Only 12% of American students learn about LGBTQ issues in sex ed.
With 23% of public school sex-ed classes following an abstinence-only curriculum, it’s easy to say the U.S. is woefully undereducating its youth on serious life-or-death health issues. But when it comes to LGBTQ students — some of the country’s most vulnerable — curriculum in the United States is virtually nonexistent.
A recent survey of 4,643 New York City high school students by the Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology found that half of sexually-active females reported “some same-sex experience” and that 1 in 4 are “women seeking women.” This trend could signify a large increase in the number of women who identify as lesbian or bisexual.
Gay Straight Alliance school bus. Photo by Jon Gilbert Leavitt/Flickr.
The study also found that LGBTQ teens are more sexually active than their heterosexual-identifying classmates. About 50% of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students reported being sexually active versus 24.1% of heterosexuals. Research suggests that teens who participate in same-sex relationships are at higher risk for substance abuse, partner abuse, suicidal thoughts, and STIs.
To improve the safety of LGBTQ youth, the U.S. needs to radically rethink its sex-ed curriculum. According to a 2014 study by GLSEN, a nonprofit that works to create safe spaces for LGBT youth, just 5% of LGBTQ students reported that their sex-ed classes showed a positive representation of same-sex relationships. A 2015 study by the Public Religion Research Institute found that only 12% of students said their sex-ed classes covered same-sex relationships at all.
Open discussions about sexually-fluid behavior and positive examples of same-sex couples are necessary to improve self-acceptance among LGBTQ students. It will also help alleviate the stressors that can lead to substance abuse, suicide, and violence. Education about safe-sex practices unique to the LGBT community can also help lower the rate of STIs. “We’ve made a lot of progress, but unfortunately, sex education is very heteronormative and doesn’t address the needs of LGBTQ young people,” Nicole Cushman, executive director of Answer, told Teen Vogue.