California just changed sex ed in 3 bold ways. Will your state follow?
It's the magical unicorn of sex ed policies, and it's time for other states to do it too.
"Don't have sex or you will get pregnant and die."
It's not just a "Mean Girls" quote. Unfortunately, for many middle school and high school students in the United States, that's a pretty accurate summary of their sexual health education.
But there's hope on the horizon, in the form of an actually sensible sex ed law passed in California this month.
While most states don't even require sex education (and only 19 require that the education be medically accurate and factual), California schools are now required to promote sex ed curricula based on sound science and inclusivity rather than shame and stigma.
1. The California Healthy Youth Act requires that sex ed programs include information on sexual orientation and LGBTQ sexual health.
LGBTQ sexual health is usually left out of sex ed curricula altogether in most states. And for cisgender students, remaining uninformed about the reality of their LGBTQ peers can only reaffirm harmful myths about non-hetero relationships. Fear thrives when people don't have the facts.
That's why this isn't just an important step forward for lawmakers. For some students, it could be life-changing — even life-saving.
"This bold and substantive legislation will transform the lives of thousands of LGBTQ teens who will finally have their identities validated, and their personal and sexual health needs addressed," said Ellen Kahn, the HRC's Youth and Families Program Director.
2. The law also requires teaching accurate info on STI and HIV prevention and treatment, birth control, and consent.
Comprehensive, inclusive sex ed makes a lot of sense from a public health perspective too. Research has shown that teens who get the right information tend to have lower STI and teen pregnancy rates.
3. Plus, the new law requires teaching about affirmative consent and how to have healthy relationships.
"I firmly believe that by instilling in young minds the importance of affirmative consent and relationships built on love and respect, that we can reduce the sexual violence inflicted on young woman," said Sen. Kevin De León, one of the bill's authors.
Affirmative consent is the idea that healthy, consensual sexual relationships require an enthusiastic "Yes!" from all parties involved, free of coercion. It's a model of consent that empowers people to make informed sexual decisions for themselves and encourages partners to communicate with one another too.
Honestly, there's still a long road ahead for making sure that all people — and especially LGBTQ folks — have access to the education, social services and health care they need to make informed decisions about their bodies and lives.
But with trailblazers like California leading the way, there's so much reason to believe in a better future.