Health class is designed to educate students on how to make smart decisions and take care of their bodies. Part of this important curriculum involves sexual education. However, teaching about sex is sometimes seen as taboo, leading to an education that is not fully comprehensive.
Judy Lipsitz, leader of Teen Advocates for Sexual Health (TASH), a group with Planned Parenthood, knows how crucial this education is for young people.
“I think that the parents should be the primary sex educator of their children, but for many young people, that’s not happening for many different reasons. Sex education needs to help young people to be sexually healthy and safe,” Lipsitz said.
TASH is an organization that is open to all high schoolers who are passionate about reproductive justice, among other issues. The group meets at Planned Parenthood once every two weeks for three hours and on some Saturdays for all-day retreats. They cover a wide range of topics such as media literacy, contraceptive methods and self-compassion. This group is racially and socioeconomically diverse and includes many different sexual orientations.
CHS sophomores Tucker Hall, Sam Osborne, and Sarah Baker at TASH Advocacy Day in Jeff City.
“TASH has been a way for me to educate myself more about topics regarding sexuality and sex education and also to get more connected to the people in my community that are passionate about the same things as me such as comprehensive sex education and other social justice issues,” Tucker Hall, a CHS sophomore and member of TASH, said.
Few are as passionate about comprehensive sex education as Lipsitz.
“When I say comprehensive sex education, that includes talking about the importance of abstinence. I think that people think that we don’t, but we do stress abstinence. Abstinence is a very healthy choice for young people. However, we recognize that young people are going to choose to be sexually active and, if they do, whether they are in a same-sex relationship or a heterosexual relationship, they need to know how to be safe and healthy. So I think it is very important to understand and have access to contraception,” Lipsitz said.
Sexual education in the Clayton School District is taught mainly in 8th and 10th grade. These classes consist of presentations, videos and pictures to teach about sexually transmitted infections, birth control, and other topics relating to sex. Two different units are taught in health which make up Clayton’s sex education: the relationships unit and the sex education. Speakers come from Safe Connections and Planned Parenthood to present on these topics.
“Compared to a lot of metro area schools we have a pretty decent and robust sex education system because we have professionals from places such as Planned Parenthood actually come in to talk to us. However, at the same time, it’s definitely not perfect and there is still a long way to go in terms of making it totally comprehensive and having it meet everyone’s needs,” Hall said.
The quality and depth of the sex education taught in public schools is often controlled by the state. In Missouri, schools are only required to provide health education and information on the prevention of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. Schools are not obligated to teach about any forms of contraception and they must stress that abstinence is the best decision for students.
Many states also do not require that schools include information for different sexual orientations in their curriculum. The LGBTQ community tends to not be addressed in most sex education courses, but CHS health teacher David Brechin feels that Clayton’s health curriculum is inclusive of everyone.
“We definitely don’t exclude anyone from anything we talk about,” Brechin said.
Some students still think sexual orientation and the LGBTQ community should be further addressed at Clayton.
“If we focus on making sex ed completely comprehensive for as many people in as many situations as we can I think we would have a lot better of a sex ed system. I think that Clayton’s sex ed is generally targeted towards heterosexual people,” said Hall.
Lipsitz’s work at TASH has created a place for teens to come and talk about very sensitive issues. She believes that teenagers need a platform to voice their opinions.
“Everyone should have access to sexual health and to sexual health information and resources so I have now just become a huge advocate for that but I think the most the thing that I feel so lucky is I have learned so much from young people about life and about what your struggles are and what it’s like growing up. The most important thing I’ve learned is to listen,” Lipsitz said.
Although Missouri law does not have many requirements for sex education, Clayton recognizes the importance of giving students the information they need. Health class teaches about how to put on a condom, different types of contraceptives and the dangers of sexually transmitted infections.
“In Missouri, it is abstinence first, but in Clayton it’s abstinence-plus, so we stress abstinence but we also teach the contraceptives and negative outcomes,” Brechin said.
Consent education is not currently required in any state.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, many people are frustrated with schools’ lack of information on this important topic. TASH recognizes that consent is about more than just not saying “no” and they teach that sexual consent should always be enthusiastic in healthy relationships.
“It is important that we teach young people how to give consent, ask for consent, and understand consent because that is really the cornerstone of sex ed in relationships,” Hall said.
One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Consent is a popular issue now, and discussions on the definition of consent in school can decrease the massive problem of sexual harassment and assault.
“What I talk about a lot with people is that consent is something that should be taught right in your first year of elementary school … It takes time, somebody telling someone that they need to use consent once is not going to stick,” Samantha Osborne, a current sophomore at CHS, said.
Clayton teaches the basics of consent and that someone cannot give consent while they are drunk or unconscious.
“Health class covers consent but consent is a really complicated subject and I felt like there should have been more time spent on it,” Hall said.
Brechin feels that Clayton’s sex education covers all of the necessary topics, but he also feels that there is a problem with the time spent on some issues.
“We are locked in days and time and we have to get through so much material in health class. We can always spend more time on things but we are limited to the number of days we have in the semester. It might be important to try to add it to both freshman and sophomore year,” Brechin said.