Working as a youth activist in North Carolina, I thought the one and only barrier to comprehensive sex education was the law. Well, we changed the law. We lobbied for a bill that passed last summer, it now mandates all schools teach information both about abstinence (as the only 100% effective way of preventing unwanted pregnancy and STD’s) AND contraception. Prior to this bill, only the ineffective abstinence-only programs were allowed to be taught in schools. I thought that the main reason why we had high teen pregnancy rates was because the law would not allow schools to teach comprehensive sex education. We worked to pass our bill last year, and over the summer it became law. Horray! So now what? Now that the bill has passed, I have had my eyes opened up a bit about what we are really fighting for. Passing the bill was a tremendous step, and the NC legislature should be proud that they stood up for young peoples rights to accurate information, but there is MUCH more work to do.
The truth is that while it can be easier to blame one authority for all our problems (aka the government won’t let us teach comp sex ed, so they are the problem), we need to think bigger. What are we fighting for? Who stands in the way of young people’s sexual health and reproductive rights? The answer is many, many people. Teachers who are reluctant to teach the new curriculum even though it is now the law, fellow teens who are not willing to talk with their partners about sexual health, parents who do not care what their child does and allows them to become pregnant, a culture that values sex and sexuality in the media but not an honest discussion in the classroom. ALL of these attitudes, people, and groups stand in our way. We are fighting to help other young people become less apathetic about their own sexual health, we are fighting to ensure that males and females show equal respect to one another, we are fighting to change state and local policies, and we are fighting to hold teachers accountable to teaching science based, medically accurate sex ed programs.
I have realized over the past year that passing the bill does not solve all our problems; we need to have a wide-ranging, full gamut approach. This year we have worked to train schools on how to implement new sex ed programs, to change the culture around sexuality so that we can have more honest discussions, to distribute condoms so that fewer young people have unprotected sex, and to train other young people and support them in getting involved in their own communities. It has been fun, challenging, interesting, sometimes disappointing, oftentimes eye opening, and, above all, rewarding.