The four-course series aims to provide students with strategies and resources to play an active role in their own health, while also equipping them with the skills to promote the health of their peers.
By: Dynasti deGouville
When most people discuss their history of sexual education, it is often short and inadequate. Sexual education is the comprehensive teaching about human sexuality, including intimate relationships, human sexual anatomy, sexual reproduction, sexually transmitted infections, sexual activity, sexual orientation, gender identity, abstinence, contraception, and reproductive rights and responsibilities. The sexual education policy in the state of Georgia heavily emphasizes “abstinence from sexual activity until marriage and fidelity in marriage as important personal goals.” However, research has shown that abstinence-only education is highly ineffective in preventing teen-pregnancy and STDs including HIV/AIDS. Yet, schools continue to teach abstinence-only sexual education and, in some schools, sexual education is not required at all.
In 2015, Georgia had the fifth highest rate of new HIV diagnoses (12.9 cases/100â€Š000 people) in the United States. Sixty-six percent of HIV-infected individuals lived in Atlanta and 69% of new diagnoses were reported from the Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area in 2011. This unaffectionately garnering the nickname ‘AIDSlanta.’ Among people living with diagnosed HIV in Georgia, only 68% of youth are linked to care within 30 days, and just 52% of 13-19 year olds and 38% of 20—24 year olds achieved viral suppression.
Additionally, Atlanta area youth are likely to be diagnosed at more advanced stages of illness with more 13—24 year olds progressing to Stage 2 HIV at diagnosis compared with any other age group. This delayed diagnosis of HIV increases the chance of patient mortality and HIV transmission. Low rates of condom use along with declining rates of HIV education in schools are likely contributors to the staggering rate of over 50% of HIV positive youth being unaware of their HIV status.
In the Atlanta and metro-Atlanta area–including Fulton, Cobb, Fayette, Clayton, and Gwinnett counties– a program called ‘Choosing the Best Journey’ (CTBJ) is employed. This program specializes in abstinence only education and does so by depicting fearful images of sex and its consequences. This is the description for a module in CTBJ:
“Teens learn about the negative emotional effects of casual sex and how sexual delay provides freedom: freedom from physical and emotional risks and the freedom to pursue dreams and personal goals.”
CTBJ is, in fact, a non-evidence-based curriculum that has been widely critiqued for being medically inaccurate, heteronormative, and blatantly sexist by organizations working in sex education, including the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). CTBJ promotes the idea that sex is a shameful act and that those who are ‘impure’ or ‘fail’ at preserving their virginity are inherently hurting themselves and their freedom. According to SIECUS, “The fundamental flaw of ‘Choosing the Best Journey’ is that it aims to push a singular agenda… while convincing students that they are making their own choices.” This singular agenda implies that, while students can technically decide what is best for them, there is the “best choice” of abstinence. SIECUS believes that this is achieved by exposing teens to images and stories of people who have contracted HIV or have gotten pregnant in their teen years, essentially fear-mongering teens out of sexual interest and sexual activity.
Additionally, non-comprehensive sexual education through CTBJ is dated not only in its inaccurate medical information, but also in its biases in stereotypes. With approximately 50% of Atlanta’s population identifying as Black or African American and approximately 11% identifying as Hispanic, the city’s sexual education curriculum does a disservice to their Black and brown students. Many Black and/or Hispanic students reported facing assumptions that they were sexually active and knowledgeable, despite this often not being the case. Students of color expressed that they felt educators made assumptions about their previous sexual experiences based on their race, and that this resulted in sex education that was not relevant to their lives.
Moreover, 4.2% of Atlanta’s population identifies as LGBTQIA+ which is a substantial percentage in relation to the rest of the country. LGBTQIA+ youth report classmates often expressed insulting or dangerous stereotypes about LGBTQIA+ students, which educators frequently reinforced. Many students, especially those who identified as LGBTQIA+, reported experiencing a lack of emotional safety in both their sex education classrooms and high schools at large. This often resulted in a need to hide their orientations or gender identities, and in a refusal to ask questions in class that might suggest that they were not straight and cisgender.
When it comes to LGBTQIA+ inclusivity, “Choosing the Best Journey” neglects to mention “same-sex couples or gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals.” All references to sexual activity are specific to heterosexual couples including a virginity-until-marriage pledge in which marriage is defined as a union between members of the “opposite sex.” This combination of racial biases and LGBTQIA+ exclusion is highly concerning given that Black LGBTQIA+ youth are the most at risk for contracting STDs, especially in Atlanta and the metro-Atlanta area.
Abstinence only education has been proven to be highly ineffective at preventing STDs and teen pregnancies. Queer students and students of color need to feel more welcomed and included in their sex education classes, especially for queer Black teens, and the information they are provided needs to be more inclusive and medically accurate.
References Stanger-Hall, K., Hall, D. (2011). Abstinence-only education and teen pregnancy rates:
why we need comprehensive sex education in the U.S. PloS one, 6(10), e24658.
Murray, A., Gaul, Z., Leong, T., Graves, C., Sutton, M. Y., Chakraborty, R. (2017). The
Metropolitan Atlanta community adolescent rapid testing initiative study: closing the
gaps in HIV care among youth in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. AIDS (London, England), 31(3),
S267—S275. https://doi.org/10.1097/QAD.0000000000001512 Alterman, Amy E. (2018). Performing Research in the Closeted City: One Lesbian
Researcher’s Autoethnographic Journey toward LGBTQ-Inclusive Sex Education in
Atlanta, Georgia. Queer Cats Journal of LGBTQ Studies, 2(1), 35-58.
Abstinence-Only Sex Education for Marginalized Students. American Journal of Sexuality