EDITORIAL: ‘Sex Education’ must go beyond Netflix

By Editorial Board

Shane Tolentino

New Netflix show “Sex Education,” released Jan. 11, follows the life of a teenage boy whose mother is a sex therapist, and covers topics ranging from masturbation, premature ejaculation and wet dreams to teen pregnancy and homophobia.

Programs like “Sex Education”—which offers an unflinching and nuanced take on teen sexuality—ends up serving a hidden purpose: filling in the gaps young people are left with when their education and community fail them. The quality and frequency of sexual education students receive  in the U.S. varies drastically based on geography, religious affiliation, socioeconomic status and more.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than half of students report receiving no formal instruction about birth control, and many of those students learned nothing about sexual safety before engaging in sex themselves. Fewer than 6 percent of LGBTQ teens reported having any formal education about sexuality or gender identity. Sexuality is a normal part of adult life, and refusing to teach it thoroughly and accurately fails students in need.

Sexual education should begin as early as possible with age-appropriate lessons. The idea that children are innocent until their parents teach them about sex is an outdated fantasy. Kids are curious about their bodies, relationships and sexuality from an early age. Not only do they ask questions, but they have more access than ever to sexual content beyond their mental capacity.

Adults need to be willing to initiate and respond to conversations; young people should not be left to their own devices when it comes to seeking critical information. It may be embarrassing and awkward to acknowledge the sexuality of teenagers, but it is necessary to provide information so they can become healthy and successful adults.

Right now, the sexual education system in the U.S. is compromised by religion and outdated information. Society has tethered sexuality to shame and is pushing that message onto young people. In many places, girls are taught they are like a piece of gum that gets chewed every time they have sex. There are states where abstinence is presented as the only option to a room full of students who are already having unprotected sex. It is no coincidence that the states with the highest teen pregnancy rates are also those with laws that enforce abstinence-only sex education. Whether we want to admit it or not, teenagers are having sex, and they need to be empowered with information. Students who know their options will be able to make safer choices.

Society needs to undo the generational inaccuracies and injustices being perpetuated to children. There must be at least a baseline of education that every child in America receives covering consent, birth control, STDs, sexuality and gender. Young people come to school from all different backgrounds. Some will have parents with whom they are close to and can engage in supportive conversations with about sexuality. But others will come from situations where they are offered nothing but what they see on Netflix. Nobody should be shamed or stigmatized in the classroom, and nobody should be forced to go into adulthood without knowledge of their own body and sexuality. To keep our sexual education system stagnant is to acknowledge, embrace and perpetuate a massive failure for generations to come.