A subject repeatedly revisited throughout my stretch of public education was the importance of sexual abstinence. Not only was it portrayed as the only practical method of avoiding unplanned pregnancy, it was a crucial element of a wholesome lifestyle. Ironically, my hometown has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation. In reminiscing about my sexual education, it’s not exactly a laborious task to grasp the roots of this paradox.
Don’t misunderstand the intention of this article; I am in no way claiming that the area is filled with people who are backward, uncaring, or in some unchecked conspiracy against women. In fact, their intentions are quite the opposite. Parents care so much about their children that they want adolescents to avoid premature exposure to the emotional realities of sex. I understand and admire this desire, but I’m also a realist and don’t believe statistics should be ignored. The system is broken, and avoiding the issue does nothing but cultivate the problem.
What’s more troubling is that these effects go beyond teenage years. Family planning is a life skill that helps people at every age. Young married couples in the area tend to have children early because they don’t understand basic methods of birth control or human anatomy.
Some argue that it shouldn’t be the state’s job to educate the youth on personal matters, but I don’t think the content of education should go unmonitored. While it’s one thing to ignore the subject entirely, it’s wrong to mislead people about their own bodies.
To shed light on the subject, I compiled a list of my own experiences. If you think the following sentiments are at all exaggerated, I highly suggest watching “The Education of Shelby Knox,” a documentary made in West Texas about a girl with similar experiences.
Things I was taught:
1. The bubble gum analogy.
We were told that a virgin girl was like an un-chewed piece of bubble gum. However, once she had sex she was all chewed up, and nobody wants a used piece of gum. The more times she was “chewed” the more disgusting she became.
2. The condom industry lies to teenagers to make money.
Perhaps the banana demonstration is a bit unnecessary, but true statistics about condoms are an important aspect of a comprehensive education. I was taught that condoms were only 86% effective, and this number was actually inflated by condom companies in an attempt to sell more of their product.
3. Shaking hands can lead to STDs.
Nope, I’m not making this up. There was a very specific monologue each year our guest speaker would go through about the danger of shaking hands and then subsequently masturbating: “you don’t know where that hand has been, what it’s been doing, or who it’s been doing it with.”
4. Pregnancy without sex is not only possible, it’s in fact quite common.
I was told multiple horror stories about girls who got pregnant without actual penetration. Of course, this is entirely avoidable, but it took me a long time before I could relax in a hot tub with members of the opposite sex.
5. The “wheel of consequence” demonstration.
Each year, a lucky student got to spin the “wheel of consequence” (which ironically resembled the wheel of fortune). This had multiple STDs, teen pregnancy, and emotional dilemmas. Only ten percent of the wheel was labeled “no consequences.”
Things I was not taught:
1. Different methods of preventative birth control for women
I had no comprehension of the multitude of birth control options available. I was never taught the side effects of birth control, the effectiveness of each method, or the different reasons people take it. The Plan B pill was also a complete taboo, and I still have friends who don’t understand how it’s different from an abortion pill.
2. Birth controls that don’t work.
I remember when my friend found “sperm-o-cide,” and was somehow under the impression that this was a revolutionary preventative tactic. She now has a beautiful five year old boy.
3. Various types of STDs.
Well this is embarrassing, but in my early years I was under the impression that all STDs were incurable, and condoms did practically nothing to protect against their spread.
4. Methods of abortion.
I realize this is a tough subject, but the Supreme Court has ruled that abortion is a woman’s legal right. My point is that no matter what your beliefs are on the subject, this is a reality. There are various methods of abortion, various places to get an abortion, various options in financing an abortion, various reasons for getting an abortion, and a limited window when a woman can have an abortion. I was taught nothing about any of this.
5. What to do after a sexual assault.
Today, I know that a victim should immediately go to a hospital and report an episode of this nature, but I wouldn’t have understood that during my early teenage years. Of course, television gave me some vague understanding of a “rape kit,” but I had no clue what that actually entailed. Knowledge brings preparation, understanding, and prevention.
There are also many different types of sexual assaults young people should be aware of. Many of my friends were abused, but didn’t understand what was happening until it was too late to report.
A friend of mine in high school once informed me that a woman can only get pregnant several days out of the month (she apparently didn’t spin the wheel of consequence). I scoffed at her, until I took biology in college and learned what actually occurs inside of my own body.
7. LGBTQ education.
LGBTQ youth have specific sexual education needs, but this subject was literally never visited at any point during my time in public education.
8. A woman is not defined by her sexual history.
This is an unfortunate stigma that was instilled in us at an early age. I watched a lot of my friends have sex once and somehow believe they deserved a scarlet letter for their transgressions.