“When a Mommy and Daddy love each other very much…”
“Well, I guess it’s time to tell you about the birds and the bees…”
*Drops book in your lap* “Here’s everything you need to know. If you have any questions, ask.”
One of the above is probably how the conversation that you had with your parent or guardian about sex started. You either had one of those parents who was so straightforward that it left you feeling confused and shocked for awhile, or your parent avoided the discussion altogether, causing you to find things out from friends who were just as misinformed as you were.
I’m not a parent, but I completely understand that discussing sex is not something that is going to be comfortable for everyone involved. I do believe, though, that it’s a conversation that should take place — if not with the parent(s), then with a responsible adult. (The key word here is “responsible.”) In a country that is so sex-focused in the entertainment and fashion industry, it’s disappointing that no one wants to have an open and honest discussion about it.
Leslie Kantor, the Vice President for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said that sex education is based on two options: abstinence-only sex ed and abstinence-based sex ed.
If you’re like me, then you were most likely in one of those abstinence-only courses. In these type of classes, the teacher shows you a video or holds a lecture that will scar you for life about the dangers of having sex before marriage. For example, in one video called “No Second Chances,” a student asks the school nurse, “What if I want to have sex before marriage?” To which the nurse replies, “Well, I guess you’ll just have to be prepared to die.” Wait, what?
The idea for sex education in the United States was begun by Charles Eliot and Julius Rosenwald in the Progressive Era. Kristin Luker, the author of When Sex Goes to School, stated that Eliot believed that teaching the “proper uses of sexuality” would lessen the chance of venereal disease spreading and would rid society of the sexual double standard between men and women. Eliot and Rosenwald wanted to focus on the benefits of intimacy within marriage and the consequences of sex outside of marriage.
Thanks to the Feminism Movement and the Sexual Revolution in the ’60s, sex education began to look at sexual intimacy outside of marriage in a less negative light. The Unitarian Universalist Association started a sex-positive curriculum — which is still going on today — called “About Sexuality.” The curriculum gave details about orgasms and different aspects of masturbation. Public schools taught “comprehensive sex education,” which was nonjudgmental instruction on disease prevention, bodies, and birth control. They were designed to help teenagers make healthy decisions about relationships, especially if/when they decided to become sexually intimate with someone.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that “abstinence-only” sex education became a part of our vernacular. Sex education became one of the many issues that divided the left and the right. The abstinence-only curriculum teaches students that waiting until marriage to have sex is the best preventative to take in order to avoid unwanted pregnancies and STDs. This kind of approach is not beneficial in helping teens to protect themselves.
A 2010 report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention showed that nearly half of the 19 million cases of STDs each year affect people between 15 and 24 years old. Not surprisingly, the US also has the highest teen pregnancy rates amongst developed countries. States such as Arkansas and Mississippi have one of the highest rates — with 5 births per 100 girls between the ages of 15 and 19. A report by Guttmacher shows that, in early 2012, 41% of American teens knew little to nothing about condoms and 75% knew little or nothing about contraceptive pills.
On his show, Last Week Tonight, John Oliver talked about the many issues that arise with the lack of sex education. He pointed out that there can be psychological and emotional damage when girls are taught that when they have sex — whether it’s consensual or not — they are a “used piece of gum.” The promotion of rape culture is also perpetuated by the lack of healthy discussions about sex.
If you decided to wait until marriage, that’s fine. If not, that’s fine too. It’s your body and your choice. What’s important is that you make the right and safe decisions for yourself and your partner. While the battle for what should and should not be discussed in sex education rages on, I encourage you to watch this episode of Last Week Tonight, particularly the last minute. Oliver talks about having a healthy attitude toward your body and sex, and it’s a lot more insightful than what was taught to us growing up.