A survey of 61 students conducted by the Axe staff shows that most South students have a positive view of sexual health education at South. Of those surveyed, 70 percent characterized the sex education they had received at South as “fair” or better. Only eight percent of students indicated that their sex ed experience at South had been “bad” or “extremely bad.”
The fact that most South students feel they have been provided with decent sex education is not a big surprise. The state of Oregon mandates comprehensive, medically accurate sex education in all public schools, one of only 13 states in the nation to do so. The law specifically mentions that schools must teach students about how to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. In addition, in 2015 the Oregon legislature passed Erin’s Law, which mandates that all public schools in Oregon provide education about sexual abuse prevention at least once a year.
Of course, state law is not always implemented in the same way across districts or individual Oregon schools themselves. Some schools simply do not have the funding for the required programs. However, South Eugene High School seems to have made significant efforts to meet state standards. All South students are required to take at least two trimesters of health classes, and almost all health classes include a unit on human sexuality.
“I think we are so lucky to have that basic information that’s factual and accurate,” junior Ylan Guinsbourg said.
Most sex ed units at South cover — at least to some extent — sexuality and gender diversity, consent, contraception methods and STI prevention. Teachers often bring in guest presenters from local non-profits or South’s two very own peer education groups: AYSE (America’s Youth for Sexual Education) and Respect(Ed).
“We learned a lot about HIV, and we had someone from the HIV Alliance come in and talk,” junior Sarah Parsons said of her freshman health class.
However, only seven percent of students surveyed indicated that their sex ed experience at South merited a rating of “excellent.”
The general consensus seems to be that, as senior Aria Ervin put it, “It’s fine. It’s not the best.”
Why? What is preventing our our sex ed program from being great, instead of just good?
Some feel that, while the curriculum strives to be comprehensive, it still is not thorough enough. Classic South health classes are typically taught in one-trimester segments, which means that teachers can sometimes struggle to fit everything into the couple of weeks alloted for the human sexuality unit.
“It covers the basics of a big range of topics, which is good, but it’s still lacking in some areas,” freshman Kylie McKeon said of her Teen Health class.
Others feel that the curriculum does not fully cover the sexual health needs particular to the LGBTQ+ community.
“I know that it’s a lot better than at some places, but you can’t say that having Respect(Ed) come in for one day to talk to the freshmen to say that gay people exist… is comprehensive sex ed,” junior Carson McVay said.
Guinsbourg found her sex ed unit comprehensive but dull.
“I didn’t feel like it was engaging in any way or like I wanted to come to class,” Guinsbourg said.
Finally, some people point out that the health credit graduation requirement does not ensure that all students receive sufficient sex education. In fact, there are loopholes in the rule that allow some South students to get by without receiving any sex ed at all. For example, students can take courses such as Child Development, Advanced Child Psychology and Fitness for Life, all of which count as health credits and yet none of which any include sexual health instruction.
“The way the credit system is set up, you don’t have to take a health class. You can take Child Development or something else and easily get by without receiving sex education,” junior Connor Gabor said. Gabor himself has completed all his required health credits through child psychology courses and thus has received no official sex education in high school.
This loophole — as well as scheduling errors, school changes and other extenuating circumstances — might explain why ten percent of South students surveyed indicated that they had not received any sex education at South Eugene High School.
For South’s International High School students, the situation is a little different. All IHS freshmen are required to take Global Health, a year-long course that includes a unit on human sexuality.
“Health class was my favorite class,” Parsons, now a junior in the IHS program, said. “I actually thought that I had a really good education.”
Zoe Chihorek, a sophomore in the IHS program, agreed.
“I believe that overall, it was a positive experience with unbiased teaching, and opinions from multiple perspectives,” Chihorek said of the Global Health sex ed unit.
Parsons and Chihorek both expressed that, after consulting with their peers in both IHS and classic South, they believe that the sexual health instruction they received in Global Health was superior to its classic South counterpart.
“In my experience, IHS sex ed was more immersive and engaging,” said Chihorek.
Because Global Health meets two out of every three days all year, IHS students are taught health for a longer continuous period of time than their classic South peers, who are only required to take two trimesters of health, not necessarily in sequence. Parsons feels that this may account for the ability of IHS health teachers to provide students with a more comprehensive coverage of topics in human sexuality.
However, IHS students are not required to take any more health classes after freshman year. Classic South students, on the other hand, usually spread out their health credits over their four years; students often take Teen Health in their freshman year and another class sometime later on in their high school career. Yet very few IHS or classic South students take more than the required number of health credits. This means that neither the IHS nor the classic South curriculum meets the provisions of Erin’s Law, which requires that students receive instruction about sexual abuse prevention every year of their K-12 education.
Gabor pointed out that these several year gaps in between sexual health instruction can prove problematic, especially because of the dramatic changes in patterns of sexual behavior high schoolers can experience in just a few years.
“Seniors can easily take health by the time they’re in their fourth year and by then there’s a lot of damage that has already happened, especially if they’re not taught about consent or how to use a condom [or] problems with STIs. By then it’s already too late because likely people are already going to be having sex by the time they’re seniors,” Gabor said.
So if many South students are not completely satisfied with the sex education they receive at school, where else do they look for information about sex? According to a 2013 study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 28 percent of teens get information on sexual health from online sources. Among South students, this rate is even higher, with 49 percent of those surveyed reporting that they receive the majority of their information about sex from the internet.
Gabor, who lacks any official sex ed instruction from South, claims he has learned a lot about sexuality from online sources.
“I’ve watched a lot YouTube videos,” Gabor said. “I look at a lot of videos online about queer sex ed because that’s something that’s completely lacking in public school systems.”
McVay concurs that LGBTQ+ youth at South are often compelled to search out information online because of a lack of representation in the sex education curriculum.
“If you aren’t straight, your sex ed is google,” McVay said.
However, Gabor and McVay both expressed concerns that the internet is not always an accurate or efficient source.
“It’s kind of random what you get on the internet, and you just have to hope you get the correct information,” Gabor said.
In second place after the internet came health class, with 23 percent of respondents reporting that they received the majority of their information about sex in class. This was followed closely by friends, with 18 percent of those surveyed indicating that they received the majority of their information about sex from their peers.
“At this point in my life I would say most of the information that I take in about sex is from the internet and my friends and their personal experiences,” Guinsbourg said.
Understandably, very few respondents (about five percent) indicated that they received most of their information about sex from their parents. And none of those surveyed reported receiving the majority of their sex information from pornography.
However, Guinsbourg feels that porn may have more of an effect on the way South students think about sex than they believe.
“I do think a lot of my peers watch a significant amount of porn on a regular basis,” Guinsbourg said. “I think a lot of them feel that they are informed enough that it doesn’t strongly influence their views on sex, but whether that’s true or not—jury’s out.”
It is unclear exactly how these various sources of information have influenced South students’ sexual health.
“Certainly a large portion of the [South] population is sexually active,” Guinsbourg said. “I feel like the people I know, yes, overall, they’re practicing safe sex with consent, but there have been instances where there’s been confusions and situations that got messy and questions of consent or not that have come up, even in a group that feels like they’re educated.”
Gabor is concerned that sexually active teens at South may not fully comprehend all that safe sex entails.
“I know that a lot of people are using condoms, but there’s so much more to sex,” he said. “We rarely ever talk about the emotional implications of what having sex means.”
Where do we go from here? How can our educators better ensure the safety and health of South’s sexually active students? How do we make South’s fairly decent sex ed program into an excellent one? Guinsbourg has a few ideas.
“It being really engaging, more in depth, more of a conversation—I think that would be the next step,” she said.
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