*Editor's note: WFDD’s Radio 101 has chosen to use only the first initial of the student in the following story due to the sensitive subject matter and to protect the student’s privacy.
In 2009, North Carolina passed the Healthy Youth Act. This law would shape the next decade of sexual education in schools across the state. For students like R, who identify as LGBTQ+, the law had a gap.
"They don't really talk about same-sex, same-gender type sex," R says. "Because it is different ... and the different types of protection that you can use. They did talk about like condoms a lot, but I didn't know there was female condoms until maybe a year or two ago."
In fact, the Healthy Youth Act establishes that:
“Each local school administrative unit shall provide a reproductive health and safety education program commencing in the seventh grade that includes the following instruction: Teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous heterosexual relationship in the context of marriage is the best lifelong means of avoiding sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.”
According to sex ed author and educator, Ericka Hart, this lack of LGBTQ+ representation pushes teens to seek information elsewhere.
"When I was a kid, I got a lot of my education from soft-core porn, like things that came on HBO," explains Hart. "I sought those things out because I was curious. And my parents were not answering those questions. Right? They weren't interested in, you know, really hearing what I had to say."
Associate Professor of Medical Social Sciences and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University, Kathryn Macapagal, focuses on sexual health for LGBTQ+ teens and she explains that while states might require a minimum amount of things that need to be part of the curriculum, what ends up being taught depends on the comfort level of the teacher.
"I think that what some folks have an automatic reaction to, is that they think that we're going to be talking about just sexual behavior and things like that," explains Macapagal. "But it really includes things like consent and like being able to communicate about your needs, about what you want in relationships, how to set boundaries, and also how to protect yourself against HIV, STIs, unintended pregnancies. You know, how to have sex that is, sex that you want to have and how to communicate that with a partner and things like that. There are developmentally appropriate ways to teach about these things, depending on how old the kid is."
And according to R, teaching these things can make a huge difference.
"I knew how to say no, but I didn't know what to say after they kept pushing me. Obviously, people normally will just say like 'Oh you should fight back,' but like they won't accept that as an answer and they'll keep pushing. And some people aren't strong enough to say no, again. And so they either give in or they're, like, physically forced into it," said R.