For many, sex education in public schools is the only place students can get information about topics such as birth control, sexually transmitted diseases and sexuality. However, standards for sex education vary greatly from state to state, and only 24 states in the United States require that sex ed be taught at all.
So how does Oregon’s sex education set up students for a safe and informed sexual future?
The state strives for its sex education program to be comprehensive, which is defined by Oregon’s department of education as “complete, medically accurate and age-appropriate.” Oregon does not support shame-or fear-based curriculums, which contain material or situations that shame or devalue students who have been or plan to be sexually active.
The Oregon Department of Education requires schools to teach sex-related topics such as puberty, birth control and sexual violence, but not the mechanics of how to have sex.
Students are taught that abstinence is the only 100 percent effective method of preventing pregnancy and STDs, but are also taught other methods of safe sex if they choose to not be abstinent.
In theory, these practices may sound adequate. However, Skyland Yerkes, co-chair of the Reproductive Justice Action Team (RJAT), said that Oregon sex ed could be improved by incorporating more sex positivity and information about relationships.
“Sex is taught in such a sterile way when it’s one of the least sterile things on the planet,” Skyland said.
Sexual orientation and gender identity are listed in what is taught in comprehensive sex education in Oregon. However, Skyland said the availability of resources can impact how this looks in any given school.
“As far as Oregon, yeah the law is comprehensive, but where are the resources?” Skyland said. “Where’s the accountability?”
Emma Ritter, a member of RJAT, went through sex education in an Oregon public school and said that most of what she learned about sex came from online resources.
“I never learned anything about the LGBTQ community from anything school-based,” Ritter said.
“Sex ed should really be about letting people know that it’s okay to be this way,” she added. “It’s okay to feel this way. You’re not bad for having sex. It’s okay to be yourself and that is what’s important. You should never let anyone take that away from you.”