The Dangers of Isolation
Sex education isn’t an easy topic for some, but it’s a crucial part of healthy development in youth. However, while society in general has become more inclusive of the LGBTQ population, these 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. 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.
Sexual health information and sex education in the United States have become disjointed, and inconsistent, unregulated curriculums have left gaps in vital education for youth and young adults — especially those in LGBTQ communities.
“There has been a lot of social change over the past few decades,” Dr. Macapagal says, noting that some laws and education have yet to catch up. While sex education is legally required in 24 states and Washington, D.C., it is only required to be medically accurate in 13 states. Only four states mandate that sex education be LGBTQ-inclusive; seven states specifically prohibit same-sex perspectives from being discussed in class.
Exclusion and Unhealthy Behaviors
When people exclude identities and experiences of LGBTQ youth from sex education materials, it accentuates feelings of isolation, says Dr. Macapagal. She says the omission of minority experiences poses long-term dangers for sexual and emotional wellbeing.
“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 definitely has a lot of ramifications for not only sexual health, but also romantic relationships down the road.”
Ignoring LGBTQ youth in sex education policy essentially renders them invisible and feeds the stigma around LGBTQ identities and sexual behavior. Hence, LGBTQ persons are left to seek out and conduct their own education around sexual health and safe sex practices.
Here are resources you can use and give to others to help remedy the gap in health and education for LGBTQ youth.
- Look for healthcare providers who offer inclusive, comprehensive and accurate sex education and leading-edge, reliable care, such as those at Northwestern Medicine. As a recognized leader in LGBTQ healthcare equality, Northwestern Medicine is dedicated to providing excellent care for all patients, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.
- Planned Parenthood offers a large array of inclusive educational information on sex and healthy sexual practices.
- Chicago Healthy Adolescents & Teens (CHAT) offers support by providing information, local resources and more regarding sexual health, sexual orientation, gender identity, relationships and other crucial health topics.
- Sex, Etc. is an online publication and magazine that provides accurate and relevant stories and blog posts on sex education, sexual health and other related topics.
These resources, though beneficial, are not the permanent solution. Social movements have led to societal change, but for true reform to occur, take time to know and be informed about the laws and policies in your school district, community and beyond.