The Dangers of Isolation
Updated July 2021
Sex education is not an easy topic, but it is crucial for healthy development in youth. And while society in general has become more inclusive of the LGBTQ population, LGBTQ youth continue to be underserved in the area of sex education.
Kathryn Macapagal, PhD, a research assistant professor for medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, works with the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing at Northwestern University. She has researched sexual health and behavior, HIV prevention, and sexual and gender minority populations. She offers her thoughts on sex education miscues, how they can affect LGBTQ youth and possible resources to help inform yourself and others.
Inconsistent, unregulated sex education curriculums have left gaps in vital education for youth and young adults in the U.S. — especially for those in LGBTQ communities, says Dr. Macapagal.
"There has been a lot of social change over the past few decades," she says, yet some laws and education have yet to catch up. For example:
- Sex education is legally required in only 29 states and Washington, D.C.
- Only 15 states require sex education to be "medically accurate," and the definition of "medically accurate" varies widely across states.
- Only nine states require that discussion of LGBTQ identities and relationships be inclusive and affirming.
- Seven states either prohibit sex education from including LGBTQ identities and relationships or require that sex education curricula frame LGBTQ identities and relationships negatively.
Exclusion and Unhealthy Behaviors
When people exclude identities and experiences of LGBTQ youth from sex education materials, it enhances feelings of isolation, says Dr. Macapagal. This poses long-term dangers for physical and emotional well-being.
"LGBTQ youth have higher unwanted pregnancy rates, higher risks of contracting sexually transmitted infections and HIV, and higher rates of partner violence," Dr. Macapagal says. "The exclusion of LGBTQ identities has a lot of ramifications for not only sexual health, but also romantic relationships down the road."
Such exclusion feeds the stigma around LGBTQ identities and sexual behavior, and leaves LGBTQ persons to seek out and conduct their own education around sexual health and safe sex practices.
If you identify as LGBTQ or have an LGBTQ youth in your life, the following resources can help meet sex education needs in order to maintain health and wellness:
- Look for healthcare providers who offer inclusive, comprehensive and accurate sex education and leading-edge, reliable care. The Human Rights Campaign produces a yearly Healthcare Equality Index, which evaluates healthcare facilities' policies and practices related to the equity and inclusion of LGBTQ patients, visitors and employees.
- Planned Parenthood offers a large array of inclusive educational information on sex and healthy sexual practices.
Chicago Healthy Adolescents & Teens (CHAT) offers information, local resources and more regarding sexual health, sexual orientation, gender identity, relationships and other crucial health topics.