Sex education is sexist, skewed toward heterosexual intercourse, moralistic, and just plain embarrassing, according to millions of students from 10 countries. American Psychological Association Professor Diane Halpern recently published a study on how students view sex education in the journal BMJ Open.
Halpern, an expert in sex, gender, and cognition issues for 30 years, looked at 55 studies that were conducted using the inputs of 1.5 million students, ages 12 to 18, from schools in the United States, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Iran, Brazil, and Sweden between 1990 and 2015.
According to the researcher, the conclusion is that almost all of the students find sex education, sexist, too scientific, and a bit creepy for a long list of reasons. The study found that teachers presented the information as overly scientific with no mention of physical pleasure and desire; female pleasure, precisely, was rarely referred to in the classes.
Professor Halpern said reviews of hundreds of studies led her to understand that most students are frustrated by the fact that their teachers treat sex ed like other topics like English or science. One student said:
“Everything we got in our class had a really clinical feel. They don’t mention anything about same-sex relationships.”
Other students say during sex education classes, they feel that their teacher is shaming them. Educators often present sex as a problem and the only solution is abstinence. The concepts of pleasure and desire are never part of the conversation. Pandora Pound, a research fellow in public health research methodology at the University of Bristol in the U.K., shared:
“They don’t take into account that sex is a potentially embarrassing and anxiety provoking topic. The result can be awkward, painful and unsatisfactory for all involved.”
Another common problem the study found is the fact that sex education is a program that is taught by a teacher. The pre-teens and teenagers said they felt uncomfortable and went as far as saying the learning experience was a bit creepy or weird. Moreover, listening to their educator talk about sexual organs, sexually transmitted disease, and the conception of a human being was not pleasant. One teacher even broke down and cried when she was faced with the reality that she had to talk about unintended pregnancies, abortion, masturbation, and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. A group of students recalled:
“Our PE teacher Miss Plum, who was so uncomfortable giving her own presentation cried during it.”
“They describe it as ‘cringey’ and embarrassing to have their teachers speaking about sex and relationships.[It] needs to be delivered by experts who are sex positive, who enjoy their work and who are in a position to maintain clear boundaries with students. We need to get the delivery right — otherwise young people will disengage.”
Students complained that their schools intentionally ignored that their students were sexually active, which means there was not much talk about homosexual intercourse. Educators rarely spoke of the various types of contraception that exist.
However, they do strongly advocate the usage of condoms for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Halpern has also published a study blasting single-sex education by saying that the segregation led to stereotyping. She said:
“The underlying biology, physiology and social psychology of learning is exactly the same (for both genders). We don’t have sex-segregated workplaces so why would we have sex-segregated schools? It’s all too easy to say ‘boys are like this and girls are like that’, but it’s simply not true.”
Experts have been talking about reforming sex education for years, but nothing changed.