World’s Teens Say Their School’s Sex Ed Is Terrible

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Photo: Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

When I think back to sex-ed class, two things come to mind: my seventh-grade teacher stretching a condom over her entire forearm, and me giggling all the way through The Miracle of Life even though I promised myself that I wouldn’t. I can’t remember much else, which is likely for the best — a new study published in the journal BMJ Open indicates that students around the world consider their school’s sex education and relationship education (SRE) to be “negative” and “out of touch.”

Researchers examined 55 existing studies from the U.K., Ireland, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Iran, Brazil, and Sweden that took place between the years 1990 and 2015; participants were under 25, though most were in the 12 to 18 age range. The study found that SRE from around the world was “negative, gendered and heterosexist.”

There was also a reluctance by the teachers — who themselves were said to appear embarrassed and awkward in the classroom — to address that their pupils were sexually active. The students, for their part, were reported to contribute to some of the difficulties: Young men were observed being disruptive in the classroom to mask their inexperience and verbally harassed young women for for participating. The curriculum itself often pointed to young men as sexually predatory and young women as passive.

One fundamental problem the study touched on was that “the prevailing approach within schools appears to be to deny that there is anything exceptional about the topic and to attempt to teach SRE in the same way as other subjects.” The authors conclude with a suggestion for sex-positive education and for schools to acknowledge “sex is a special subject with unique challenges, as well as the fact and range of young people’s sexual activity.”

In the meantime, if you have a 3-D printer, the French seem to have some good ideas.