The Feminist Files: Sex (Mis)education
Our country is getting screwed and doesn’t even know how to put on a condom
(Trigger warning: mentions of rape and sexual assault)
Humans are sexual creatures. We always have been, we always will be. With the exception of asexual individuals who typically do not feel sexual attraction, all humans start to feel the need to get down and dirty when puberty hits. In many ways, society encourages humans to have sex by promoting it through advertisements, centering television plot lines around it, and writing a whole genre of books that build up 300 pages of sexual chemistry material just to have five pages of the actual act. Yet a double standard also exists. We promote sex but don’t talk about it. We frown on those who have sex in ways that we disagree with. Gender roles say that men are encouraged to have a lot of sex, but women are told they shouldn’t be having much sex. We don’t even properly teach our population about how to have safe and enjoyable sex.
According to a study released in March 2015 by the Guttmacher Institute, only 22 states and the District of Columbia have mandated sex education. Only 33 states have mandated HIV education. Only 13 states mandate that if sex ed or HIV ed is going to be taught, it needs to be medically accurate. That means 37 states, if they even teach sex ed or HIV ed in the first place, can tell students that their sexual organs will fall off if they have sex before marriage. I’m not saying they do, mind you. Just that they could. In Tennessee, sex education is only required if the pregnancy rate is at 19.5 percent or higher for teen girls ages 15 to 17. Why would you only start to do something about a problem when it is already a problem? Why would you not, instead, opt for the option that could help prevent growing teen pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?
“Nothing can keep an open mind from seeking after knowledge and finding a way to know,” bell hooks, a feminist writer and activist, said. I agree with this statement. Kids don’t stop thinking about sex just because no one sits them down and has the talk. In today’s world, we turn to the internet to find a way to know about sex. But what do we find about sex and sex education on the internet? Well, porn mostly. A plethora of easily accessible images that do not teach us what healthy sexual relationships look like, images that create unrealistic body standards for all genders. You don’t learn about the numerous options for birth control from porn. You don’t learn about partner-to-partner violence, or how to discuss your wants and needs. But to be fair, you don’t really learn these things from sex ed in school either. So it’s time for a change. It’s time for better sex education.
Currently, sex ed in schools across America is lacking in a number of areas: discussing the importance of consent, anything to do with non-heterosexual relationships, different sexualities and genders than the binary, the numerous types of birth control and contraceptives available and where to get them and the double standard associated with sex for men or women. With a more well-rounded education we can produce a safer, healthier population. Let’s stop demonizing sex and start making it fun and safe.
While thinking back to my own sex education in school, I remember that we had to put on “drunk goggles” and attempt to walk in a straight line. What I don’t remember learning about is how to talk openly with my sexual partner, how ‘No’ is a full sentence that should always be respected and that it shouldn’t be my responsibility to take self-defense classes or carry a whistle just to keep from being raped. Instead of teaching girls how to keep from being raped, it’s time to teach boys to respect women and not rape. Actually, let’s just all learn to respect our partner’s wishes when it comes to sexual activity. Rape and sexual assault occur in all communities, including LGBTQ, genderqueer and communities of all races and religions, because as a society we don’t properly stress the importance of consent. What we do stress is that sex is what cool people do, and you’re a weird prude if you choose not to.
I vaguely remember being told that if I ever felt the need to speak with a grownup about something there were counselors at the school who would listen. But would they? So many reports pop up around the country of girls that were made to feel shamed, or responsible, for the violation they experienced, when they turned to their school officials. Doesn’t exactly foster a feeling of trust between institution and student. We need to create safe spaces for victims of sexual assault, where they are never made to feel responsible for someone else choosing to attack them. Schools should have policies in place to respond to reports of student-to-student violence or violation that make the victim feel safe and listened to. The unfair system that schools have in place to supposedly “handle” sexual assault under their watch has been well documented, so I won’t go into it more than that.
I started considering going on the pill when I came to college. I was ready to be sexually active and my mother had instilled in me (through four different versions of “the talk”) that safe sex is the only sex I should be having. At the time of these talks I was mortified, embarrassed and ready to be anywhere but in that space. But had she not made sure I knew about safe sex, would I be relying on condoms or the pull-out method? I like to think that I would be smarter than that, but in reality we can only use the methods we are aware of. Only 18 states plus D.C. must talk about contraception if giving a sex education class. There are 25 states that must stress abstinence when talking about sex. Trying to convince hormone-ridden teens, in the prime of their physicality, not to have sex is a battle we have been losing for far too long. It’s time to accept that preaching abstinence doesn’t work.
Intrauterine devices (IUDs) were never mentioned in my school, at least not that I can remember. An IUD is a small plastic device that is shaped like a T. It is inserted into the uterus by a doctor, and has a plastic string that hangs down into the vagina. The best part about IUDs is that they can last for several years and don’t take daily care, unlike the pill. There are three IUDs currently on the market: ParaGard, Mirena and Skyla. For women of previous generations, IUDs were not nearly as reliable and safe as they are now. I suspect this is why they are not often mentioned in sex ed. As a journalism student, I find that it’s actually pretty difficult to keep to a strict daily schedule because I sometimes plan my days around other people’s schedules. Because of this, I sometimes forget to take my pill, or take it at varying times over the course of a week. Until I read the directions that came with the pill, it was never relayed to me that not keeping a tight schedule could wreck havoc with your hormones. But that’s not the worst thing that could happen to an uninformed pill taker. I’ve seen Yahoo questions asking if the girl’s partner can take it for her, if it needs to be taken orally or is inserted into the vagina, and other completely incomprehensible things from teens who just don’t know, and don’t know who else to ask.
Imagine all the good that can come from comprehensive, inclusive, intersectional sex education nationwide. Imagine all the unintended pregnancies and abortions we could prevent if we educated teens about all forms of contraception. Think of the rape and sexual assaults that could be prevented if we talked openly and honestly about respecting your partner. Imagine how much healthier we could be if we lowered, or even eradicated, STI rates with. This world would be a lot more enjoyable if we stopped demonizing sex, and instead taught people how to enjoy it safely. Education is a preventative measure for consequences that affect the whole country. It’s time to demand comprehensive, medically accurate and inclusive sex and HIV education in this country.