Tag Archives: sex education

Lesbian teens have higher rates of pregnancy than straight teens (and why we need to include everyone in sex education)

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It’s true: lesbian teens have higher rates of pregnancy than those who identify as straight. Also, gay males are more likely to be responsible for a pregnancy during their teen years than straight males. It may sound counter-intuitive, but research backs these numbers up[1] [2].

Earlier this year, I published an article in the American Journal of Sexuality Education entitled “Sexual Health Equity in Schools: Inclusive Sexuality and Relationship Education for Gender and Sexual Minority Students[3]. In it, I argue that, while researchers do not know for certain why lesbian teens are at higher risk for pregnancy, it likely does not help that the vast majority of school-based sexuality and relationship education programs exclude gender and sexual minorities (GSM) from the curriculum[4]. Indeed, I point out in the piece that a number of issues that sex education aims to address, such as age of first intercourse and number of partners, condom and birth control use, and dating violence disproportionately (and negatively) impact lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth as compared to their heterosexual, cisgender peers.

It is perhaps less surprising that gender and sexual minority teens are not responding to school-based sexuality education when we consider that they are essentially ignored in most programs. Of those that do make mention of anyone other than heterosexual, cisgender people, it is often through messages that are pathologizing (i.e. exaggerating the relationship between sexual orientation and HIV/AIDS), or the ‘information’ is downright inaccurate. A number of U.S. states actually mandate that their schools’ curricula be discriminatory against LGBTQ people[5]. GSM students do not see themselves reflected in most sex education programs, and might simply check out during those lessons, leaving them without the knowledge and skills necessary to nurture their sexual and reproductive health.

As most of the data supporting my article was collected in the United States, it is theoretically possible that other countries are doing a much better job at including GSM students in their sex education programs. This is unlikely, however, given the relatively restrictive legal, political, and social situation for GSM people in many parts of the world[6]. Also, of the few countries that have collected information about GSM students, none has shown that this demographic fares as well as their heterosexual, cisgender peers in outcomes targeted by sex ed[7].

Want to do better for your students? Consider adopting the K-12 Sexuality Education Standards published by the public health organization, the Future of Sex Education. The content of these standards is accurate, evidence-informed, developmentally and age-appropriate, and designed to be relevant to a diverse student body. These standards are being used to some degree in 32 states in the U.S., so international schools following an American curriculum in particular will appreciate staying up to speed with current best practice. Adopting an inclusive sexual health and relationship curriculum is one step toward a more just and fair education for all students.

You can link to my full, published article here.

How does your school ensure that gender and sexual minority students have access to sexual health and relationship information? 

 

[1] Charlton, B. M., Roberts, A. L., Rosario, M., Katz-Wise, S. L., Calzo, J. P., Spiegelman, D., & Bryn Austin, S. (2018). Teen pregnancy risk factors among young women of diverse sexual orientations. Pediatrics, 14(4).

[2] Institute of Medicine. (2011). The health of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people: Building a foundation for better understanding. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

[3] Meadows, E. (2018). Sexual health equity in schools: Inclusive sexuality and relationship education for gender and sexual minority students. American Journal of Sexuality Education. doi: 10.1080/15546128.2018.1431988

[4] The Guttmacher Institute. (2016). Fact Sheet: American Teens’ Sources of Sexual Health Information.

[5] Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). (2017). State Profiles.

[6] Carroll, A. & Mendos, L. R. (2017). State-sponsored homophobia: A world survey of sexual orientation laws: Criminalization, protection and recognition. International Lesbian and Gay Association.

[7] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). (2016). Out in the open: Education sector responses to violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Paris, France: UNESCO.

 

 

There Are No Good Guys, and Other Teachable Moments from the Kavanaugh Hearing

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Brett Kavanaugh, now United States Supreme Court justice, is the latest in a string of men publicly demonstrating that there are no good guys.

Hang onto your #notallmen comebacks. There are no good guys – and there are no bad guys.

This type of binary thinking (good vs. bad) is problematic. Whether considering the sexual abuse epidemic in the Catholic church, or the extraordinary number of stories from the #metoo movement, a common theme is that people accused of assault are rarely pure villains. Someone out there is usually willing to vouch for their character, even to summon a respectable letter from the community attesting to their wholesomeness and good deeds. To take this as evidence that they have never once behaved inappropriately, however, is a logical fallacy with potentially serious consequences.

If a child understands that the adults in their life believe a religious leader/neighbour/doctor/family member/teacher is a ‘good guy’, and we’ve taught children to internalize people as being on one side or another of a good/bad binary, how might that impact their interpretation of a sexual assault? How might that influence their likelihood of reporting the ‘good guy’, or seeking help?

As educators, we can support children to see people as nuanced, and work to dismantle this simplistic good vs. bad misconception. Doing so may also encourage a healthier self-concept by giving little ones the chance to recover from mistakes that inevitably accompany learning. Otherwise, when a child uses binary thinking to judge themself, a simple misstep may create unnecessary internal conflict. Educators who cultivate a growth mindset with students will recognize this approach.

