Take discussions surrounding consent and sexual health in Health seriously

Take discussions surrounding consent and sexual health in Health seriously

Tomoko Hida, Contributing Writer

In health class, the sex education unit tends to feel silly. Whether we watched a particularly touchy couple get intimate on the screen to demonstrate safe sex, or passed around silicone testicles to emulate finding cancerous lumps, the classroom was always riddled with awkward smiles and laughter.

While I too found myself cringing with friends at certain demonstration videos, I otherwise committed myself to active engagement in discussions about consent and identifying healthy relationships. Unfortunately, it was routine for my classmates to browse on their devices or even fall asleep during class. Sure, it’s normal to feel discomfort discussing a topic that feels personal and private among your peers, but it’s of the utmost importance to take sex education seriously. Sex education isn’t innately explicit — it is less about sex itself and is more concerned with our safety and health as young adults. Learning about sexual health (particularly surrounding STDs and STIs), consent, and seeking help in an instance of sexual violence are all topics that make sex education so critical.

Instances of sexual violence are severely underreported. In the United States, it is estimated that only 310 cases out of 1000 cases are reported according to sexual violence statistics by Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). More specifically, individuals of the female sex ages 16-19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. Among college-aged victims of sexual violence that did not report to law enforcement, 49 percent did so because they believed it was a personal matter, 40 percent had a fear of reprisal, 31 percent thought that it was not important enough to report, and 24 percent did not want to get the perpetrator in trouble. As for children under the age of 18, 1 in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys have experienced sexual misconduct at the hands of an adult, according to RAINN statistics. Sex education can not only inform students of what is classified as sexual assault and violence, but it also can aid in alleviating the stigma around reporting these instances. 

Sex education encourages students with ethnographically or religiously conservative backgrounds to feel uplifted and capable of coming forward despite their community’s preconceived feelings of shame and disgust associated with recognizing and reporting assault. And as past trends in sexual assault and violence reporting have demonstrated, reporting begets reporting, and more reporting begets stronger and more effective legislation. Sex education is instrumental in both destigmatizing victims’ decisions to report and propelling the anti-rape movement forward.

It is essential for our age group to be able to identify an instance of sexual misconduct and take the necessary steps to seek help. Furthermore, as students graduate and begin life on college campuses where both sexual health and violence continue to be ever-present issues, it would be ignorant of private high schools to deny their students a thorough sex education. And at private institutions that do provide sex education (like Horace Mann), the responsibility falls on the students to be attentive and really welcome the content discussed in class.

I emphasize the importance of private institutions teaching sex education because New York State legislature does not mandate the curriculum for public schools. In fact, New York is far from leading the way in a progressive approach to sex education on a national level. According to the Sexual Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), as of May 2020, of the thirty-eight states that provide healthy relationships instruction, only nine states mandated consent education. New York was not among those nine. 

Fortunately, the fight for consent education in New York is active, albeit slow. In 2021, legislators introduced four bills that would require the New York state commissioner to create and establish a consent education curriculum in public schools. And as of May 2022, one bill has passed the introductory phase and is in committee awaiting approval. 

In short, we’re incredibly fortunate to have access to a comprehensive sex education curriculum as students attending a private high school in New York. I’m well aware that these conversations can be uncomfortable. But that discomfort is inconsequential compared to a world where sexual assault and violence are far too prevalent.