No mandatory sex ed course? No high school diploma
The argument for making sex education courses a graduation requirement
Writer’s note: This post was originally published on Medium’s “We Need to Talk” on December 17, 2019. I was dumbfounded (in 2023) when a colleague told me he took his daughter out of her school and out of the state because they were teaching sex ed. He said he didn’t want her talking about sex with boys — who are likely to want to have sex with her. He just wanted her to learn about abstinence. I shook my head. This is EXACTLY the group who needs to learn about sex ed and ALWAYS the group who goes through a ho phase with a vengeance when they’re not under their parents’ eyes.
I could see my alma mater’s president’s eyes glossing over as I talked. I noticed the president’s assistant was growing antsy. She thought I was coming to talk to the president about the alumni association and my book signings. Nope, I walked in to the president’s office to talk about sex. If the students couldn’t get into her office, I’d be the mouthpiece for them.
I’ve written two novels, one of which was a compilation of mildly fictional journal entries. And while both books were based on life at a historically black college, one of the bigger points I was trying to make was based on HIV/AIDS testing and the complexity of a college virgin. At a local church book signing, I was asked to not bring up sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) because there would be “Christians who don’t understand” and “kids too young to understand what’s going on.” I could talk about virginity all day long though. Although I abided by their rules, I raised an eyebrow when someone gushed that the church should also have Zane come by to talk about her books. So it’s OK to discuss erotic fiction in a church, but STDs and STIs were too much? Yeah a’ight.
I thought going to college campuses would be an easier time, especially my own. I was elated that one of the librarians requested that I speak to several classes about my own educational background there and then have the flexibility to talk about what STD/STI testing is like. I can say with certainty that minus one girl who inexplicably raced out of the room, everybody else perked up a little more when I started discussing sex and testing. I added anecdotes here and there about my own experiences — including a sex ed course I took in which blind-folded students had to put a condom on a banana. My discussion wasn’t graphic, but it didn’t pull any punches either. It was the basics of what one would need to know about condom usage, accidental pregnancies and asking about one’s HIV/AIDS status beforehand.
Although I hoped that students would take the information I was sharing with them seriously — and the written material I brought and passed around — there was one student who stood out to me more than the rest. He ran up to me afterward and thanked me for telling him my experience with getting tested for the first time and laughed about my banana story. But I was wow’d by his next statement: “This is the first time I’ve ever seen anybody give a talk like you. Right now my major only requires me to take a General Health course and learn stuff about diabetes.”
Plus, five of the nine states with no sex ed or HIV education rank among the top 12 states with the highest teenage birth rates.
I pondered on what he’d just said and did a quick rundown of my own high school courses and my college courses before graduating. Although I did indeed have “sex ed” sections in my high school and college courses, that wasn’t the entire class. It was just a week or two, and we moved on to the next subject. Meanwhile, when you’re in college, “diabetes” is not exactly the first health issue on your mind — unless you’re already diabetic.