Courtesy Bonnie Brown/
United States / Sex Ed

Sex Education in America is Screwed

The internet is the key to providing comprehensive sex education in America.

Instead of using this resource, the United States leaves sex education to its public schools. Here is a glimpse of what this curriculum looks like in the public school systems of the nation’s two most populous states, California and Texas.

California requires discussion of medically accurate contraceptive and HIV information in all of its public school districts and education about different sexual orientations, sexual assault, gender identity, sex trafficking, and relationship abuse. Abstinence is taught as the only infallible method of preventing unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but abstinence-only instruction is not permitted.

In Texas, HIV and sex education are not mandated. Abstinence-only sex education was taught in fifty eight percent of public school districts in the 2015–16 school year. The second most common approach to sex education in Texas, practiced by twenty five percent of school districts, was no sex education whatsoever.

California ensures that students have tools to navigate sexual encounters in a confident, healthy, and knowledgeable manner. Texas does not.

In the United States, thirty-three states require HIV/AIDS education, twenty-four require sex education in public schools, and twenty-one require both. Only twenty states require that education in these areas must be “medically accurate,” and the definitions of medical accuracy vary between states.

Sex education in America is an inconsistent mess. Views about sex education fall along religious and social lines that are reflected in the political world. Liberal school districts typically promote comprehensive sex education, while conservative districts tend to oppose it.

The standards of sex-related curricula are determined by the states, leaving the power-holding parties of each state to shape those standards as they see fit. Therefore, bringing about a nationwide standard for sex education is not realistically achievable through the public school system.

The problem of inadequate sex education lacks an institutional fix. The solution to this issue is the Internet. What sex education needs is a widely accepted, widely used website that contains factual information verified by medical experts. While organizations that provide comprehensive sex education exist, very few of them are well-known names with the potential to be more influential than public school sex education.

Planned Parenthood has used the Internet to provide up-to-date and medically accurate sexual health information. For Planned Parenthood to succeed where the U.S. public school system has fallen short, it would need to reach both liberal and conservative audiences across the country, which it cannot do. The roadblock that keeps Planned Parenthood from providing internet-accessible sex education is animosity from American conservatives.

This hostility is primarily due to the abortion services that Planned Parenthood provides. These services constitute three percent of all Planned Parenthood health services, yet they have become the centerpiece for political and social resistance against the organization. The result is a blanket of opposition that prevents their online sex education programs from reaching conservative households.

Approaching the issue from a different angle, Pornhub recently launched the Pornhub Sexual Wellness Center, a sex education website containing information on “love, sexuality, and health.”

Pornhub is one of the largest portals for porn, and the U.S. is the site’s number one country in per capita pageviews. Pornhub’s audience is diverse: Democrats and Republicans are among the site’s consumers. A designated sex education site that is connected to the porn industry stands a better chance of reaching a wide audience than Planned Parenthood’s program does. At face value, the Sexual Wellness Center would seem to fill the hole left by the inadequacy of sex education in public schools.

But Pornhub visitors are not looking for sex education, and the messages conveyed by porn directly counter practices of sexual health and healthy relationships.

Only seventeen percent of adult film performers use condoms, and eighty-eight percent of scenes in porn contain physical aggression. STIs are nowhere in sight, even though one in four porn actors has had either gonorrhea or chlamydia, according to a study conducted at UCLA. The kicker is that the new Sexual Wellness Center links back to Pornhub at the bottom of every page.

The bold Pornhub logo and the link to Pornhub’s regular porn site all but negate the Sexual Wellness Center’s utility as an educational reference. Parents and teachers will be less likely to use it because of American society’s discomfort with porn and the general desire to prevent children from being exposed to sexually explicit material.

Planned Parenthood is too tainted by opposition to its abortion services, and the Pornhub Sexual Wellness Center undermines itself by being associated with content that directly contradicts sex education. Furthermore, neither of these sites can accomplish what a solution requires: partnership with the public school system.

A sex education website without attachment to political conflict or connections to explicit material could be used as a reference in public schools that already teach comprehensive sex education. The site, which would likely be used in some liberal states, would gain both credibility and recognition as an educational resource through its connection with academic institutions.

Once the site developed a reputation as an educational resource, it would have more reach in conservative areas that lack institutional sex education. As long as the site is known in these areas and remains apolitical, people attempting to educate themselves would gravitate towards the site above other internet resources due to its superior credibility.

Yes, comprehensive sex education will be opposed by some conservatives regardless of its source, but the site’s apolitical nature might prevent its resources from being dismissed out of hand as Planned Parenthood’s are.

Between the deficiencies of the public school system and organizations such as Pornhub and Planned Parenthood, there is a void that needs to be filled. The remaining sex education sites are too obscure. A new sex education site will not be bound by the restrictions of institutional sex education, but in order to succeed, it needs the credibility that partnering with public schools provides. Otherwise, tools that are needed to safely navigate sex will remain out of reach for students across the country.