Young People Have Unanswered Questions About Abortion. Online Sex Ed Can Help.

Jeanne A. Curley

The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade represents a low point in a series of low points for reproductive health and rights in this country.

Young people today have seen very few victories for education, reproductive rights and social justice in their lifetimes, and have instead lived through numerous attacks on their very selves. Sadly, this moment, though a crisis, is not new for them.

Youth activists have long been at the forefront of the movement for abortion rights, calling for intersectional, inclusive and equitable access. Disproportionately impacted by waiting periods and other existing abortion restrictions, young people have fought restriction after restriction through political action, protests, campaigns to end stigma and far more, even as politicians on both sides of the aisle ignored their efforts and dismissed their demands.

This is especially true after a year of unprecedented attacks on education—and sex education in particular, with state lawmakers and far-right extremists seeking to limit students’ access to information about their lives, their relationships and their bodies.

Just this year, politicians in Florida banned content and curriculum referencing LGBTQ+ lives and identities from classrooms, sparking copycat “Don’t Say Gay” legislation across the country. Extremist groups fueled and funded campaigns in Massachusetts urging parents to “opt out” of sex education, denying their children vital information about topics including puberty, healthy relationships, consent, self-advocacy and more. In New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania, among other states, some conservative parent groups have called on officials to remove comprehensive sex ed from state guidelines, rallying against medically accurate, research-based, age-appropriate curriculum that provides students with the critical knowledge and skills to navigate interpersonal relationships and changing bodies.

These attacks on comprehensive sex education have left young people largely devoid of the potentially life-saving knowledge and tools they need to make healthy decisions for themselves and their partners, now and into the future.

As experts on youth activism and sex education, we know that young people deserve better and will not settle for ignorance.

Some will find their way to powerful online networks of their peers committed to fighting bans, funding abortion, providing practical support to help people travel and educating themselves and their communities about abortion care. Youth organizers with nationwide networks like Youth Abortion Support Collective (YouthASC) have committed to becoming expert resources on abortion and to making sure folks in their communities understand all their options and have the support they need.

Young people are also organizing to stand up and speak out about the sex education they need and deserve, most recently in Miami-Dade, where they organized to pressure the school board to ensure the district offers science-based, research-backed sex education.

Others are turning to social media to fill in gaps when traditional forms of education are either disappearing or insufficient. These platforms, now part of our daily lives, have the power to reach young people where traditional education may fail. But too often, these platforms (think: TikTok, Instagram, Facebook) also allow misinformation, unsubstantiated advice from non-experts, and false claims about abortion to proliferate.

There is clearly still a crucial need for parents and caregivers; educators; and LGBTQ-affirming, medically accurate and culturally responsive curriculum in this equation. Though comprehensive sex education has been stripped from some brick-and-mortar classrooms, lesson plans and digital resources compiled by experts have migrated online.

Digital projects like AMAZE provide affirming, inclusive and accurate information that young people (and their parents) can access no matter where they live or what school they attend. With videos that discuss contraception, pregnancy options, safer sex, abortion, online safety, sexual harassment, healthy relationships and more, AMAZE provides a barrier against misinformation and navigates complex topics with age-appropriate animation and engaging narration.

Our organization Advocates for Youth also created the Rights, Respect, Responsibility (3Rs) curriculum for students in grades K-12, available for free in both English and Spanish. Designed to be taught in a classroom setting and to help educators meet the ever-evolving sexual health needs of students with age-appropriate and medically accurate lesson plans, the 3Rs can be downloaded by any educator who wants to provide high-quality sex education in their classroom.

After more than two years of pandemic learning, we know that online education and digital tools have revolutionized how young people learn and how educators teach. Now, in the face of unprecedented attacks on bodily autonomy and sex education, these tools are filling a gap that should never have existed and meeting young people where they are: online.

Young people are curious, resourceful and determined. They will always seek out answers to their own questions, and we should encourage them to do so. We can also work to ensure the information they find is the best, most accurate it can be, and that the tools they encounter online pave the way to successful, empowered and healthy futures.

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