Sex and sexuality
By: Sally Curme, APPLES Intern
Open and honest conversations about sex and sexuality are critical to both adolescents’ mental and physical well-being. The method of comprehensive sex education covers topics such as human sexuality, human sexual anatomy, sexual activity, sexual reproduction, age of consent, reproductive health, reproductive rights, safe sex, birth control, and sexual abstinence.
North Carolina law requires schools to teach a comprehensive health education program. Comprehensive health education programs include instruction on the prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Schools must stress the importance of parental involvement and teach refusal skills and strategies to handle peer pressure. Comprehensive health education must include “reproductive health and safety education” beginning in seventh grade.
Despite these mandates, advocates report that sex education instruction is varied and unreliable. Instruction ranges from evidence-based curriculum to abstinence-only or “sexual risk avoidance” programs, which directly violates the North Carolina statute. Furthermore, there has been a steady increase in efforts to restrict sex education curriculum across North Carolina in recent years. Our state’s lack of consistent and robust sex education programs presents unique challenges that have resulted in a glaring disparity regarding the quality of sex education that students receive across different areas of the state. Such discretion allows for implementing policies and curriculum that stigmatize marginalized youth, such as students of color and LGBTQ youth. It presents further challenges in ensuring that low-income districts have access to the resources needed to implement comprehensive sex education.
When adolescents and young adults do not have access to consistent, comprehensive sex education programs, it can significantly affect how they perceive topics such as sex, sexual health, and sexuality. Specifically, these programs must include culturally responsive instruction geared toward the youth of color, including matters concerning sexual orientation and gender identity, and a defined comprehensive approach to teaching sex education. When school districts lack resources to provide sex education instruction, community partners need to provide their resources and expertise. Hope to Thrive is one of those organizations. The Faith, Sex, and Sexuality program are dedicated to creating spaces within communities of faith to honestly talk about narratives of sex and sexuality by encouraging open and honest conversations specifically related to faith, sex, and sexuality. By providing safe spaces and resources, Hope to Thrive facilitates personal growth opportunities and cultivates valuable community relations.