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LGBTQ-Competent Sex Education Long Overdue in the United States

Contributing Author: Ann McCaffrey

Published: January 14, 2016


Talking to America's youth about the birds and the bees has been a topic for close to a century. Parents, educators, health care professionals and politicians have been arguing over what's best for the children for decades, but what kind of impact have these discussions made on LGBTQ youth in the United States?

Sexual education was first implemented into school curriculums in the early 1900s and became widespread by the 1960s. When the HIV/AIDS epidemic hit in the 1980s, conservative groups began implementing "abstinence education" and other lessons that claim to educate students against risky behavior. Since then, tens of millions of dollars have been directed at strengthening sexual education curriculum that focuses on abstinence, misinformation regarding healthful practices, and anti-LGBTQ sentiments.



LGBTQ activist and sex advice columnist Dan Savage discussed in a 2013 Huffington Post interview the glaring absence of LGBTQ-competent sexual education in schools: “The culture has pretended for 40 years that gay adults leap out of the backs of gay bars at age 18, fully formed.”[1] Savage’s statement holds true with only 12% of millennials in a 2015 survey saying the subject of same-sex relationships was covered in their sex education class.[2]

The Guttmacher Institute published an overview of Sex and HIV Education state by state. As of the December 2015, twenty-six states require that abstinence be stressed in school programs. Eleven states have no sexual education or HIV education mandates. There are twelve states that require discussion of sexual orientation in sexual education, and, of those, three require the teaching of inaccurate and negative information. There are also seven states where positive discussion of being gay is prohibited in schools. Further, there are currently no states that mandate the discussion of gender identity in sexual education.[3]

In the 2009 Connell and Elliott “Beyond the Birds and the Bees” article, the ways in which anti-LGBTQ attitudes are created and perpetuated by sexual education curricula is explored as being “largely fear-based, with dangers of sexual activity paramount and the pleasures are all but absent.” Connell and Elliot also came to find that in more than five states, educators were “required to teach that homosexuality is physically and psychologically damaging to individuals and communities.”[4] Any attempts to be inclusive of sexual or gender identity are usually met with strong opposition from parents or school boards. Many schools that set up Internet filters for their students specifically target LGBTQ informational resources to block as well as pornographic sites.

There are long-lasting consequences to a curriculum that is not inclusive of LGBTQ students. Anti-LGBTQ sentiment is being perpetuated at these schools where children and their peers will grow to replicate these attitudes and behaviors. Inadequate education about sexual health does not only impact the physical health of students but also their emotional well-being. LGBTQ students often report lower grade-point averages when they also report having been subject to frequent harassment. Suicide rates for LGBTQ youth remain far too high in states that stand by and vehemently defend their harmful legislation.[5]

The LGBTQ community has a rich history of creating its own spaces to exchange information and educate and support each other. In 2013, nearly fifty-seven percent of children ages three to seventeen used the Internet at home. More than half of older youth in America (grades seven through twelve) have used the Internet to look up online health information.[6]

A quick search online for LGBTQ sexual education resources provides information regarding sexual identity, technique, safety, and pleasure. Topics almost completely absent in sexual education classes in schools with many of these sites having been set up by organizations dedicated to filling these gaps safely and responsibly. 

Triangle Community Center (TCC) and many of its partner organizations have acted as a resource to local communities for sexual health and mental wellness. Recently, TCC has teamed up with many organizations to bring about a monthly sexual health and pleasure series called “Sex Talks” that are aimed at addressing LGBTQ-specific sexual education discussions. The first of these monthly talks in November of 2015 was dedicated specifically to online dating safety, which was facilitated by a Planned Parenthood educator.

“What we are trying to do is bring our community information and resources that consider the realities of life for LGBTQ people in 2015” said Director of Operations Conor Pfeifer, “we believe we are the best organization to be doing this, and Planned Parenthood is the best organization with which to partner.”

Future installments of “Sex Talks” will include sexual pleasure, consent, HIV/AIDS, and sexual health. For more information on these talks or if you would like to be involved as a partner organization for this program, please contact [email protected]


[1] Savage, Dan. (2013, June 4). Sex Ed In The LGBT Community | Dan Savage: American Savage | TakePart TV [Video file]. Retrieved from

[2] Public Religion Research Institute. How Race And Religion Shape Millennial Attitudes On Sexuality and Reproductive Health Findings

from the 2015 Millennials, Sexuality, and Reproductive Health Survey. Washington, D.C.: Jones, R. P. & Cox, D.

[3] Guttmacher Institute. (1December 2015). State Policies in Brief: Sex and HIV Education [PDF File]. Available from

[4] Connell, Catherine (MA) and Elliot, Sinikka (PhD). (2009). Beyond the Birds and the Bees: Learning Inequality through Sexuality Education.

[5] Human Rights Campaign. (2015). A Call to Action: LGBTQ Youth Need Inclusive Sex Education.

[6] Child Trends Data Bank (2015). Home Computer Access and Internet Use: Indicators on Children and Youth.

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