Students in Fairfax County, Virginia, are protesting to combine genders for their sex education courses. It’s a move some health and education experts advocate for, saying it takes the shame out of reproductive and sexual health.
“Having all-gender sex education classes is one way we can model open, shame-free and unbiased communication about puberty, bodies, relationships and sexual behaviors with young people,” said Wendy Sellers, a health educator and creator of “Puberty: The Wonder Years” adolescent curriculum.
She continued, “When we divide students into separate classes based on perceived gender, we perpetuate the stigma that sex education must be discussed behind closed doors and that only certain information can be shared with boys and other information shared with girls.”
Fairfax County schools in Virginia currently separate students into two genders during sex education courses from the fourth through eighth grades.
Rivka Vizcardo-Lichter, a student and leader of a youth-led LGBTQ advocacy group told ABC affiliate WLJA that combining classes would be a way to recognize that all-gender sex education makes space for transgender and nonbinary youth to learn about their bodies in a more inclusive space.
Some educators agree: “We might actually forget to give information to learners they really need to know about how their bodies work because we assumed that all boys bodies are the same and all girls’ bodies are the same,” Gregory C. Carrow-Boyd, an adolescent health and religion educator in California, told ABC News.
Experts say all-gender sexual education classes allow for students to learn more comprehensive information about reproductive and sexual health that Eric Garrison, a certified sex counselor and sex coach in Virginia, says will likely be useful to all genders.
Students gather outside of a Fairfax County School Board meeting to advocate for co-ed sex education classes at school.
“We are sexual beings, from womb to tomb and from sperm to worm,” said Garrison. “Chances are, either through who you date or who you’re related to or if you’re going to be a parent one day, you’re going to have contact with another sex.”
The Family Life Education Curriculum Advisory Committee for the Fairfax County district has recommended mixing genders in sex ed classes as part of a slate of suggestions for the school system. It’s not yet clear if the Fairfax County School Board will follow the guidance.
“All advisory groups outline recommendations at the end of each school year,” Julie Moult, a spokesperson for the FCSB, told ABC News. “Some are acted on and some are not. The board may choose to review this recommendation at some point this coming school year.”
Nearby schools have implemented mostly gender-combined sex education, including Virginia’s Arlington County and Alexandria City, as well as Maryland’s Prince George’s County.
“The main criticism is that it makes students uncomfortable. We have to ask ourselves, ‘Why are students uncomfortable learning about their bodies?’ People who are afraid of FLE [family life education] have the option to opt their children out,” Willow Woycke, president of the D.C. transgender support network Transgender Education Association, said at a May school board meeting in favor of the recommendations.
Christy Haas, a certified sex therapist and educator, told ABC News she’s worked with couples who are still uncomfortable having conversations about their reproductive or sexual health into their 70s.
“When we separate the boys from the girls, it tells us that there’s something wrong, right?” said Haas. “The things that are happening in the girls’ room are things that the boys don’t need to know about and shouldn’t know about. The things that are happening in the boys’ room are the things girls don’t need to know about and shouldn’t know about.”
Rivka Vizcardo-Lichter, leader of the Pride Liberation Project, said co-ed sex education classes will increase inclusivity for transgender and non-binary students.