Sex ed in the time of COVID-19: why some experts are concerned for LGBTQ students

Angie Chatman
·6 mins read
Health experts say it’s critical that sexual health education is included in school curriculum specifically for LGBTQ students. (Photo: Nathalie Cruz for Yahoo Life)
Health experts say it’s critical that sexual health education is included in school curriculum specifically for LGBTQ students. (Photo: Nathalie Cruz for Yahoo Life)

Experts are concerned about the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on the disruptions in education, particularly around sexual health for LGBTQ students.

“I fear that this vital aspect of curriculum will be dismissed or not taught (during this pandemic),” says Becca Mui, Education Manager at Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). “In the absence of comprehensive, LBGTQ inclusive sexuality education, LGBTQ youth often have to teach themselves and seek information online....(and) we don’t know the accuracy, or developmental appropriateness of the information they’re finding.”

Doctors and health experts say it’s critical that sexual health education is included in school curriculum specifically for LGBTQ students.

“A foundation for LGBTQ+-inclusive Sex Education is being able to talk about bodies without assigning gender identity that might not be true for the students in the room, regardless of whether the school has out LGBTQ+ or gender nonconforming students,” says Mui, “Expert sexual health educators consult their students, particularly their... LGBTQ+ students, to find out what they need and what information they are missing.”

In the United States, less than 7 percent of LGBTQ students reported receiving inclusive sex education, according to research conducted by GLSEN

Only four states - California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Oregon - require health education instruction to affirmatively recognize different sexual orientations and gender identities. This impacts young LGBTQ people, and even more so, young LGBTQ people of color who are both less likely to have sex education that meets their needs and more likely to experience health disparities.

Even with those four states, which do require inclusive health education curricula, only 5 percent of LGBTQ students reported having health classes that included positive representations of LBGTQ individuals, according to a 2013 National School Climate Survey, conducted by GLSEN.

“This curriculum varies widely from state to state -- and even within districts -- and is also heavily influenced by individual teachers. That’s why it is critical to advocate for state-wide LGBTQ+-inclusive, comprehensive sex ed and to prepare sexual health educators with professional development,” says Mui.

According to the HRC, studies show that well-implemented sexual health education reduces risky behavior, unwanted pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

According to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), in America, public support for sex education is overwhelming, regardless of political affiliation, religion or regional demographics. Yet only 38 percent of all high schools, and 14 percent of middle schools in the US provide all 19 topics identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as critical sex education topics. These include reproductive and sexual health, gender roles/identities/expression, prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, and ways to reduce sexually risk behavior.

SIECUS also noted that only seven states require that sex education and HIV/AIDS instruction be culturally appropriate or inclusive of diverse ethnic and cultural background, disabilities, socioeconomic status, gender identity/expression or sexual orientation.

“It’s critical that sexual education be inclusive to ensure that all students have access to lessons that can address their risk factors, help them to make healthy choices and keep themselves safe." Becca Mui, Education Manager at Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network

Safe Sex and Sexual Assault

According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), LGBTQ people are nearly twice as likely to be victims of sexual assault in their lifetimes.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Sexual Violence Research Initiative points out that sexual violence is both a serious public health issue and a human rights issue with both short- and long-term consequences on the victim’s physical, mental and sexual health. A report from the CDC estimates that LGBTQ individuals are more likely to experience sexual violence.

“It’s critical that sexual education be inclusive to ensure that all students have access to lessons that can address their risk factors, help them to make healthy choices and keep themselves safe,” says Mui. “Results from the 2019 CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey show that, compared to their heterosexual peers, lesbian, gay and bisexual students were signficantly more likely to report having had sexual intercourse, to have made a suicide plan, and to have experience sexual dating violence.

A CDC report estimates that about 8 percent of heterosexual high school students reported experiencing sexual violence compared to 22 percent of students who identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual.

“I think these numbers are actually higher,” says Dr. Gloria Elam, Assistant Professor of Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Illinois/Chicago. “It is unfortunate that many LGBTQ people feel ostracized, so they don’t report their abuser, especially since they are likely to live with their abuser. Over time the abuse escalates and/or the victim is put out on the street, now homeless and even more at risk.”

“Eventually, the victim lands in a hospital emergency room,” says Dr. Elam. “There they can see a social worker who will help them with all of the concurrent issues. Fortunately, there are also nonprofits that are sensitive to the needs of this population and can help them before they get to the hospital.”

Read more: ‘Sex is much better when you’re younger,’ and other myths

RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network which is the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the country, provides a sexual abuse hotline that has helped over 2.5 million Americans in the past 25 years. The organization also has online resources to assist those in the LBGTQ community who have been sexually assaulted, as well as for loved ones who want to support them.

Another resource for LGBTQ individuals in crisis is The Trevor Project. Its primary mission is suicide prevention via phone calls or texts with peer counselors. Recognizing the myriad of issues faced by the LGBTQ community, The Trevor Project has expanded its services and connects with other organizations to help with homelessness and unemployment.

“Sexual assault is should be discussed within the context of consent and healthy relationship in sexual health education classes for all students,” says Mui. “From a young age, students need to be taught about bodily autonomy, respecting boundaries and...feeling empowered to say ‘no’ in a variety of ways.”

Read more: 7 sexual health conditions that disproportionately affect Black women

And she says one of the most important aspects of helping those in the trans community and the LGBTQ community at large is education from a young age.

“Teaching about trans identities in elementary schools affirms the reality that more and more young students are coming out,” says Mui. “(If we offer education) that includes a variety of pathways to adult bodies we can give students the information they need, minimize gender dysphoria and have better mental health outcomes.”