Beyond the Basics: Why Black Girls Need Comprehensive Sex Education

by Raisa Habersham

Black girls are born and raised with the hope that they will become black women who make a difference. To ensure this, they must receive proper education, resources, and support to help guide their decision-making. This, however, does not always include them learning about their sexual health.

According to a study conducted by the Guttmacher Institute, teens of color are less likely to receive formal sex education, with 19 percent of them being young Black women. Only 22 states mandate sex education, and of those, 20 of them require HIV specific education.

This means that in many states, students are not receiving adequate information about sexual health beyond abstinence-based curriculum. Ironically, the abstinence-only approach wasn’t enough to prevent a recent chlamydia outbreak in a Texas school, whose sex education curriculum is intended to discourage premarital sex.

It also isn’t enough to combat high teen pregnancy rates. Teens receiving comprehensive sex education are 60 percent less likely to become pregnant or cause a pregnancy. This is most likely because comprehensive sex education programs cover abstinence from sexual activity as the best method for preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, but they also provide in-depth information on contraception and other safer sex methods.

Rather than equipping black female teens with the tools necessary to engage in safer sex and prevent unwanted pregnancies, they’ll most likely receive the abstinence-only sex education typically given to minority teens from low income families.

According to researcher and author Jessica Fields, predominantly working-class blacks had less say in sex-education courses than their white middle-class counterparts. This was even further noted by reviewer Gary Perry:
The political firestorm that surrounded the predominantly black school’s sex education curriculum is an example of how abstinence-only education advocates were able to adopt racist, sexist, classist, and overall paternalistic rhetoric to argue that the “crisis” of “babies having babies” (which is coded speech to refer to the predominantly black female student population) demanded that a stringent abstinence-only education curriculum be implemented in the predominantly black, lower-income school.
The idea that young black female teens don’t need sex ed, and thus, aren’t provided with accurate sexual health education is merely a tool used to further the sexual stereotypes they face and will continue to face into adulthood.

Disarming black girls with poor sexual health information is particularly detrimental. While pregnancy rates for black teens have decreased by 37 percent in 2013, there are still high pregnancy rates among them compared to teens of other races. According to the Office of Adolescent Health, there were 39 babies born to black mothers out of every 1000 adolescents who gave birth in the same year.

Beyond pregnancy prevention, black girls also face conflicting messages on sexuality as a whole. They are told it’s not OK to be sexual beings unless it’s for the corporate, fetishized benefit of white Americans, or black heterosexual men’s preconceived notions of black female sexuality. Additionally, they are told they must be everything to everybody—including caretaker, chef, supermom—all of which align with clichéd heterosexual ideologies.

They are told it’s simply not OK to be them.

Sex education doesn’t just prevent pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases, it enables black women to make important decisions about their bodies and sexual and reproductive health, because they have been equipped with safer sex knowledge and healthy body image practices beyond what is presented to them by mainstream media.

Hiding potentially life-saving information from them only perpetuates the idea that black teen girls are invaluable unless used for someone else’s benefit.

Emphasizing sex education among adolescents not only reinforces why Black women matter in a society that works effortlessly to deny us simple rights, but instills in us the self-esteem we need to combat the media’s and society’s depictions of our sexuality.

Ultimately, equipping Black girls and young women with sexual health knowledge allows us to take true ownership of our bodies and sexual agency.

Photo: Shutterstock

Raisa Habersham is a regular contributor to For Harriet.

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