What Is a Dental Dam, and Why Can’t My Sex Ed Class Tell Me?

August 25, 2014 /

image:Natasha Yeh

by Maria Hammett

Ed Note: Sexual education is an important part of every young person’s development. The California Comprehensive Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Prevention Education Act states that all students should be educated and equipped to “protect his or her sexual and reproductive health from unintended pregnancy and STDs” as well as to “develop healthy attitudes” concerning important aspects of growth and development, including “gender roles [and] sexual orientation.”

Locally, Merced Union High School District’s Sex Ed policy states that sexual education must be “medically accurate and objective” and “appropriate for use with students of all races, genders, sexual orientations, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and students with disabilities.”

In a city with a growing and increasingly visible LGBT population, LGBT Sex Ed is a crucial issue. Maria, 17, argues that despite the state and local policies, her school is excluding LGBT
students from an already shaky Sex Ed curriculum.

During my Health and Wellness class, I remember having to do an exercise in class that made girls sit on one side of the classroom and guys sit on the other. The girls had to write on a piece of paper what they found attractive in guys and the guys had to do the same for girls.

As a lesbian, I remember being extremely uncomfortable with this exercise. My peers didn’t know I was gay. This experience was just one more reminder that this course wasn’t geared for all students and their needs, especially LGBT students.

Not once do I recall the mention of same-sex relationships at all in my sex education experience. The only time we even slightly addressed it was when one of my peers called another a “fruit,” and my teacher dismissed the popular insult as “homophobic and disrespectful to the gay community.” As commendable as this action was, it was still the only time my class ever discussed homosexuality.

In 2011, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law SB 48 (Leno), which required that students learn LGBT history–the first state to ever do so. Despite this landmark decision, California state curriculum still deprives LGBT youth of essential knowledge to live a healthy and informed life: sex education.

With the 1980s outbreak of HIV/AIDs being widespread within LGBT communities, it’s shocking to know that state-mandated sex education isn’t including safe sex practices for homosexuals within its curriculum. Even worse, contraceptives are downplayed as ineffective and students learn almost nothing except that sex can lead to many negative consequences and the only way to avoid these consequences is to abstain. As nice as we’d all like to imagine a world where teens abstain from sex is, this cuts around the actual topic of “safe sex,” and excludes sex between two people of the same gender.

Unfortunately homosexual students, such as myself, won’t know what to do or how to be safe in future actions unless we find information independently. Although same-sex couples cannot impregnate their partners, they still run the risk of STDs. Any information I wanted to know I have found on my own, through the Internet.

I learned how two girls have sex through Wikipedia which describes the process in a scientific and matter-of-fact tone. Although Wikipedia went into great detail about how LGBT persons can practice safe sex, it does not inform the reader of how one may obtain devices that are used to have safe sex. I was confused about how women use a dental dam to practice safe sex with other women. Upon researching this dental dam, it turned out to be a tool used in dentistry. I really have no idea how the dental dam helps and still don’t know of any practical means of safe sex for lesbians.

Sex Ed. is not only ineffective for LGBT students, but for all students. Merced has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the state. Our neighboring school district, Clovis Unified, was sued in 2012 because its textbook, “Lifetime Health” by Holt Rinehart and Winston, didn’t meet state Department of Education guidelines. The book emphasizes abstinence above all else instead of providing accurate information about both abstinence and the proper use of contraceptives. In February 2014, the suit was dropped because the district had updated their curriculum enough to satisfy the plaintiffs demands.

I spoke with Desirré Herrera, the regional program manager for Planned Parenthood in Merced County. Planned Parenthood is an organization that offers a variety of services and educational tools– from treatment of STDs, family planning services like birth control and accurate safe sex information. According to Herrera, “Misinformation–especially if it’s given out by an adult could be pretty dangerous for young people because if they think that’s the right information, they will think it’s the truth.”

Perhaps our state should examine our sex education standards to steer all people–gay or straight–toward actual and pragmatic sex education. Hopefully, students will be able to make informed decisions, rather than make up information to fill in the blanks as they go through life.

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