So my question is, if education is a right, why are we still arguing over whether or not we're going to educate young men and women about their own bodies? This isn't rocket science - although THAT we teach the basics to in most schools. Yet we can't teach kids that a Penis is called a Penis and that boys have them... I mean really? Next we won't be to teach them plant reproduction...
Now, I know the argument - It's the "parents" job." Right? And in the perfect world where ALL parents had the knowledge, tools and drive to properly teach their children about their bodies as well as sexuality, sexual functions, STD's/STI's, pregnancy, birth control and so on... That would be the ideal way to go. But in a perfect world we wouldn't be arguing over this because there would be no need. In THIS world, the vast majority of parents either don't educate their children or poorly educate them because they either feel their children don't need or should have the information, disagree with the facts, or don't have it themselves.
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How can we expect these young people to make good choices if they don't have a good base of information to make them on. The idea that simply telling them "Say No" is going to work is simply ridiculous! That approach has never and will never work. If we want our young people to make solid decisions we have to provide them with a solid education.
Would you expect someone not to eat cupcakes or candy just because you tell them they aren't good for them? I sure wouldn't. Americans know this stuff isn't healthy, but that hasn't stopped most of us from packing on extra weight and ruining our health with processed foods and refined sugars, has it? But educate people as to WHY these things are unhealthy and teach them how to make healthier yet still satisfying choices and they have a better chance of avoiding the Little Debbie isle in favor of fresh produce. Sure, there will always be those who make bad choices, and those who just plain screw up... But without an education knowing that junk food is dangerous, no one would ever turn it down, it just tastes too good! Sex isn't any different.
Sex feels good, why do you think it's so popular?!? So simply telling someone not to do it or to do it "safely" isn't enough reason for them to do so. Especially since the alternative doesn't feel as good. No, instead, they need to understand the risks AND the benefits of sexual activity. And they need to understand ALL of their options for remaining safe, whether they choose to become sexually active or not. Without all this education how can someone really be expected to make proper choices when the opportunity arises?
And for the vast majority, it WILL arise! I was never permitted to leave my house unless I was going to school. In short I was grounded the entire four years of Highschool, yet I found time to have sex. And I can tell you I wasn't alone either. In thinking over the group of friends I had in HS, I don't think many of us were sexually inactive. And those that were, weren't for lack of trying. In fact of all the people I considered "friends" back then, I can only think of one or two who were virgins when they graduated, and like I said before, it's not because they chose that for themselves.
I, like most teens, had very little education on the subject though. My mother's "sex talk" consisted of her asking if I knew what sex was and how it was done. I told her (quoting here) "sure, the guy puts his thing in the girls thing" and that was that... No more questions were asked, no more advice or information was shared. My sister, who is five years my younger, didn't even get that much of a "talk." My mother just figured she'd pick it all up. And since my mother's religion teaches "no sex before marriage" and she was attempting to brainwash us into her beliefs, she didn't see any need to share the information because we just "weren't going to have sex" - period... That was it. I was never taken to the gynecologist, and it wasn't something my regular doctor ever brought up either. In fact, when I was pregnant with my oldest, I didn't even know I had to call an OB/GYN. I called my PCP, who then informed me that I needed an OB/GYN for things like this and that they didn't deliver babies. Who knew? I didn't. And I was in my 20's.
I think back on the classes my school offered and although they were better than what most kids get today, they were extremely lacking. Yes we were taught that a penis is a penis, how your periods work and why (thanks to a video which made you want to rethink eating pancakes) and we even watched a video of a woman giving birth... But there really wasn't any education beyond that. Yes, we knew HIV was out there, but none of us really knew what it was or how it affected the body. We all just kinda figured if you have sex with someone who's "sick" you could get Aids. The fact that you may not be able to see it or know who has it never crossed our minds. And a few of "us" did end up with this or that. Once I had a girl call me from the hospital. She said she had Gonorrhea and thought I should know because she was sleeping with my boyfriend. I assumed I couldn't get it though because I wasn't sleeping with him yet, I was just preforming oral... Thankfully I didn't catch anything. But that's how naive I was.
Over the years I've heard countless stories from people who had similar experiences. They had little to no solid education and they based their choices off of what they thought to be true, rather than facts. Many made choices which ended in utter disaster. I've known teen parents and teen brides, seen HIV, HPV and numerous other STDs & STIs. And then there's the date rape, straight up rapes and abuse... I actually had to hide one girl in my closet for nearly a week before we could figure out a way to get her away from her boyfriend - don't worry, my closet comfortably fit up to 6 people at the time, it was like a small room. Of course none of that takes the emotional affects that a sexual relationship can have on a love struck teen, or the heart break when they discover they're not the only one their partner is doing it with...
