Future of Feminism: Sex Education As a Human Right

In these days when conservative legislators try to foist abstinence-only sex education on young people (kudos to Gov. Gary Herbert of Utah, who vetoed one such bill), it’s a good time to reiterate that conversations about healthy sexuality need not be confined to a “less is more,” procreation-focused dialogue. Rather, let’s push forward discussions of sexuality in terms of self-reliance, autonomy, exploration, consent and, yes, pleasure.

A feminist approach to sex education shifts the focus from insisting on abstinence to making a safe and informed decision. Heather Corinna, founder and editor of Scarleteen, an online sexual health resource for teens and young adults, characterizes sexuality and sexual health as key issues for the feminist movement. She urges sex education to strive for inclusivity, in order to “inform people about the sexualities, bodies, identities and lives of others different than their own.”

Corinna also wrote S.E.X: The All-You-Need-To-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College, an in-depth crash course on sex-positive feminist sex education. The guide includes such topics as gender and sexual orientation, misogyny and the anatomy of the clitoris. Underlying the information is the notion of comprehensive sex education as a basic human right. Corinna says,

It’s [hard] for people to understand how very important their rights–their sexual rights, their reproductive rights, their human rights–are when they haven’t had access to information and education to understand how their bodies work, how their sexual lives can be and the impact … restricted rights can have on our whole lives, including our sexual lives.

Sex education is also being transformed on an international level. The International Women’s Health Coalition (IWCH) recently developed a project that teaches sexual health with an emphasis on holistic sexuality. The IWCH’s two-volume It’s All One Curriculum intertwines gender equality and sex education, offering study guides on such topics as gender and bodily autonomy, sexual well-being and advocacy and “learning about one’s body: a global movement.” Contributors to the project include the International Planned Parenthood Foundation, the Population Council and the Girls Power Initiative. The two volumes are now a popular resource for adapting local contemporary sex education curricula into an international, rights-based approach.

The need for a new rhetoric on sex-ed has led women to speak out individually and collectively on social, political and professional platforms. Whether it is teaching youth about respecting their bodies, re-claiming the word “slut” in Slutwalks across the globe, or blogging in support of Sandra Fluke, a sex-positive language is being developed through activism. Feminists sex educators are using this language to advocate knowledge about sexuality as a tool of empowerment, and to help envision a society where women are agents of their own sexual freedom.

Photo from Flickr user www.CourtneyCarmody.com via Creative Commons 3.0. 


  1. This is absolutely true! I grew up in a liberal area of California and it still took me until last year (college) to really get a handle on how my body and sexuality work. This should be something you learn about, not something you have to muddle through with the internet, a few old books, and a very (very) understanding boyfriend.

  2. I wish I had known more about my anatomy in high scool. And I went to a rather liberal high school in NJ. All I remember are pictures of diseased parts and the effectiveness of various forms of birth control. These programs should be expanding, not disappearing. I would have liked to have known a little more about how my body works, maybe that it wasn’t strange looking, that most women only ovulate once a month, etc. etc. It was only a few years ago (I’m nearly 29) when I felt my own cervix for the first time. Everyone woman should know what her body does and why–including everything from menstruation to sexual arousal. I am sure that if I had the knowledge I gained in my late 20s back in high school, I would have been more confident. And that confidence probably would have resulted in less sex.

  3. Nazar unar(S.B.A) says:

    Our issues Our pride Our weakness and Our rights!

  4. I love the point that the conversation must include about autonomy something so rarely talked about in the discussion about sex, but so necessary when it comes to sexual health and well being. We are setting young people up for unhealthy, and dangerous situations when we do not discuss a more holistic point of view. I really appreciate this article and the resources provided in it!

  5. For me, feminist sex education would have to include stuff about consent, rape and sexual assault, probably domestic violence or abuse, and safe-sex for same sex couples. (none of this is part of sex ed in the UK at the moment)

    I’m about to start a campaign on this stuff with the British Youth Council; before I start, I’m checking for other people’s opinions. I’ve got a survey up on-line https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/L3CKG67

    If any of you would be interested in filling it in ot passing it one, if would help me get started. Thank you!

  6. Hello my name is Kierra. I’m a senior in high school and for my senior project we had to choose a social issue and take action to change it. I chose Comprehensive sex education in schools. I made a blog talking about why comprehensive sex education is best for children. I was wondering if it was possible if you could make a spot on your website for a link to my blog to people can check it out and learn more. The URL to my blog is http://thatshowiwasborn.blogspot.com/ .
    I would greatly appreciate it if you could get back to me by 01/12/13. Thank you for your Time!

  7. I’d never come across Scarleteen prior to reading this post. Such a brilliant resource! Something I will definitely be linking too in my opinion blog along side this article. The post on taking control of your health care destiny ties really well into trying to introduce feminist friendly sex education into health education systems. From what I gather, implementing new themes into an education curriculum involve surpassing endless amounts of red tape and political correctness is tricky, to put it mildly. I imagine that trying to teach a “touchy” subject in a manner that encompasses the most considerations of upbringings, values, attitudes, and beliefs etc. of each student can pose as a challenge. Then again, articles such as this, and sites such as Scarleteen and Get the Facts are fantastic education tools that promote safe and responsible sex education that requires a student’s active search, without teachers being ripped to shreds for being unethical or bias. The notion of introducing feminist sex education into the health education system is one that I fully support, and mention on my sexual health opinion blog http://humblebumbleopinions.blogspot.com.au However, in light of reading Scarleteen’s article on taking control of your health care choices, that leads me to consider that perhaps a more prudent avenue would be to first introduce the idea of encouraging active information searches from students. By encouraging them to take control of their learning in whichever faucet of sexual health interests them – for example gay or lesbian sex education, which is not taught as part of the curriculum – they educate themselves safely and with correct information in a way that is private and will not lead to embarrassment amongst peers.

    Scarleteen post on health care destiny can be found here: http://www.scarleteen.com/article/advice/dealing_with_doctors_taking_control_of_your_health_care_destiny

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