5 Progressive Sex Ed Programs That Go Beyond Biology, Because Sex Is More Than The Birds And The Bees

Sexual education is a touchy subject. Without it, teen pregnancy and STD rates skyrocket, and kids grow up to be adults who have no idea what's going on down there. Learning about basic reproductive functions is a good start, but sex ed with gender roles and power dynamics taken into account is the crucial next step.

A recent study cited by NPR found that traditional sex ed programs helped lower rates of pregnancy and STDs by 17 percent, but programs that delve into sex, gender, and power dynamics lower pregnancy and STD rates by 80 percent. These results make total sense, since sex doesn't occur in a vacuum, and for many kids, the reason they find themselves in sticky situations is because they're not comfortable opening up and talking about safe sex with a partner. Sex is so much more than what you do with your body — it's like sports: 80 percent mental! — and the younger people learn that the better.

Thankfully, there are organizations out there taking it upon themselves to create dynamic sex ed programs that address sex in terms of self-esteem, gender roles, and relationships. Here are five cutting edge sexual education programs teaching boys and girls way more than the ins and outs of intercourse.

1. SISTA

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The SISTA project was designed for sexually active African American women to increase condom use and foster healthy relationships. The program consists of five peer-led group sessions where participants discuss “ethnic and gender pride, HIV knowledge, and skills around sexual risk reduction behaviors and decision making.” SISTA’s goal is to make young women aware of their options and to give them the tools necessary to negotiate the complexities of romantic relationships.

2. iMatter

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iMatter is part of the state of California's approved 5th and 6th grade sexual education program on "puberty, gender and fairness." Through eight small group discussions and short presentations, students get a handle on what the years to come will hold for their bodies and their feelings. In addition, kids learn techniques on how to deal with bullying and harassment through targeted conflict resolution skills.

3. Hookup

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Frustrated by the lack of sexual education on campus, students at the University of Tennessee Knoxville created the Hookup app which will launch officially next November. Users can share sex stories anonymously, learn sex facts through playing games, browse how-to videos and find out where the closest clinics are. In a perfect world, all campuses would offer such an app.

4. Planned Parenthood

Who could forget the adorable "Genderbread Person" that so enraged parents in California schools? As part of Planned Parenthood's initiative to spread awareness about the gender and sexuality spectrum, this handy chart explains the differences between biological sex, sexuality, gender identity, and gender expression. A lot of adults could learn a thing or two from this chart, but those that need it most probably wouldn't give it a second look.

5. Health Connected

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Health Connected is a Northern California-based non-profit whose mission is "to turn 'the talk' into an ongoing conversation" — which should ideally last throughout your entire life, if you ask me. Their curriculum is designed specifically for each age group, from 5th and 6th grade all the way up to juniors and seniors and even those with special needs. Like many of their peer programs, Health Connected focuses on collaboration, role-playing, and small group discussion rather than lectures, so students take an active role in learning about sex beyond the basics of the birds and the bees.

Images: Giphy; sweet-melissa/Tumblr