May is #SexEdForAll Month, a month to highlight the need to work toward sex education that is comprehensive, medically accurate, LGBTQ+-inclusive, and culturally responsive.
The Coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on young people’s ability to access sex ed. It also provides a good opportunity to examine what sex ed really looks like – and how it could look in the future.
The Impact of Coronavirus on Sex Ed
School- and community-based sex education programs have been deeply impacted by the pandemic, leaving students without access to critical knowledge and support systems. The same social distancing designed to keep us all safe makes it impossible for school classes and group programs to meet in person. In addition, the strain on schools, health departments, and social services agencies to pivot to more immediate pandemic needs has drawn resources away from sex ed and other health education programs.
In schools, students most greatly impacted are those in grades 7-9, as well as those in 5th grade puberty class. Many of these students will miss core knowledge provide for by the 2009 Healthy Youth Act, including basic, medically accurate facts about abstinence, contraception, STI prevention, and healthy relationships.
In community settings, group facilitators have taken a variety of approaches. Some have tried to fill in gaps with Zoom calls and other digital check-ins. Others are waiting until groups can meet in person, noting that many participants are isolated in challenging living environments where participation might be unsafe. And, some long-time facilitators have been reassigned to help with local pandemic response.
Sex Ed Elsewhere: Finding Inclusive Solutions
The temporary halt on school- and community-based sex ed programs shifts the onus to parents, other adults, and young people themselves to access medically accurate information about sexual health. Fortunately – in the spirit of #SexEdForAll – the proliferation of online resources is far more sex-positive, inclusive, and culturally appropriate than what schools generally provide.
At some point, we will all need to settle into a new normal, whether we go back to our traditional physical spaces or adjust to distancing ourselves from each other. Students cannot afford a permanent pause on sex education. As we start to reestablish programs, let’s commit to making them work for all young people.