Digital Project Proposal – Sex Education Timeline

When I was in high school (2011-2015), public school sex education curriculum taught us about puberty, the male and female reproductive systems, various methods of birth control, and most memorably, the dangers of teenage pregnancy and STI’s. We were taught that the best and only way to have safe sex with zero risk of pregnancy or STI’s was to remain abstinent. It was in this classroom, as I flipped through my outdated sex-ed text book and watched VHS tapes from the 90’s about STI afflicted teens, that all of my anxieties around sex and sexual health were solidified.

As I have gotten older and learned more about sexual wellness, the human body, the patriarchy, and sexual stigma, I feel so bad for my younger self and peers who were given limited information and shamed into silence about our bodies and sexualities. I often wonder what it was like for older generations who had to deal with even greater shame and stigma, and I hope for a more honest, inclusive, and open sexual education curriculum for future generations. For my digital project, I would like to explore the history of sex education in the United States, particularly in public schools, to better understand how the majority of Americans have been raised to understand themselves, their sexuality, and gender, specifically focusing on women. Simultaneously, I would like to research women’s liberation and the sexual revolution up to the present day, to see how these social movements were reflected in sex education curriculum. I plan to focus this research on the 20th century and into the 21st century up to the present day, highlighting instances when women took ownership over their bodies and sexuality.

In order to complete this digital project, I would like to create an interactive timeline. There are many templates online to do this, including TimelineJS by knight lab, and Free Timeline Maker by Visme. I would like to create parallel narratives, one focusing on social issues in the U.S. regarding women, sexuality, and gender, and a corresponding narrative showing how these societal changes were being reflected in sex-ed classrooms. It would be interesting to have each narrative on separate sides of the timeline, or even color coded along one single timeline. Either way, I want this to be an interactive project, where people can click around, look at many compelling images, and be provided with more resources and information to educate themselves on these topics.

10 Replies to “Digital Project Proposal – Sex Education Timeline”

  1. Katie, this is a fantastic idea! I wonder – could you include some sort of geographic comparison? Even today the quality of sex education varies from state to state, even from school to school. For example, my home state – Georgia – unfortunately mandates that schools emphasize abstinence over other forms of contraception. Some schools interpret that as abstinence-only, while others are far more liberal and include lessons on condoms and birth control.

    All this might be too much to incorporate in just a semester-long project, but do you have an idea how you’ll deal with geographic differences? Maybe focusing on a single state or curriculum?

    1. Hey Jessica! Thank you for your comment. I know I addressed some of this in class tonight but I think it would be really interesting to explore a regional approach to US sex education. Obviously the curriculum would probably look different in rural, more religious, isolated areas than in urban and diverse areas. I think I will look into the federal restrictions on curriculum and maybe look at a couple of states from each region of the US. I’ll have to see where the research takes me. Thank you for bringing this to my attention!

  2. Working off of Jessica’s comment, I was also wondering if there was any way you could look at the content that’s disseminated in public schools vs. private schools… maybe even religiously affiliated schools? This is definitely interesting, especially when I think about my own experience at a private Catholic school in NY. Abstinence was emphasized as the #1 way to maintain sexual wellness in my middle school religion classes but not at all in any of my health classes (both in middle school and high school). I also wonder if you would see a difference in the sex-ed that is historically taught in co-ed, all-girls, and all-boys schools. This might very well be far beyond the scope of your project but thought I would throw it out there anyway! I can’t wait to see where this goes!

    1. Hey Sam! Thank you for your comment! I addressed this in class tonight but I just wanted to again mention that, although it would be EXTREMELY interesting to focus on private schools, I will probably have to stick to public schools as there are likely more sources and they are more regulated and consistent. I think if I were to expand on this project after this class I would 100% look into private schools.

  3. Katie! This is a great idea! I love the aspect of making this for teens and adults who lacked this education to be able to have a safe online space to learn and engage in this history. My question for you is about a message or comment board. Would you include one It might be nice to have a place where people would voice questions or things they are going through to heighten their inclusive sexual education on your platform. Great idea!

    1. Hi McKenna! Thank you for your comment! Like I mentioned in class tonight, I will totally be incorporating a comment section in my project if I can. I want to make a point to encourage my viewers to share their experiences and discuss current debates over sex ed. Thank you for the idea!

  4. Hi Katie,

    You make a great case for the importance of understanding the history of public sex education in the U.S. and I think your idea about creating an interactive timeline about that history makes a lot of sense.

    Both TimelineJS and the Free Timeline Maker seem like viable ways to build this project out. If you do decide to run with this as your course project, it will be good to do some thinking through of who you imagine your primary audience to be so that you can think through how to frame the presentation to their knowledge, interest, and reading level. Along with that, it will be good to think through a bit of the kinds of outreach you would need to do to get this to be discovered and used by that audience.

    Overall, I think you are on a good track for this.

    Best, Trevor

  5. Hi Kate,

    I really think you have a cool project! I think sex education is very important especially within public schools. My question to you is will you be focusing on a particular age group for women ? I am also part of the Girlhood team for practicum and it has very interesting sex education videos from the 30s-50s , if you would like to check that out.

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