Sex Ed – We're Doin It Wrong

I was recently accepted as a volunteer for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota-North Dakota-South Dakota. One of the requirements for becoming a volunteer was attending four classes. The first two were introductions to the organization; the third and fourth were educational sessions focused on the basics of sexual transmitted infections (STIs), reproductive health and contraception. It makes a lot of sense to train volunteers in these topics, as the majority of what Planned Parenthood does is provide family planning and sexual health advice, education and health services.

After having attended these last two courses with a group of my peers, I say this: We need to do better at providing the people of this country standardized, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education.

Remember: All of the attendees of these courses want to be there. All of us believe in reproductive planning, promoting sexual health, positive sexuality, and supporting a woman’s right to  have an abortion. We are all supposedly “the good guys”. But goddamn there were some ridiculous beliefs that were shared in that classroom! There were misunderstandings about how common forms of birth control work, what happens during puberty, how certain STIs are spread, how communication with partners can limit the spread of STIs, how to bring up the issue of STIs with a new partner. There were prejudices, preconceptions and privileged opinions about issues such as sex before marriage, how many partners people “should” have, relationship status (monogamous vs. polygamous vs. open marriages, etc.), gender identity, how young someone should be before they have sex, if parents should have a say in whether an underage girl is allowed to have an abortion.

In a country that allows parents to pull their children from classrooms during sex ed…

When sex “education” still seems to come primarily from friends or the internet or those first fumbling encounters…

When sex, birth control, reproduction and sexual autonomy remain taboo subjects that aren’t discussed in “polite” company…

When these things happen we find ourselves in a climate where people speak the right words and espouse the right positions, but we still don’t know what the hell we’re talking about. A lot of people in that room probably walked in thinking they knew all there was too know about the basics of reproduction, contraception and STIs.

Planned Parenthood seems to understand the reality of sex education in this country, and they have taken steps to extend their educational outreach to their volunteers as well as their clients. We can do better.

Sex Ed – We're Doin It Wrong
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247 thoughts on “Sex Ed – We're Doin It Wrong

  1. 1

    And here in Texas, meanwhile, the majority of schools teach “abstinence only,” Planned Parenthood is being defunded as the Great Satan of our Republican-run legislature, and we’re #4 nationwide in numbers of teenaged moms.

    My wife, when she was at the Middle School, knew quite a few of those teenaged moms that were 13 or 14. And some others that didn’t qualify, because they weren’t teenagers yet. But they did all get to see the Sex Ed movies of penises rotting off, with condoms going unmentioned.

  2. 2

    So very right!

    I have been struggling with how I will talk to our oldest daughter (8) about sex. We also just go the note from school they would be discussing sex and you can pull your child. I am not pulling (of course!), but I am thinking I want to talk to her before the school does. I have been struggling with the timing being she’s only 8… So I guess this weekend we will talk about it.

    FYI – my parents NEVER said a word. I learned from friends and school. Was not prepared at all and did some dumb things that could have been prevented.

    1. 2.1

      I know 8 seems early, but puberty is literally around the corner. Give her an age-appropriate talk about what changes she’ll go through and why it happens, the basics of how pregnancy occurs, and that there are ways to stop it.

      Also, teach her about good vs bad touching, her right to control who touches her body, and what to do about unwanted touch.

      Tell her that puberty might make her experience weird new feelings, and that they’re nothing to be ashamed of. That sort of thing.

      Make sure she knows that you are absolutely always there to answer questions, to confide in. If any rumours or playground.”facts; confuse her she should know that you can decode them for her!

      There’s help out there. Books, websites, forums etc.

      That’s for 9-12 year olds.

      Best of luck.

  3. 3

    I’m from Canada, and when I was in high school about 20 years ago, we got a thorough – if dry, clinical and boring – explanation of puberty and STIs. I believed it then, and I still believe that the best way to make kids uninterested in sex is to teach about it in school. 🙂

  4. 4

    #1 Coragyps
    I went to high school in Texas. We didn’t even have sex ed. Then, in my senior year, they invited in “abstinence experts.” These people took three days out of history class (the only class that every student in school had) to tell us outright lies. I only sat through one day (I didn’t know what they would teach). I refused to attend the second and this evening days because I didn’t appreciate being lied to. It was awful. From friends, I gathered that it was three days of misinformation and religious teaching, just without using the god word.

  5. 5

    Shelli, my Mom taught me the “basics” before I ever went to school at all, when I was five. Not the details, but the basics of how things work, what happens, etc. She didn’t want me to be alarmed by any weird stories I heard. I also got some sex ed in school, very straightforward stuff. As a result, I never bought into some of the strange ideas I heard from my friends, because the truth as my mother told it made a lot more sense.

    By the way, despite this very early sex ed, I was much later than most of my friends at beginning sexual activity. It just didn’t seem mysterious to me. I didn’t have to find out about it; I already knew. This is why sex ed is so important.

  6. 6

    I think that every child opted out of sex ed should be tested on his/her knowledge of the subject. The results would be interesting.
    When my older son was in 6th grade I got a note saying that the school was going to present a sex ed program. It was just one day. The note said that parents could opt out or they could attend the session with their child. As I was his only parent and could get off work, I went to the session with him. I trusted the school and his teacher but my son is mildly autistic and I wanted to make sure he was understanding what was being taught. We had already given him the sex talk at home. None of the parents objected and I was the only parent who came to the session. At first I made the instructor nervous. She kept looking at me every time she introduced a new subject. Finally my son’s teacher pulled her aside and said, “He’s on our side.” After that she went on with the session in a more relaxed mood. She did a wonderful job.
    Two years later I got the same note for my younger son. He is a genius and I know he would ask questions until he got a concrete satisfactory answer. He didn’t put up with bullshit. The same woman was doing the class, so I stayed at home.

  7. 8

    Just a bit of commentary, but why are 90% of the moderate filter google search results for “sex ed(ucation)” just meta-info and not real info about the subject itself? There seems to be much harping about sex ed as a headline and not about substantive information. Seriously, our (US) culture is nuts if we expect everyone to be sexually liberated and healthy if the ways to learn about sex are stone age-esque self discovery, listening to your preacher shame it and then straight into hardcore porn, none of which have healthy outcomes. I’m not saying there’s an easy and obvious ways to tackle this, but it seems like something is amiss.

  8. 9

    Doesnt wikipedia have all the basic inormation one could need? Certainly better than googling “sex ed” or my childhood information sources which consisted of looking up words like “copulation” and “sexual intercourse” in our parents OED. Odd, because my parents actually taught natural family planning and I had a very precise knowledge of the process of human reproduction, the female menstrual cycle and how to tell apart different kinds of cervical mucus before Id ever touched one let alone knew what to do (or not to do) with it. Id say racy novels, wikipedia and my current favourite Savage Lovecast should do the trick.

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