After Roe, it is worth reviewing North Carolina’s sex education laws

North Carolina errantly pushes an abstinence-based, heteronormative sex education curriculum

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North Carolina’s sex education laws are failing young people, especially in the wake of Dobbs v. Jackson, writes Breanna Laws.

Breanna Laws, Staff Columnist

In light of the recent Supreme Court decision overturning the landmark abortion rights case Roe v. Wade, it is essential that we take the sexual education we provide to our children into heavy consideration. These laws vary between states, and it is undeniable that many miss the mark. North Carolina is no exception, with guidelines that stress abstinence, monogamy, and heterosexuality.

The problematic element of these guidelines is that they perpetuate a heteronormative structure and a culture of shame regarding sexual activity. Perpetuating this culture makes it significantly more difficult for adolescents to feel comfortable discussing sexual topics with adults. Because of this discomfort, children tend to seek advice from unreliable sources (e.g. pornography) and thus engage in more risky sexual behaviors.

The heteronormativity of these guidelines cannot be overlooked. Guideline number five promotes principles of both monogamy and heterosexuality. This is a double standard, as many governing bodies and individuals censor information about safe sex practices for LGBTQ+ individuals so not to “force” homosexuality on children. However, in the subject of sexual education, forcing heterosexual norms onto children is accepted by many sectors of society.

In addition to double standards, the rules listed within the statutes are highly unrealistic. If adolescents wish to have sexual intercourse, they likely will. To give credit to North Carolina, their sex education guidelines are not solely abstinence-based. However, the goal should be to have comprehensive sex education and do away with the push for abstinence, as abstinence-based education has consistently proven to be unreliable. 

To give a full picture, the ten states with the highest rates of teen pregnancy as defined by the CDC in 2020 are: New Mexico, Texas, West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi. Of these states, three do not mandate sex education, two teach only abstinence-based education and five do not require sex education to be evidence-based or culturally appropriate.

The evidence here is clear — restricting access to comprehensive sex education for adolescents does not work. Approximately 50% of teenagers engage in sexual intercourse. Governments must enact laws that will allow these individuals to fully understand their anatomy and sexuality. This may also look like providing these individuals with access to STD testing resources and obtainable contraceptives.

Forming safe spaces for minors to learn about these things will eliminate the shame culture around sex and thereby decrease risky sexual behaviors. Young adults will feel more comfortable coming to responsible adults for guidance around these topics. This will benefit people in multiple ways, including decreasing rates of sexual abuse and domestic violence, identifying victims of childhood sexual assault, decreasing unwanted pregnancies and decreasing STD/STI infection rates.

However, these benefits can only be reaped if action is taken. As citizens, we can extend outreach to the government of our state — which may look like writing a letter, making a call or setting up a meeting. Through making your opinion heard, change may be ignited. Children deserve autonomy over their bodies, and adolescents deserve comprehensive education on healthy romantic and sexual relations.