Sexual education has been a highly debated topic by parents and educators alike. Moreover, the content actually taught in sex education is often varied due to the opposing viewpoints around the subject. Abstinence-only sex education focuses abstinence as the most effective method to avoid pregnancy and STI’s, which was used by 76.3% of high schools who required sex education in 2014 (KFF). Although the most frequent form of sex education, abstinence-only methods fail to use an intersectional approach when teaching about sexual health, as not all adolescents will choose to practice abstinence. On the contrary, comprehensive sex education teaches both abstinence and how to be sexually healthy, focusing on personal choice. Integrating an intersectional approach in addition to comprehensive sex education entails an even more inclusive, socially aware format of sex education that is imperative to inclusivity as well as accuracy regarding sexuality in our society. 

            Contents:

  1. Sexual Education Background 
  2. What is Intersectionality? 
  3. Importance of Integrating Intersectionality into Comprehensive Sex Education

a. What is Intersectional Sex-Ed?

b. Why We Need Intersectional Sex-Ed

  • Conclusion
  • Resources and Works Cited

1. Sexual Education Background

            Starting in the 1970’s, concerns from the general public regarding adolescent pregnancies as well as the spread of HIV/AIDS and other STI’s called for a “widespread support for sex education in schools” (Guttmacher Institute). However, what is actually considered sex-ed, and what is actually taught varies widely from state-to-state, and even school-to-school. In 2019, 39 states in the U.S mandate sex education and/or HIV education, while only 27 states and D.C mandate both sex education and HIV education. However, only 17 states require that the content taught is medically accurate (Guttmacher Institute). Furthermore, the content in sex-ed may also be extremely biased. 29 states require that abstinence should be stressed and 19 states require teachings that sexual activity should only happen within marriage. Even more biased, seven states “require only negative information to be provided on homosexuality and/or positive emphasis on heterosexuality” (Guttmacher Institute). While the majority of states require abstinence-only techniques, over half of high school students have already had sexual intercourse by the time they reach 12th grade (Guttmacher Institute). While it may be a topic that is often hushed, high school students are at an age where they often want to explore their sexuality, and statistics show that majority are engaging in sex, whether or not abstinence is stressed. Therefore, sex education should aim to provide more intersectional comprehensive sex education that provides adolescents with knowledge and resources for how to live sexually healthy lives, as well as information that is unbiased and culturally, socially, and most importantly, medically accurate. 

2. What is Intersectionality? 

            The term intersectionality was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 regarding critical race theory and the law. “Intersectionality is a framework for conceptualizing a person, group of people, or social problem as affected by a number of discriminations and disadvantages”; a lens that takes into account overlapping “identities and experiences in order to understand the complexity of prejudices they face” (Alemán). Intersectionality is imperative when working towards equality and inclusion, as identity markers of oppression do not “exist independently of each other” (Alemán), they actually coincide and shape people’s experiences. For example, someone who identifies as “female” and “black” will have different experiences of oppression as being both “female” and “black” together create a complex convergence of oppression (Alemán). Without an intersectional lens in any form of social equity work, groups are often excluded and the intended equality work can actually end up “perpetuating systems of inequities towards other groups” (Alemán). Recognizing the differences of folks and how these identities of race, class, gender, sexuality, etc. work together and shape experiences is needed in many aspects of equity work, from a court of law to sexual education. 

3. Importance of Integrating Intersectionality into Comprehensive Sex Education

            a. What is Intersectional Sex-Ed?

            Comprehensive sex education is a great start to ensure adolescents are receiving the most accurate and influential education regarding anatomy, biology, STI’s and pregnancy; however, without incorporating intersectionality, it may still lack the emotional, cultural, and social implications (Coughtry). Intersectional sex education incorporates and “takes into account not just sexuality, but the society it’s connected to—from our gender, race, and class background to our education, ability, and religion” (Coughtry). Intersectional sex-ed “addresses the complex, cumulative ways that different identities and forms of discrimination combine, overlap, or intersect” (Morrison) and how these identities may impact one’s sexual health and decisions. For example, a curriculum that lacks intersectionality may discuss the risks of pregnancy and the dangers of STI’s, but does not explain that youth of color, in particular, “are disproportionately impacted by sexual harassment, sexually transmitted infections, and unintended pregnancy” (Matos). 