Again though I ask, how can we expect our young people to make good choices if they don't have all the information? How can we ever expect to make a difference when it comes to teen pregnancy, rape, abuse, STIs or even suicides (many of which come out of depressed teens feeling rejected by a sexual partner) if we aren't willing to give these young people the information which could enable them to avoid these things?
But, shouldn't it be up to the parents? Don't parents get a say in what their kids do and don't learn? NO! No they shouldn't. Not when it's information which could save their child's life. If they are choosing to with hold proper information about sex, they are choosing to withhold information which could affect that child's health for the rest of their lives. Information which could prevent pregnancy, life threatening diseases, and more. Any parent who would choose to withhold such information doesn't deserve to get a vote on whether or not their child should be educated on something.
Yes, it's ideal that parents would teach their kids this stuff, but as I said above, they don't and many don't have the knowledge themselves. Call up your sisters and friends, find out how many of them can tell you what HPV is or how it affects your health, or how you can get it... As them all how an IUD works. Or even what HIV is. Most know it's a "retro virus" but few know what that means. If parents don't know this stuff, how the hell can they teach it to their kids? And in my experience the parents who DO have all the information are the ones who are pushing for comprehensive Sex Ed to be INCLUDED in schools.
Many fear that including sex ed in schools will send out a message that teen sex is okay, or that it will encourage sexual experimentation. Some worry that it will even send out the message that homosexuality or bisexuality are normal and acceptable, which works against their religious teachings. And others simply believe that if teens are educated they will feel they have the information to make choices which would otherwise scare them, and they'd prefer their children be scared by sex than consider participating in it... And I suppose there is something to these fears. Yes, there may be a few who take this type of education and feel it is society saying "It's okay to go do this at your age" - but in reality, most aren't looking for that permission, they're doing it anyways. And yes, there would almost definitely be a message that "alternative sexualities" are equally natural to heterosexuality. But guess what, they are, and if that's a message that bothers you, move to Iran where homosexuality is still a crime. In this country, the message that LGBT sexualities are normal and healthy is everywhere because MOST people understand that it's the truth. As for the idea that kids are going to make the right choices because they lack information - I call bullshit! Sure, there may be a few who are to afraid - usually due to that teachings of their parents - to have sex. And this type of education may remove some of that fear. But again I go back to the idea that if you would prefer your child fear their own body than have knowledge about it, the issue isn't their education, it's you!
Sexual Education is a RIGHT! We all deserve to have the correct information when it comes to our own bodies and what we can and can't do with them. We all deserve to know that anal sex doesn't prevent HIV, which was something I thought as a young person. We all deserve to know that birth control pills have side effects and can even be dangerous. We all deserve to have access to information about safety, pregnancy prevention, and emotional support for when we make the wrong choices. And we all deserve to understand that sex has the ability to affect us in both wonderful ways, and horrible ones too. Every last one of us deserve to know this stuff. And that includes young people.
Of course there is the argument that in this technological age if they want the information its out there for them. But it's worth also considering that there is a lot of misinformation out there too. And then there is the fact that if they don't know what to look for, they won't ever do it. In fact, most won't do it because they assume if it's important someone will tell them about it.
So what should sex ed classes actually cover? How does an educational system include information about sex and sexuality without working against the "just say no" rule which has been taught for generations? And how do you teach sex ed without touching on taboo issues like anal and oral sex? Where would this education stop? Do we go so far as to teach the Kama Sutra - as many parents believe sex ed will lead to that... How do we print text books or show educational videos without tap dancing on the line between education and porn?
All of those are valid questions. But they aren't really hard to answer. First of all when it comes to what should be covered, I say the more the better. Of course we want to fall short of teaching positions, but I'd say just about everything else should be included. These young people NEED to have a clear understanding of their bodies, how they work and why. They need to understand that sexual arousal and/or orgasm is a physical response, and not something which can be controlled. When speaking with rape victims I've often heard that they felt ashamed because they would orgasm, which to them meant they must have wanted it on some level. Of course this isn't true, no one really wants to be violated and having a physical response to stimuli (orgasm) is not permission or an excuse to rape you. But of course, these are things we don't tell people.
We also need to explain that sexuality is unquestionably who we are. Science has proven over and over again that the brain controls sexuality, it's not a choice, it's not something that we can change, it's simply who we are. Yep, that's going to piss a lot of people off, but guess what, it's fact. It's been proven. And it's important, especially for that 10% of students who are homosexual and terrified!