I do not mean to equivocate minor childhood gaffes with actual crimes, and this is not to say that someone who commits sexual assault in high school (allegedly) should be excused their behaviour and rewarded with a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court of the United States. Certainly we must face consequences for our choices. But, is Brett Kavanaugh entirely evil? Plenty of supporters would say no, and I agree: nobody is completely good or completely bad.

Other teachable moments from the Kavanaugh hearings:

  1. Sexual assault is not normal teen behaviour – it is violent behaviour. Let’s keep saying this loud and clear, and teaching children about consent early and often.
  2. Binge drinking is not normal teen behaviour; less than 1 in 3 American teens report drinking at all, and only 13% report binge drinking (defined as 4-5 beers in a row)[1]. Let us not normalize underage drinking.
  3. If a yearbook quote can follow you to a job interview in your 50’s, so can a social media post. Take care with online footprints.

If the recent U.S. Supreme Court nomination process came up with your students, how were you able to use it as a teachable moment?

 

[1] 2017. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/results.htm

You Don’t Have to Kiss Auntie Katie: Teaching Consent in International Families

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My son will undoubtedly be thrilled to see my sister this month. Whenever he hears the FaceTime ring, he shrieks her name in anticipation of their chat. However, if it takes him a while to warm up to Auntie Katie since our last visit, that’s understandable. Katie also has children and knows that it is not just about respecting our babies’ personal space; we are teaching them about consent.

It can be tricky when the relative seeking a kiss from your child doesn’t receive it in return. It may feel like a personal affront when a little one denies their offer to snuggle and, as parents, there may be pressure to apologize for the perceived slight, or even coax the wee one into their loving relative’s arms. The message we send when we do this is that physical contact is owed to certain people, by nature of the relationship, regardless of whether it feels good.

These interactions may seem innocuous: What’s the harm in one hug? It’s from someone you love, after all. And they gave you a present! You don’t want to make them feel bad, do you? You hugged them last time you saw them… However, the path to date rape and other forms of sexual harassment can follow chillingly-similar lines of logic. When we prioritize other peoples’ desire to be physically affectionate (however well-intentioned) over bodily autonomy, we are depriving our child the chance to learn how to set boundaries.

The Harvard Graduate School of Education has reinvigorated this conversation with a report published last month showing that an estimated 87% of women aged 18-25 in the U.S. have been sexually harassed[1]. These findings are serious, and all children will benefit from understanding how to set boundaries for themselves, and to respect those of others. Of course I am not equating our loved ones’ affection with assault. Still, it is understandable that children may have difficulty understanding bodily autonomy if they have learned at home that personal boundaries are trivial. Indeed, this Harvard study suggests that most parents and educators aren’t talking with young people about consent at all.

As a school counselor, I have taught hundreds of children about consent; this can be done at any age. We discuss the importance of asking permission before offering a hug. We learn about reading body language and experiencing empathy for others. Even young students appreciate personal space, and should be taught how to say no to unwelcome touch[2]. Hugs can be heartwarming, bond-enhancing acts of kindness, but only if all participants are enjoying it. While parents and educators world-wide teach children to use their manners, it is important that young people also know they have the right to be firm when it comes to unwanted physical contact.

For international families, this is a particularly salient issue. Children abroad may not see extended family and friends for spans of months or years at a time, so close physical contact might not feel appropriate upon reunification. International families sometimes harbour guilt at separating their children from relatives and friends back ‘home’, which can exacerbate the situation. And even if, as in the case with my son and his Auntie Katie, the child adores the person, seeing them face-to-face for the first time in a while may feel overwhelming.

5 ways to support children learning about consent: 

  • If you haven’t already, start talking about consent with your child now. The full report from Harvard includes recommendations and resources for teaching children about healthy relationships, with a focus on preventing misogyny and sexual harassment.
  • Check with the school about lessons your child has received on consent so you can reinforce the message, language, and strategies at home.
  • Have a chat with family and friends before reunions to let them know your child is learning about consent. This way they won’t be caught off-guard.
  • Offer your child the option to give a high five/fist bump/wave instead. These can be friendly alternatives to a hug or kiss.
  • Finally: be prepared! We have all had the experience of being caught, with our child, in an awkward situation. (I will never forget the first time – yes, it happened more than once – that a friend stuck her finger in my baby’s mouth. You’d better believe I had a quick response ready the second time someone tried this.) If you and your child have a plan for how to respond to unwanted touch, they will feel more confident asserting their needs, and you will be prepared to support them.

How and when does your school teach students about consent?
What are your favourite resources for talking to children about consent?

[1] Weissbourd, R., Anderson, T. R., Cashin, A., & McIntyre, C. (2017). The talk: How adults can promote young people’s healthy relationships and prevent misogyny and sexual harassment [Executive Summary]. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Graduate School of Education.

[2] Children should also learn about exceptions, such vaccinations from the doctor, which are not necessarily welcome touch, but required for health and safety. I teach students that these exceptions should never be a secret and, if in doubt, to seek help from a trusted adult.