            b. Why We Need Intersectional Sex-Ed

            Much like the example above, “research shows that very real health disparities exist across marginalized communities and are often impacted by cultural and economic factors” (Morrison). Because of this, it is imperative that an intersectional lens is used when teaching, and “when applied effectively, intersectionality is a powerful tool for analyzing and addressing gaps in sexuality education” (Driver). Sexual health is not only limited to the individual responsibilities of students, as “factors like systemic racism, poverty, sexism, homophobia, and/or transphobia work against those who live on the margins” (Morrison). For example, African-Americans made up approximately six percent of the California population in 2013, yet represented roughly 19 percent of chlamydia cases and 28 percent of gonorrhea cases, as access to healthcare is widely dependent upon wealth and location; factors that disproportionately impact black folks (Morrison). Six out of ten pregnancies in New York City are unplanned, and in the Bronx, “where some of the country’s poorest districts are located,” teen pregnancy rates are the highest (Matos). Another example comes from the 2015 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which proved “that out of 15,713 questionnaires, 18 percent of lesbian, gay, or bisexual students had experienced physical dating violence compared to 8 percent of their heterosexual classmates” (Morrison). Simply producing one lecture that is heteronormative, or even homophobic as seven states require, does not allow for people of all identities to gain education. Moreover, sex-education can be highly ableist; leaving out people with disabilities. The general public often assumes disabled folks to be asexual or incapable of even having sex. Recently, more disabled people and disability activists have spoken out about a need for sexual health education for those with disabilities, because some disabled people are in fact having sex. Furthermore, disabled folks are even more vulnerable to sexual abuse and assault. “This risk (that already exists disproportionately for all marginalized groups) is exacerbated by reliance on caregivers and/ or an expectation that a person with a disability will not understand they are being assaulted or will not be believed by others” (Morrison), an unfortunate reality that calls for sex educators to incorporate and address. Talking openly about sex and disabilities, sex and the LGBTQ+ community, hypersexualization and rape culture regarding black women, and HIV risks for homosexuals are just a few examples of conversations that empower these identities and offer knowledge that other students are receiving from sex-ed (Morrison). Intersectional sex-ed “implores us to stretch sexuality education beyond a white-centered, cisgender, and heteronormative perspective” (Driver). 

4. Conclusion 

Overall, intersectional comprehensive sex education is the most impactful and accurate form of sex education. Using an intersectional approach allows students from all backgrounds and of all races, genders, and sexualities to make the best-informed decisions for their personal sexual choices and health. It is the job of sex educators to provide all young people at an early age with the tools and knowledge regarding sex and sexual health that are needed to understand how to live happy, healthy lives. “Comprehensive sexuality education is a concrete step toward improving the overall wellness” (Matos) of all youth, without forgetting or simultaneously marginalizing any one or group. 

5. Resources and Works Cited

https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/summer-2016/teaching-at-the-intersections

https://www.acog.org/Clinical-Guidance-and-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Adolescent-Health-Care/Comprehensive-Sexuality-Education?IsMobileSet=false

 https://feminisminindia.com/2018/06/26/queer-inclusive-sex-education/ https://blog.ospe.on.ca/advocacy/intersectionality/

Works Cited

“Abstinence Education Programs: Definition, Funding, and Impact on Teen Sexual Behavior.” The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 1 June 2018, https://www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/fact-sheet/abstinence-education-programs-definition-funding-and-impact-on-teen-sexual-behavior/.

Alemán, Rosa. “What Is Intersectionality, and What Does It Have to Do with Me?” YW Boston, 2 Aug. 2019, https://www.ywboston.org/2017/03/what-is-intersectionality-and-what-does-it-have-to-do-with-me/.

Coughtry, Roan. “What Is Intersectional Sex Ed?” Roan Coughtry, http://www.roancoughtry.com/what-is-intersectional-sex-ed.

Driver, Jennifer. “Side Eye, Sex Ed, and Intersectionality (Say That Five Times Fast.).” SIECUS, 18 July 2018, https://siecus.org/side-eye-sex-ed-and-intersectionality-say-that-five-times-fast/.

Matos, Amanda R. “Sexuality Education: An Intersectional Policy Model That Young People Deserve.” Medium, Medium, 28 Sept. 2017, https://medium.com/@newleaderscouncil/sexuality-education-an-intersectional-policy-model-that-young-people-deserve-2729df629e1b.

Morrison, Kathleen. “On The Importance Of Intersectionality in Sex Education.” ASHWG, 2 Jan. 2018, http://ashwg.org/2017/12/12/on-the-importance-of-intersectionality-in-sex-education/.

“Most Sexually Active U.S. High School Students Make Decisions That Support Their Sexual Health.” Guttmacher Institute, 20 Sept. 2018, https://www.guttmacher.org/news-release/2018/most-sexually-active-us-high-school-students-make-decisions-support-their-sexual.

“Sex and HIV Education.” Guttmacher Institute, 1 Oct. 2019, https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/sex-and-hiv-education.


Aiyana Roll is a current junior at Old Dominion University who is double majoring in English with a focus in Journalism and Women’s Studies. Along with writing and studying gender, race, and bodylore, she is also passionate about cosmetology and fashion. She expresses her love for makeup through working as a makeup artist at Sephora, and is able to show her love for fashion and thrifting by working at Starlight Exchange, a resale boutique. She hopes to one day combine all of her passions by writing for a blog or magazine where she is able to discuss beauty, fashion, the body, feminism, equality, intersectionality… the list goes on. She also loves coffee, her cat Mouse, food, music, and tattoos.