I was 22 and I was finally ready to do it…receive my first pelvic exam.
Problem was I had no idea how to book an appointment; I attended private Christian schools my whole life and rarely heard anything about sex except to not have it until marriage.
So, like most millennials, I turned to trusty Google for help … only, when I looked for “female doctor,” the term “oncologist” popped up. When I called for an appointment, the receptionist asked, “Wait, do you have cancer?” and I said “No, I don’t think so!” “Honey,” she replied, “This is for an oncologist. You need a gynecologist.”
I’ve never hung up my phone so fast – or felt so embarrassed. I couldn’t help but wonder, though, how many other girls that receptionist had to tell the same thing. After all, I’m certainly not the only Christian school graduate – and that means I’m not the only victim of sub-par sexual education.
However, the more research I did, the more I realized that private schools aren’t alone in their sexual education problems. In fact, nearly all of America’s sexual ed programs need a huge upgrade – especially now that Trump’s presidency is putting a huge question mark beside sex education’s federal funding.
We aren’t the first generation of Americans to be concerned with how to educate children about sexuality. In fact, Chicago was the first major school system in the US to include sexuality as a subject…way back in 1913. Considering that, back then, women couldn’t even show their ankles, I understand why parents would’ve frowned upon a whole class dedicated to S-E-X.
But this is 2017 – more than one century later – and some people still view sexual education as a path to damnation and doom. Why? To some, sexual education is a private experience that should be kept between parents and their children. For others, like Omaha grandmother Kathryn Russell, sex ed “rapes children of their innocence.” One of the most common arguments is that “If kids know about sex then they’ll go out and do it!”
The problem with that logic? Teens are probably already having sex and ignoring this reality doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Sex is literally everywhere. It can be that couple going at it on the bus, at dark corners in theme parks, on the beach, on TV and movies and even popping up on children’s iPhones. Nowadays, sex is so prevalent in our culture that it’s nearly impossible for kids to not know something about sex – but, like me, they probably learn about it in (often misinformed) pieces.
Of the sexual education that does occur, around 34 percent is abstinence-only, similar to the education I received. I can say from personal experience that this kind of education is essentially non-existent. My “sex ed” consisted of one class my sophomore year in which I was shown different plastic replicas. The rest of the course focused on sexually transmitted infections, probably designed to scare students out of having sex. What’s even scarier, though? It’s perfectly legal for schools to teach sex in this way.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of March 2016:
Not only are kids not getting the sexual education that they need to understand their own bodies and sex in general, but kids are also getting the wrong information … without any laws being broken.
One student from Alabama revealed that her teacher taught that condoms didn’t work by puncturing a glove with her acrylic nails. “This is thicker than a condom,” the teacher said, “So why would you trust a condom?” Sometimes, incorrect information can even leave emotional scars. Haley Smith’s sex ed teacher taught that partners who want to use condoms are less likely to love you because a condom interferes with sexual closeness. “Even now, I’m 18-years-old and I still have weird feelings about using condoms during sex,” Smith admits.
I would happily go into sex education or something connected to that field, I want to make sure people stop being taught the wrong things
— margo (@acklesalona) December 7, 2016
giving children false facts and scaring them out of sex is not sex education lmao
— ａｌｅｘ (@potato_innards) October 19, 2015
oh look! something I was thought in during Catholic sex “education” proven false! https://t.co/V1yqFuFECb
— Jamie Blatz (@Jamie_Blatz) September 8, 2016
I know first-hand how a lack of (or incorrect) sex ed can impact students for years to come. In fact, I felt a deep sense of shame on my own wedding night because I was too scared to have sex with my husband.
My school kept telling me not to have sex and how beautiful it would be once I finally did have it, but when the time came, I was unprepared. I didn’t know it was going to hurt to even attempt to have sex. I didn’t know that I would have to try a few times because of how scared I was. I didn’t know that my experience matched so many other women’s. My school had failed me just as so many other schools are right now failing their students.
The truth is, abstinence does very little to educate people about sex. Lori Cole, executive director of the Eagle Forum, a conservative lobby group founded by Phyllis Schlafly, says, “We believe [comprehensive sex education sends] an inconsistent message. If you say, ‘Don’t do it, it’s not healthy for you, but if you’re going to do it, do it this way,’ that sends mixed signals to kids.” I understand her point. But what’s more important? Protecting kids from being confused or protecting them from sexual disease, teen pregnancy or other health problems?
Hopefully, you’ll agree that the latter option is the priority – and research shows that comprehensive classes are the key to healthy, sexually safe young adults. Studies have repeatedly found that students who receive comprehensive sex education wait to have sex later in life, have less sex and fewer sexual partners and use contraceptives more than their peers. Compared to students who received abstinence-only sex ed, comprehensive classes also result in students who are 50 percent less likely to experience pregnancy. And, considering the fact that America has the highest rate of teen pregnancy out of all other industrialized nations, that 50 percent figure is 100 percent important.
We strive to teach tweens and teens more than just “the birds and the bees”, so tomorrow we continue our facilitators’ training, as they perfect how to provide the most age-appropriate, accurate, and holistic education for students in our communities. (Art by studioduplo)
A photo posted by More Than Sex-Ed (@morethansex_ed) on
Although creating legislation requiring scientifically accurate, comprehensive sex education would be a big step in the right direction, that’s not the only change people can make to ensure that girls don’t confuse an “oncologist” with a “gynecologist.” In a 2012 survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 87 percent of teenagers said “open, honest” conversations with their parents could also help them put off sex and avoid pregnancy. Parents need to get involved in more than just arguing whether sex education should happen in schools. They need to talk to their kids about sex, too!
Luckily, compared to 1913, 2017 also features several groups trying to provide sexually positive and informative messages to kids and adults. Julie Metzger is the genius behind the comical sex ed stand up routine – called “For Girls Only” – that she teaches in Portland, Oregon. In her talks, she asks girls to write down the questions they have for her and she answers them in front of the whole class in the most comical way possible. She strives to be candid while also teaching girls that they don’t need to be ashamed of their bodies or their sexuality. Parents of students in the program also receive the book “Will Puberty Last My Whole Life?” which helps show families how to talk about sex at home.
One of my other personal heroes is Lindsey Doe, a clinical sexologist with a YouTube channel called “Sexplanations.” She strives to give accurate information on sex and make an example of herself as a sex-positive female. People can also look to Sarah Rae Vargas, another YouTuber and supporter of Planned Parenthood and Advocates for the Youth. All of these groups strive to provide young adults with the tools and the education they need for one of the most important pieces of their identity.
Of course, it’s uncertain what will happen to the future of sex education as Donald Trump takes office. “Donald Trump has made it very clear that he is no friend of Planned Parenthood – he has vowed to defund us,” explains Dr. Leslie Kantor, Vice President of Education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Sex education is certainly part of the key work that we do. Beyond that, I have not heard Mr. Trump make particular statements about sex education.”
Hi. If congress wants to defund planned parenthood so bad I hope they plan on putting that money into sex education we so desperately need
— cardi d (@leightroye) January 6, 2017
I can only hope that, whatever changes are made, girls will have a more educated, empowered relationship with sex than I did.
Even though I now know what a gynecologist is and I also finally have my pelvic exam, I am still horridly uneducated about sex, and I wish I would’ve learned about sex much earlier than I did. I wish that I wouldn’t have had to actually have sex to understand it. Most of all, I wish that my education wouldn’t have let me down. We trust teachers to tell us the truth about life outside of our school’s walls – and, when it comes to sex education, my teachers failed that duty.
Sexual education is now 104-years-old. Let’s make 2017 the year we finally get it right.
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