‘Sex Ed for All’ is imperative for Missouri youth

A rainbow flag with crowd In background during an LGBTQ Pride Parade (Getty Images).

This May, we observe Sex Ed for All month, a campaign highlighting the critical need for equitable and accessible sexuality education for all young people.

Often because of who they are or where they live, young people fail to receive the sexual health information and care they need to live healthy lives. Our young people have consistently called for increased access to sex education and information. It’s time Missouri heeds those calls and delivers on that request.

It’s critical all young people — especially rural youth, youth of color, LGBTQ youth, immigrants, youth with disabilities, youth in lower-income households, and youth in care — are equipped with the education and skills they need to make informed decisions. All youth deserve sex education that is free from stigma and reflective of their own needs and experiences.

With young people returning to in-person learning this fall, there is a renewed sense of urgency to ensure they will have access to comprehensive, inclusive sex education.

In Missouri, it’s completely optional whether school districts provide sexuality instruction at all, and each district determines its own curriculum. There is no oversight to guarantee it is medically accurate, age-appropriate or unbiased. LGBTQ topics are not currently taught in most Missouri classrooms.

Sex education and the personal rights and health of our youth — specifically LGBTQ youth — have also been under constant attack. During the past two years, there have been bills introduced by the Missouri legislature to limit inclusion of sexual orientation or gender identity in sexuality education, effectively calling for the erasure of LGBTQ youth.

These students already face higher incidence of harassment and bullying, and higher risk of suicide. Such omission in school curriculum further creates a hostile climate of discrimination, stigma, and isolation.

According to a recent study from the Trevor Project, 75% of LGBTQ youth reported having experienced discrimination, almost half reported considering suicide in the past year and a staggering 94% reported that recent politics have negatively impacted their mental health.

Moves to limit or restrict what students can learn — and how they learn it — do a disservice to all youth and jeopardize their health and development for years to come.

Sex education is critical for young people, so they can have the information and skills needed to care for their own health and physical and emotional well-being. It also has the power to change society and public health for the better.

When sex education is LGBTQ inclusive, it helps create safe and affirming environments for LGBTQ young people and it teaches all students to respect the identities of their peers. When young people are taught, early on, to respect the bodily autonomy of others — and understand their own — they learn that every person has the right to make their own sexual and reproductive healthcare decisions.

When sex education accurately and honestly teaches about the role that racism and other systemic injustices play in our social development and health in the U.S., young people can better advocate for themselves, their peers, and their communities towards a more equitable society.

Inclusive and comprehensive sex education has significant benefits for individuals as well. It delays the initiation of sexual activity, decreases the number of sexual partners teens have, prevents gender-based violence and sexual assault and decreases incidence of sexually transmitted infections.

If that’s not enough, it also addresses the health needs of LGBTQ youth and fosters a sense of belonging; increases contraceptive use, preventing unintended pregnancy; and increases positive mental health outcomes, and decreases incidence of youth suicide. Real sex ed saves lives.

All young people have a right to the information and skills they need to protect their health. Young people deserve answers to their questions about sex and relationships, free from shame and stigma. All young people deserve medically accurate, inclusive sexuality education. The research is clear – sex ed works, parents want it, and young people demand it.

The time to make Sex Ed for All a reality is now.

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Stephen Eisele
Stephen Eisele

Stephen Eisele is the executive director of PROMO, which is Missouri’s statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization.

Meg Boyko
Meg Boyko

Meg Boyko is the executive director of the Teen Pregnancy and Prevention Partnership, which promotes and delivers adolescent sexual and reproductive health education.

Michelle Trupiano
Michelle Trupiano

Michelle Trupiano is the executive director of Missouri Family Health Council Inc., which provides funding, training, and advocacy to over 95 reproductive health clinics across the state.