SIECUS President Talks Comprehensive Sex Education

By Maryam

As President & CEO, Chitra Panjabi advances SIECUS’ efforts to reshape cultural and societal narratives around sexuality. Leading with an intersectional vision, she is spearheading SIECUS’ work of addressing the impact of sexual stigma and shame on individuals across age, race, gender, gender identity and expression, class, sexual orientation, and ability.

How has being the daughter of two Indian immigrants shaped your perspective on sexuality and sexual health?

My family did not talk about sex growing up—it was a completely taboo topic in our household. While I was lucky to have some sexual health education (namely, learning that condoms and oral contraception existed) in the 9th grade, my sex ed was essentially self-taught. The bulk of my knowledge came from reading women’s magazines like Cosmo and conducting my own research at my local library. Among my closest friends, I became a kind of peer educator, passing on information as I learned it. I’m almost positive I was the first person to tell them about orgasms! Around this time, I also began noticing, questioning, and pushing back against the restrictiveness of societal gender norms. Using this lens, I was able to start seeing how gender, society, and sexuality were all so deeply interconnected.

Why is there so much resistance to implementing comprehensive, accurate and intersectional sexual education?

I think the resistance to implementing comprehensive, accurate, and intersectional sexuality education is overestimated. Polling clearly indicates that parents want quality sex ed for their children. Too often, this fact is overlooked simply because the opposition is extremely vocal and holds a strong influence over policymakers at federal, state, and local levels of the government.

What is the most surprising thing you’ve experienced during your time at SIECUS?

While I’ve been a feminist activist for my entire adult life, I never realized how crucial comprehensive sexuality education is to achieving equity and justice. Previously, I hadn’t considered sex ed to be more than just condoms and contraception. Now, even after immersing myself in this work for the past year, I am still marveled by all the ways in which comprehensive sexuality education can provide young people with a better understanding of themselves and those around them to create a more equitable, just and accepting world.

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