Our Sex Education: A Reading List

Here are nine stories about modern-day sex education and our history with bad sex ed classes.

1. “John Oliver Eviscerates American Sex Ed–But the Reality is Even Worse.” (Dianna Anderson, Rolling Stone, August 2015)

Ready to get angry? In a recent Last Week Tonight segment, John Oliver lambasted abstinence-only sex education, which features celibacy as the only method to prevent pregnancy. Dianna Anderson, feminist blogger and author of Damaged Goods, goes in-depth on the sorry state of sex ed in the United States. Thanks to Title V, tens of millions of dollars are funneled toward conservative teaching methods that do more fear-mongering than educating. Recently, the House of Representatives ratified a bill that will give even more money to abstinence-only “education.” This is federal and state funding, not private revenue. And parents who want their kids to have a holistic, comprehensive sex education in their schools face a bureaucratic nightmare.

2. “The Talk.” (Rachel Giese, The Walrus, April 2014)

Meet the WiseGuyz, a holistic sex ed program, potentially changing the way boys approach their identities and their relationships. WiseGuyz is led by cool 20- and 30-something men, and it has four sections: human rights and values; anatomy, contraception and sex; sexuality and gender; and healthy relationships. “Teaching young men to trust, communicate, negotiate, and empathize does not undermine or threaten their manliness. It expands their humanity. It reclaims men’s possibilities.”

3. “My Sexual Education in the 1950s.” (Mary J. Breen, The Toast, July 2013)

The Catholic church talked about sex in terms of sin. Her school gym teacher couldn’t even say the word “period.” Her family didn’t say anything.

4. “The Sex-Positive Saga of Laci Green.” (Rae Votta, The Kernel, July 2015)

When she began to question her Mormon faith, Laci Green started vlogging on YouTube. Coming out of a faith tradition that condemns same-sex relationships and premarital sex, Green discovered feminism and started to discuss misogyny, sex and consent in her videos. Now, she has upwards of one million subscribers and uses her ever-increasing influence to voice support for victims of sexual assault and share sex education online and on college campuses.

5. “Sexual Consent Classes at Oxbridge–‘I Feel Safer in College After Doing This.'” (as told to Bim Adewunmi, The Guardian, October 2014)

Learning the mechanics, pleasures and risks of sex is important–but so is learning consent. In the U.K., a fledgling program for university freshmen seeks to inspire respect and honesty in relationships. In the words of one student, “Sexual consent is being talked about more in the media these days, but it is still not much talked about in universities. It can seem as if it’s just the ‘mad, raving feminists’ that talk about it, but because these workshops are for everyone, with the whole university talking about it, it was quite comforting.”

6. “Can We Adapt Sex Ed for the New LGBT-Inclusive America?” (Casey Quinlan, ThinkProgress, August 2015)

“Of the 22 states that actually require sex education, only 12 of them ask that teachers mention sexual orientation.” As disheartening as that statistic is, I was impressed by this report, which outlines the obstacles to LGBTQ-centric sex ed and includes recommendations and resources for making health class a safe space. Gay and lesbian students are included in these experts’ discussions, but so are the needs of agender, demisexual, genderqueer, asexual, bisexual and trans* students.

7. “What if We Admitted to Children that Sex is Primarily About Pleasure?” (Alice Dreger, Pacific Standard, May 2014)

Inspired by his natural curiosity, Alice Dreger’s frank, kind answers to her son’s questions about sex bypass shame and embarrassment. Instead of using coded language or euphemisms, Dreger fills in the gaps in the education her son and his friends receive.

8. “Slut-Shaming, Eugenics, and Donald Duck: The Scandalous History of Sex-Ed Movies.” (Lisa Hix, Collectors Weekly, December 2014)

Lisa Hix takes you through the hilarious and harrowing history of those unfortunate health class films:

In the beginning, sex-ed films for teenagers served to reinforce middle-class norms, specifically the belief that sex is only for procreation in the context of a heterosexual marriage. Today, you’d think that we’d have a much more evolved point of view, embracing films that teach youth about safe, healthy, and respectful expression of diverse sexuality. But the most open-minded and detailed classroom sex-ed films were made and screened in the ’70s, and many of those are banned as pornographic now. 

9. “40 Places to Learn Everything You Never Heard in Sex Ed.” (Natalie Brown, BuzzFeed, May 2015)

Books, websites, videos and podcasts about sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and more.