Disclaimer: All opinions expressed in this essay are my own and do not represent the opinion of any entity whatsoever with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated in the future.
“We’ve tried ignorance for a thousand years. It’s time we try education.” – Joselyn Elders.
Ten years ago, if I heard the word “sexuality” I would have blushed and been so embarrassed that I would have wished I was invisible. Thanks to Dr. Sandra Caron, Professor of Family Relations and Human Sexuality at the University of Maine, I learned that so much of what I knew about sexuality was not accurate. A lot was never talked about or taught.
I was raised to have negative feelings about sex and people’s sexuality. I grew up learning that sexuality was bad and dirty, and it was something I should be ashamed of.
“Some of you may be thinking, ‘Well, things are different now.’ College students know all about sex, right? There’s nothing I can tell you about sex. You’ve grown up in an age when many sexual topics are openly discussed on TV, in magazines, and on the Internet, when films and TV dramas present explicit sexual scenes, and in this age of permissiveness, your own sexual experience has been untroubled by the guilt, embarrassment, and unrealistic prudery of prior generations.
Wrong. In my experience, I have found that college students show a wide range of sophistication regarding sexuality. Some are indeed knowledgeable and comfortable with their own sexuality and are able to directly seek more information as needed from informed sources. Others, more typically, come to college with many unanswered questions, often embarrassed by what they see as their excessive ignorance and fearing ridicule of others if they openly seek the information they need. Some, not the majority, have many misconceptions and may, in fact, seem to have a junior high mentality when it comes to sexuality. Most typically, students come to college with many unanswered questions about human sexuality.” — Dr. Sandra Caron
Most parents do not speak to their children about sex and sexuality because it is a difficult topic, but it is a part of parenting, so who do we really learn from? Our classmates, friends and the internet—and we know how accurate all that information can be.
As a teenager, I did not know what was real and what was fictional entertainment. I learned most of what I learned from movies, music videos, and friends. I thought as a sign of passion all guys would pick up girls and kiss them against the wall or the door, and some of the time the girls did not seem eager but would give in eventually—and that is certainly not always the case.
When you sexually repress someone, it encourages them to learn about it more, and not always from the right sources. Most of us do not know who to ask. I wonder if there would be fewer teenage pregnancies if teenagers and young adults were taught about contraceptives and sexually transmitted diseases, instead of just being told not to have sex because it is wrong. I do not understand how withholding information on sexual health from anyone is helpful in any way.
I know adults who do not know the repercussions of missing a day of the contraceptive pill, that it may affect their likelihood to get pregnant if they have unprotected sex. I also know educated adults who have been having unprotected sex but have never been tested for sexually transmitted diseases. This is not just ignorance but also being selfish and inconsiderate about other people’s health and their lives. Some STDs can be treated and some cannot. Also, with the stigma attached to having an STD, some people are so ashamed that they will not go get it treated.
I have lived almost all my life in a patriarchal society, where there is an unspoken rule that it is a woman’s job to keep a marriage together. If a husband goes astray, it is because the woman was not a good wife. And if the husband leaves her for another woman, she will be frowned upon if she considers remarrying or meeting someone. If the husband decides to come back, the woman is expected to take him back and forgive him. I do not understand how that is an unspoken norm in some societies. Men, especially rich and successful ones, never get slut-shamed no matter what they do.
I do wish some adults in my life had talked to me about sexual literacy and told me that everything that I might learn from the internet and friends my age is not true. I was 26 when I learned about the various topics that fall under human sexuality. It is not just sex; it is so much more. It is raising children to be comfortable with who they are, and letting the children decide what gender they belong to instead of color-coding them either blue or pink based on their sex at birth. It is learning how our body changes as we grow without being embarrassed. It is learning that having a period is a sign of growing up. I grew up with so much stigma attached to getting my period because I was not allowed to go to Hindu temples or touch the refrigerator because I was considered impure. I felt dirty.
“Relationship is about making a choice, and it needs consent to blend.”- Jyotsna Maskay, Executive Chairperson of LOOM.
Human Sexuality teaches you about dating, relationships, and breakups. We get our hearts and minds involved when it comes to love, and human sexuality teaches you about having self-respect for yourself while choosing a partner who will be good to you and good for you. It teaches you the value of communication and self-acceptance. If more young adults knew that they would not be putting up with all the bullshit associated with modern dating because they would know how to treat other people better.
Human Sexuality teaches you that being heterosexual is not the only norm, that there are various sexual preferences in the world, and it is not wrong to feel one way or another. Whether you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer—it is as normal as being straight.
“I thought it was wrong to be gay even before I had my first gay crush. I was raised next to gay neighbors and my family made it out to be like they had a disease. Even at a young age, I questioned why my family felt that way. I have always wanted to form my own opinions on subjects of discrimination. As much as I feel like discrimination is passed down from generation to generation.” -J,26
My knowledge of sexuality expended during graduate school when I learned about sexual harassment and sexual assault, and how it is so easy to manipulate people into thinking it is their choice without their consent. I continue to learn about exploitation of individuals and varying degrees of consent- topics that are sensationalized in the media so much because many of us never learned about it or were ever taught. Sometimes it seems that being better at twisting words around takes precedence over the truth.
They say we live in a free society, where we can choose how to live our lives and I am very grateful for the many choices I have in my life. I live in a very progressive part of the country where almost everyone around me believes in equality, but it is not the case everywhere.
We are told we have the freedom to choose but we still have the government and some ‘religions’ that decide how much we see, hear and read in laws, public policies and media. You cannot constitute good moral values by legislating your access to your choices and knowledge.