Written by Meghan, RSEI Educator | Published June 5th, 2020

2020 has already been a monumental year for adaptability in education. We’ve seen end of year events canceled, schools shift to virtual classrooms and sex education put on the back burner.

While the last few months can feel like a blur and the impending months can feel daunting we at RSEI want to remind everyone of the importance of keeping sex education a part of students’ academic experience. For many young people sex education may be their only exposure to medically accurate and developmentally-appropriate information about birth control, STIs, pregnancy, and healthy relationships. While our new plates can feel more than full we wanted to remind people about the newly updated National Sex Education Standards that came out earlier this year. Missed them? It’s okay! You can find them here.

In this month’s blog we wanted to take time and highlight some of the changes to the standards we are most impressed with!

Puberty needs to be covered before Middle School:

So often we get called into schools to teach a puberty lesson to middle schoolers who are already going through puberty. By this point we are reinforcing or helping correct some of the knowledge they already have instead of introducing the material to them. Puberty usually starts sometime between 8 and 16 years old, though it’s normal for it to start even earlier (or even later). When we wait until our students are 11/12/13 years old we have denied those who started puberty earlier the chance to feel prepared and in control of their body’s changes. Let’s also not forget that puberty can start before menstruation or ejaculation and can be heavily emotional for many people. Providing puberty education in elementary school is a best practice!

Expanded standards for Gender Identity and Expression & Sexual Orientation & Identity:

Sex Education has a long history of being hetero-normative and excluding representation for LGBTQ+ communities. Creating robust national standards, and for states like Colorado policy, that says there needs to be LGBTQ+ representation is a huge step in the right direction for creating inclusive learning environments in sex education. Some of our favorite ways to bring more representation into the classrooms is by using scenarios or examples in all of our lessons that highlight different identities and relationships. Subtly introducing they/them pronouns for scenarios can help challenge students assumptions about the characters in a story, as well as blatantly having LGBTQ+ couples shown in activities and examples. 

It’s also important to not make assumptions about your students and what content is or isn’t applicable to their situations now or in the future. At RSEI we believe in Sex Education For All!

Naming Sex Trafficking as Teachable Material:

Not only do the updated standards have robust inclusions for talking about interpersonal violence, which has long been a portion of healthy relationship lessons, but there are specific guidelines for educators to have conversations with their students about sex trafficking. Unfortunately, sex trafficking is a real risk, expecially for young people.However, by naming it and talking about the warning signs of sex trafficking young people can be more prepared to fight against it.

Teen Pregnancy Prevention Language is Greatly Reduced:

If you haven’t watched our May 2019 Webinar on “Dismantling Teen Pregnancy Prevention” you should! It’s a great look into how problematic Teen Pregnancy Prevention programs are. Spoiler they’re racist and can be incredibly stigmatizing to young people who are pregnant or are already parenting. So, by reducing the focus on pregnancy prevention and increasing the language around autonomy this greatly helps destigmatize teen/younger parents. We love seeing all options of birth control talked about equally instead of focusing on abstinence vs. other methods. This allows our students to make decisions that best fit their lifestyles and their personal needs.

While many may think of sex education as condoms on bananas or scary birth videos (both of which we don’t recommend) it’s important to remember that sex education isn’t only about teaching students “the birds and the bees” but its helping prepare our young people, with emotional intelligence, to navigate the world. From communication skills, to managing period symptoms, to avoiding abuse we are helping our young people become adults. At RSEI we are proud of these new National Sex Education Standards and hope that they can be as much of a guide for all of you as they are for us. As always we are here to support you. Reach out to us anytime by emailing Professional.Development@pprm.org.