Youth are experiencing sexual violence at alarming rates. Since 2017, approximately 10 percent of high school students have experienced sexual violence. In 2019, 16 percent of high schoolers who identify as female and 21 percent who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual reported experiences with sexual violence. An estimated 50 percent of people who identify as transgender have experienced sexual violence, and these experiences often started at a young age. 

Recent research shows a relationship between a lack of sexual education and an increased likelihood of experiencing or perpetrating sexual violence. Specifically, women who received education on how to say no to sex (and other forms of sexual education) before age 18 were less likely to experience sexual violence in college. Studies on preventing the perpetration of sexual violence show that these interventions are only effective when implemented during adolescence versus during college. 

The Texas State Board of Education recently approved a new sexual education policy that excludes LGBT experiences and education about consensual sex. Considering the correlation between sexual education and sexual violence, we believe this decision will negatively impact adolescents’ health and well-being in Texas.

Given that youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) are more likely to experience sexual violence than youth who identify as heterosexual or cisgender, sex education must incorporate the unique gender identities and sexual experiences of this community. Therefore, it comes into question how a state-level exclusion of LGBT inclusive sex education plays into a local knowledge gap for LGBT adolescents in San Antonio.

Fiesta Youth is an example of a San Antonio nonprofit that provides a place for LGBT adolescents to convene and receive education to address this knowledge deficit. Though the programming includes social activities, such as open mic nights, Fiesta Youth also offers lectures on sexuality and sexual safety led by qualified, local volunteers. But, this effort is only a drop in the bucket, reaching 30 youth once or twice a year.

And though other local organizations work to address this gap, it raises an ethical question of whether the responsibility to provide these resources should fall on local organizations. Instead, should this education become a public resource provided to LGBT adolescents? One argument is that it is the individual teenager’s responsibility to obtain education in sexuality, safety, and consent. Considering evidence for the efficacy of online sexual education for LGBT youth, there may be digital, accredited resources for LGBT youth in the future. However, teens seeking information about sex on the internet, usually find that pornography is the most accessible information. Pornography often contains exaggerated, inaccurate information about sex and sexuality; it does not intend to educate.

Another argument is that parents should provide their children with sex education. However, research shows that most parents are uncomfortable with this task. Additionally, many parents cannot provide accurate information on the proper usage or efficacy of condoms, birth control, or sexual safety. Compounding this problem, adolescents do not have access to comprehensive, inclusive online sex education. This fact returns us to the argument for a standardized, credible education system available as a local resource rather than independently searched for online or at home.

At this time, we recommend Texas schools provide comprehensive sexual education that includes (but is not limited to) consent, contraception, sexual safety, and LGBT education. The goals would be to reduce sexual violence and provide adolescents with the opportunity to make educated choices. Additionally, private organizations such as Fiesta Youth offer excellent resources to LGBT adolescents and the broader community, including social benefits and directed education. But a lack of funding limits these resources. This reality becomes most apparent in discussions with the Fiesta Youth attendees, many of whom cannot continue attending due to distance or transportation costs. Following the Texas State Board of Education’s recent decision, we also recommend increasing state support to empower organizations such as Fiesta Youth to better distribute educational resources that would address gaps in public sex education.

Jay Jeon

Jay Jeon

Jay Jeon is a two-year volunteer with Fiesta Youth and a medical student at the UT Health San Antonio School of Medicine. He is currently co-leading a program evaluation of Fiesta Youth with support from...

Candace Christensen

Candace Christensen

M. Candace Christensen is an associate professor of social work at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Candace was a board member for Fiesta Youth for two years and is currently co-leading a program...