A call to action for comprehensive sexuality education and open conversations about sex.
There is no shortage of sex depicted in the media. Allusions to sex are pervasive across our music, movies, and certainly our advertising. While we may see, and even think, a lot about sex, it seems we don’t know how to actually talk about it.
The fact remains that in the United States, only 24 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education. In fact, more states require that sex education should be abstinence-based than medically accurate (37 states vs. 13 states).  With an emphasis on not having sex and an outright acceptance of misinformation, how do we expect young people to navigate and engage in safe and healthy sex and relationships?
Sadly, misguided representations of sex in our media, porn, and schools often lead to vulnerability, internalized shame, confusion, and uninformed decision-making. The CDC reports that 37.4% of female rape victims were first raped between the ages of 18–24, and 42.2% of female rape victims were first raped before age 18.  When we aren’t addressing topics such as consent, boundaries, and healthy communication, we are choosing to ignore sexual violence, which in turn, promotes a culture that vilifies, rather than supports, survivors of sexual assault.
Furthermore, due to a lack of information and an abundance of stigmas surrounding sexual health management, it really isn’t any wonder that 15–24 year olds account for half of the 20 million new sexually transmitted infections that occur in the United States each year.  While it may be unsurprising given the current cultural attitudes toward sex that allow the perpetuation of opinions over facts, it is undeniably alarming and dangerous from a public health standpoint.
We need to do better to teach our young people how to stay safe and empower them to take control of their sexual health.
So, what exactly is sexual health?
Well, for one, it extends far beyond birth control and STIs. The World Health Organization defines sexual health as, “a state of physical, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality. It requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”  It is important to note that sexual health encompasses mental, emotional, and physical wellness. It also involves topics unrelated to sex specifically, such as menstruation, healthy relationships, and gender identity. With all of these factors at play, it is critical for adolescents to approach sexual health free from shame and ignorance. If we want to make smart decisions, we need to be better informed on the drivers behind our desires and the outcome of our choices.
tabú was created to challenge the stigmas that contribute to negative attitudes toward sex. We aim to leverage education and community to strip down the societal constructs we have built around us. We all deserve to better understand our bodies, what brings us pleasure (not just sexual), and how we can make decisions that best reflect our physical, emotional, and mental needs. We need to actually talk about sex. So let’s get the conversation started!
And for your entertainment, John Oliver’s overview of sex ed and how it is taught (differently) across the US:
- Sex and HIV Education | Guttmacher Institute
- Sexual Violence | CDC
- Adolescents and Young Adults | CDC
- Sexual Health | WHO
Header image illustrated by Marcy Gooberman
This article was originally published on Medium.