reality, CSE teaches that abstinence is the most effective way to prevent unwanted pregnancies and STI's (Advocates for Youth). By teaching about contraception in addition to abstinence, students will be knowledgeable about how to protect themselves when they eventually do begin to have sex. What is more, studies have found that abstinence-only sex ed programs do not help delay sexual behavior in youth (Advocates for Youth), so they aren't effective at preventing sexual behavior from occurring.
These are only a handful of common myths surrounding the topic of Comprehensive Sex Education. By addressing these myths and looking at evidence, we can continue to progress in ways that support CSE in schools, which ultimately protects and educates students. It can be hard to let go of these myths, and even harder to let our kids start to learn more about their bodies, or sex in general. However, it is crucial that we prepare students to make the safest choices for themselves, maintaining their boundaries and values, and empowering them to make responsible choices. In our next post in the CSE series, we will talk more about age-appropriate CSE interventions to implement at all ages!