It’s official: sex education in schools is pretty much the worst. OK, that’s not exactly what new research says, but it’s close. An exhaustive study in BMJ Open, which reviewed 55 qualitative studies that examined students’ responses to sexual education in the US, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Iran, Brazil, and Sweden between 1990 and 2015 found that sex ed is not doing the trick. It’s awkward, embarrassing, and out of touch— not to mention almost completely heteronormative.
“There needs to be more input from young people, to make sure it is relevant,” study author Pandora Pound, a research fellow in public-health research methodology at the University of Bristol, tells Bustle. “Those delivering it also need to be well trained experts who enjoy teaching the subject.”
But part of it is the complete lack of touch with reality. Pound’s research revealed sex ed doesn’t take into account how uncomfortable the subject of sex can be for students. The study found that it often is taught ignoring the fact that students are actually having sex, so it doesn’t give concrete advice. The way that they teach about sex is often so clinical, dispassionate, and scientific that there’s not even a mention of pleasure.
It’s obviously important that students are getting the right information and they need to understand what’s going on in the technical sense, but sex is also about pleasure and usually some complex or confusing emotions, which are just going unaddressed.
So what can we do? How can sex ed be improved? Here’s what experts say:
1. Use Experts
What’s the best way to improve sex ed? Pound told Time you need to take it out of the hands of awkward teachers and actually have people who enjoy— and understand— it speaking to students: “[It] needs to be delivered by experts who are sex positive, who enjoy their work and who are in a position to maintain clear boundaries with students. We need to get the delivery right — otherwise young people will disengage.”
2. Look At All The Angles
Sex is complex, with so many different facets. It needs to be more than just an awkward day in the middle of health class. “Sex, sexuality, and gender all kind of get lumped in with other topics,” Mia Davis, founder of the Tabú app tells Bustle. “Whether that’s periods or relationships, it all kind of gets lumped together and as a result there’s not enough information or time dedicated to it. But it is an area where people have a lot of questions and insecurities and it can make a really big difference in people’s lives.” It needs time and careful thought, not just a banana and a condom.
3. Be Realistic And Inclusive
Some students commented on how heteronormative the curriculum is, which isolates some students and keeps them from getting crucial education. “Youth leaders involved in GSA Network’s programs learn how to advocate for policy change and have gone to Sacramento to talk to policymakers on this relevance and necessity of comprehensive sex ed,” a representative from GSA Network’s L.A. location tells Bustle. “Comprehensive sex ed that includes culturally relevant and LGBTQ-inclusive information is one important piece of fighting for safer schools and schools where students are actually educated to lead healthy and successful lives.” It needs to happen.