Having “the talk” can save our kids

Students lacking proper sexual education face an increased risk of danger.


Caleigh Wells of KCRW Radio

Parents gather outside Senator Connie Leyva's office to protest sex-ed being consumed by their children.

By Gwen Langi, Opinion Editor

It was brief, too brief if I remember correctly. Nothing more than a quick overview of the organs and the consequences of having sex. The lesson plan did not last more than a week. 

“The talk” provided to us around the time we were in middle school seemed enough to educate us at the time. However, teens and young adults that are given little to no education about sex find themselves at an increased risk.

The foundation of the problem lies within the lack of federal interference with sexual education. Decisions about sex ed are only limited to be made at a local and state level and with no strict say-so from the federal government, it’s easier for sexual education courses to be pushed to the side. 

According to Planned Parenthood, “Only 29 states have laws that mandate sex education, and even in those states there’s no guarantee that the sex education provided is of high quality, or covers the topics young people need to learn about to stay healthy.” Only one-fifth of middle schools in the U.S and less than half of high schools teach sexual health topics that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers to be “essential.” 

We can and should do better than this. 

One female student who wishes to remain anonymous shares her experience about how the lack of sexual education given to her before highschool left her on a journey of anxiety and confusion. 

“At the time I was 16 and experiencing my first pregnancy scare. People are going to say ‘Oh, the easiest solution would’ve been to use a condom. She’s so irresponsible!’ and I can’t deny that but things don’t always work out as planned. I was in that situation and feeling stuck. Thinking back to what I learned about sex in middle school there weren’t any answers for me. It felt like okay, what am I going to do now? I felt lost.”

This situation isn’t new or rare. Many unintended pregnancies happen due to lack of sexual education and more specifically the lack of information about contraceptives, abortions and local laws that are made to promote and ensure safe sex. 

In a Twitter poll I conducted, 84% of participants said their parents had never given them “the talk” while only 16% voted otherwise. One user even replied, “I think only people get the talk, my dad just told me not to get pregnant.”

In the state of California we have Minor Consent and Confidentiality Laws. These laws make it so that minors who are in need of birth control, STD testing, emergency contraceptive or other health services can receive so without parental consent and at little to no cost. Many oppose these laws with the belief that parents should be aware if their child is sexually active but not every home situation is the same. Not every teen has understanding parents and this leaves them to receive medical services without their parents’ knowledge because it’s the best option. 

“The California Minor and Consent Laws are actually what saved me. I went to a clinic and got the help I needed for free. I felt guilty hiding what I was doing from my parents but it felt good to know I was taking the right measures to stay safe. I knew that once I came clean about my situation, the trust my parents had for me would be gone. Even though they never taught me about sex it was an unspoken rule to remain abstinent for like, my whole life,” she says. 

Abstinence is another area of confusion and misinformation when it comes to sexual education.  The conversation around sexual health is cut off with the “Stay abstinent!” argument by parents and educators which completely ignores the “What if’s?” 

What if I don’t? What if I suspect I’m pregnant or have contracted something? What if I have nobody to turn to and I have no idea what resources are available to me? Questions like these are asked by teens and young adults more often than you would think and for one reason: lack of sexual education. 

Fortunately some school districts have taken the initiative to require a more inclusive and thorough curriculum to ensure students’ health and safety. 

Under the California Healthy Youth Act of 2016, LAUSD created and followed a health education framework regarding sex-ed. But when the framework was expanded and revised in May of 2019 this action was met with angered educators and parents who believed that the content being taught was on the verge of being pornographic and “not age-appropriate.”

Linda Liu was one parent who was fighting to censor sexual education after finding that her 10-year-old son was being taught about diversity and inclusion under the revised curriculum. She was upset after finding a month-old assignment where he’d drawn illustrations promoting tolerance of the LGBTQ+ community. 

“It’s most important to understand themselves. too much complicated information to the 10-year-old kid. It’s not age appropriate,” Liu tells KCRW radio station in a podcast

There is no age where inclusivity is “too complicated.” By teaching inclusivity and sexual orientation acceptance, we are simply teaching that there are other options but in no way is the curriculum mandating or forcing a certain lifestyle on our children. There are many racy scenes in entertainment between straight couples that are normalized and overlooked but as soon as we want to teach kids to be accepting of others, all hell breaks loose and parents are protesting. 

Parents like Liu can choose to keep important information from their child by excusing them from sex-ed lessons or pulling their child out of the school entirely. But these parents should also understand that when their children aren’t being taught sex-ed in school, the parents are responsible for properly informing their child. When parents choose to opt their kids out of learning about sex entirely, they’re only putting their children at an increased risk of unintended pregnancies, STIs and sexual violence.