I had a good friend when I was in Highschool who was gay. I never knew. In fact he went as far to make up girlfriends from other schools, he'd talk about the sex they were having, and even emailed me photos of his penis at one point... Turns out he did it all to hide who he was. I still wonder why he felt he had to keep that from me. I'm Bisexual and I never hid it. But he was so ashamed of who he was that he couldn't be honest and open with me. I've been out of school more than a decade, and that still bothers me. Another friend waited til the last week of school our senior year to come out to me. He started his statement with "I'll understand if you don't want to be friends with me any more after I tell you this." He, however, wasn't quite so good at hiding it as the other guy, I always knew, from the time we were kids I knew... But it was never something that mattered to me, so it was never something I brought up. I can't imagine though what went through their heads. The depression, the self loathing, the anger... I still worry about how that must have affected them. That is NOT something anyone should have to go through. And I really believe had we been teaching students that "alternative sexualities" aren't really an "alternative" they're simply who these people are, it would have stopped a lot of that... But that's a conversation for another blog. So lets get back to sex ed...
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Then there is the issue of Sexually Transmitted Infections & Diseases. Each one should be explored. What are they, how do they spread, how do they affect the human body, how can you prevent them, how can you identify them, how and when should you get tested, what treatments are available and can they be cured...
Then there are issues such as pornography, toys, self gratification and experimentation which need to be explored. What does pornography do to the brain? Is porn or prostitution a good career choice? Is sex ever as good in real life as it is on the screen? Are toys dangerous? Will your palms really grow hair if you masturbate? Are any of these things things to be ashamed of, or does everyone do it in secret? How does masturbation benefit you, how can it damage your relationship? I don't think we should be teaching teens where to find free porn, but I do think we should be explaining that porn and the real world are very different. We should also be explaining that self gratification and toys have their place but if they're used improperly can have a down side to them. Toys NEED to be cleaned properly to prevent infection and bigger is not always better. More than that excessive masturbation or the use of toys can "train" your body to react only to that type of stimulation meaning it could affect your current or future sex life with a partner.
Of course pregnancy should also be explored in a class like this. It may seem like a separate issue, but in fact pregnancy comes from sex and should be explored as deeply as STIs. Like I said, we were shown a tape of a woman giving birth. But in all reality, it must have been her 8th child because birth is rarely that quick... I'm not saying students shouldn't see birth, but it shouldn't be made to look easy (like this tape did) or extra hard. Each "month" of pregnancy should be explored briefly. What changes does it make to the mother's body and emotional state. How big is a baby at 2 months, 6 months and 8 months? When does the heart begin to beat? When do they open their eyes? What really happens at birth?
Then there are the questions of "what should you do" if you think you're pregnant? What are your options? How does the adoption process work? What does it cost to raise a child? And yes, even abortion options should be explored. What are the local state laws about abortion? Do you need your parents permission? What is Plan B? What is the Abortion Pill? What is a late term abortion and how are they preformed? How should you talk to your parents? Are there places you can go for support?
The list could go on and on. The point here is to illustrate all the subjects that a comprehensive sex ed class should include. Yes, some of this information steps on the parents toes and may even go against what their beliefs and teachings are. But as a parent I believe it's my duty to teach my children what I believe or know to be right even if what they learn in school is wrong. My son came home with a paper about Christopher Columbus "discovering America" and my first question to him was "can you really discover something that other people already have?" The school's job is to teach him the agreed to mytho-history of this country. My job is to teach him otherwise. His job is to take it all in and decide for himself what he believes and/or thinks. Sex education isn't any different. It's the schools job to teach the facts as they are understood by biologists and sex educators today. It is the parents job to teach their own beliefs, morals and opinions. It's the young persons job to take it all in and make the best choices they can.
Now, I think it's worth pointing out here that I do not make these statements without fear. There is a good deal of misinformation out there and a good deal of doctors buy into it. The idea that my children could be taught that the "best way to avoid HPV is a vaccine" scares me, because I know the facts about those vaccines and HPV as well. It worries me that classes like this would become a general breeding ground for propaganda when it comes to safety and health. But again, I believe that's where the parents job kicks in. It's my job to fill in the blanks and point out things that maybe the class would have missed... Of course there is the argument that if I feel the class could miss important points then why would I ever encourage such a class in the first place, what's the point?!? Well, the point is this, even if they miss or mis-teach a few things according to my opinion, they are still teaching much more than most of these young people would ever find out for themselves. It's just like history class, are their parts that are missed? Are there parts that I wish they would teach differently? YES! But does that mean I with they didn't teach history at all? NO! History, Sex Ed, Science... These all have points which could be debatable among this group or the next, but that doesn't mean that they shouldn't be taught. My science teacher didn't believe in evolution, but he still taught it, because that's science. Same story here...
Okay, now I said my piece, and I'm sure I'll get a bit of hate mail on this one... But that's okay. Hopefully too, it will make my points known to a few people who maybe hadn't considered things this way... Ideally, sex ed will ALWAYS start at home and start young, making these type of classes more of a "review" and less of a class. But most don't get it at home, young or old, they are the ones the classes are most important for. For those who's parents didn't drop the ball, it's a review, a reinforcement, but still a benefit.