Let's Talk About Sex (Baby): How Sex Education Failed Our Generation
Like a bad first kiss, much of the sex-ed in this country is sloppy and leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
If you’re anything like me, you spent a lot of your awkward years watching Amanda Bynes and Hilary Duff movies. Remember the principal in She’s The Man? In one scene, he corners Amanda’s character to give abstinence advice: “The best way to not is…to not” (consider this your excuse to watch that movie).
It’s meant to be comedic, but it turns out that students everywhere are actually getting this message—or in most places, because if there;s one thing that's similar about sex education around America, it's that the message is not consistent. I surveyed twenty-somethings across the country, and while most schools focus on protected sex and offer abstinence as an option rather than a requirement, some still use abstinence-only education and scare tactics. At best, these policies are simply ignorant, and at worst they provide misinformation and contribute to double standards. Like a bad first kiss, much of the sex-ed in this country is sloppy and leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
Now? You might say. Why now? I don’t want to think about zit-dusted teenagers trying to put condoms on bananas. Fair, but sex-ed issues aren’t going to go away, not from romantic relationships or family life. Multiple people I surveyed admitted they didn’t learn how to put on a condom until their first time and said it killed the mood. It might be too late to fix that, but it’s the perfect time to make “the talk” an ongoing conversation instead of an awkward, stigmatized parental lecture.
Somewhere in this vast universe, a rom-com hero is thrusting his pack of Trojans into the air and saying, “I have a condom and I’m not afraid to use it!” But if he's from one of our nation's average high schools, he’d wonder how to use the damn thing. It turns out that while all of you had some kind of sex-ed in high school or college, no one surveyed actually learned how to use contraceptives in a classroom setting. In fact, some had to stop mid-passion to assess the mechanics of safety. Better to break the mood than your protection, but no one should have to make that choice.
The average sex-ed class sets us up for awkwardness, fumbling idiocy, and (most tragically) unsafe sex.
Under the pretense that everyone had to suffer through a rough health class at least once in their lives, I asked people for their weirdest sex-ed stories; can someone please compile these into a made-for-TV movie? I would watch it.
-The Cheetos: Some of the kids in class had to eat Cheetos, rinse their mouths with water, spit the mixture into a cup and pour it into others’ cups around the room (the instructor called the regurgitated Cheeto dust “chunks and floaties”). It was a metaphor for transmission of sexual fluids.
-Condom-nation: One educational video advised men to use condoms because women will "lie about using birth control to get pregnant to be together forever."
Hold it, dudes: no, really. Hold it and put it on because that’s the safe thing to do.
-Star Trek: A health teacher described the stages of a sexual relationship by depicting a car speeding up and crashing into a wall. The second-to-last stage was Star Trek: “To boldly go where no hands have gone before.”
-The Sock Monster: No, not the one from your college laundry room days. An educator came in to explain something else, but ended up recommending socks to the boys in class. Apparently, he always requested them for Christmas. And yes, for the dirtiest reason you can think of. XXX-mas, anyone?
-“The clitoris isn’t important.” Okay, but socks are? Maybe for the straight men who believe this myth.
Those last two stories bring me to a double standard: nearly a quarter of those surveyed said that male masturbation was actively encouraged while women didn’t receive the same education. And if you’re asking yourself whether that’s even legal, it depends on the state. And the district. And the directors on the school board. Some think these conversations need to happen at home, but not every parent has the personality—or even the knowledge—to explain these topics in terms of mechanics and safety.
And what happens if someone is LGBTQIA+? Well, 88% of those surveyed didn’t report any formal education about the reproductive health of anyone outside the heterosexual experience. It’s another case of heteronormativity—in other words, the assumption that straight sexuality is the only kind worth discussing.
But at least we’re talking about newer methods of STI prevention, right? Let’s take Gardasil as an example. Well, actually…55% didn’t encounter the topic in sex ed at all, and for 22% it was just in fine print.
What is this, sex-ed for ants? The scary part, according to one educator, is that the majority of us are sexually active before we graduate from high school. So learning this information can’t wait.
And sure, maybe you can; but in the meantime it helps to know that there are plenty of resources out there for you. I’ll riff on that more extensively in a future article, but for now here’s a guide to birth control to get you started:
You might already know everything on that sheet, and if so, that’s great. But a convenient reminder never hurts, especially when women’s reproductive health is so politically charged. The lack of comprehensive sex-ed has failed our generation, so even if you consider yourself well-informed, there’s likely always more to learn.
You have the right to know what’s available, and while there’s plenty of information out there, the challenge is sifting out the misinformation. That’s where I come in.
Stay tuned for next time when I'll be interviewing sex-ed teachers. You’ll finally get to find out what they’re really thinking! In the meantime, go eat some Cheetos in front of Star Trek. Don’t let health class ruin it for you.
Feature photo by Carlos Martinez/ VIA Unsplash