Education is typically objective, offering some room for interpretation. But essentially, concrete concepts underlie what is learned in school. The sky is blue, 2 plus 2 equals 4, and babies are developed in the uterus. At an early age, children interpret information through the lens of their instructor and depending on how the information is presented, unhealthy or healthy habits or cognitions are formed. Sex education is no different, like science and math, if the material is presented in a positive and comprehensive manner, the subject is more pleasant, understandable, and applicable. This theory was recently tested as I asked several young ladies how they felt about sex. Their responses ranged as drastically as their ages, 9-years-old to 17-years-old.
The first question I posed was “what is sex?” Just the mention of the word caused half of the girls to blush while the older girls looked at me with annoyance. After the shock of the word wore off, it became apparent that the younger girls viewed sex a heterosexual activity which may result in pregnancy. As one girl stated, “it’s when the penis goes into the vagina.” The older girls explained that sex is “a lot of things.” Sex, as it is understood by teenagers, encompasses the biological definitions used to identify males and females, with some wiggle room for uncertainties. They seemed less interested in the activity and more vocal about utilizing sex as an identity.
Once the girls settled into the topic, I asked how and when they were introduced to sex. No giggles or weird looks, just contemplative glances. The younger two girls stated that their parent introduced the subject while in route to the hospital to visit their newborn sibling. They expressed confusion as to the origin of the newborn, so the parent educated them. Like many teenagers, the grueling health class in middle school was the informant for a few of the girls. One young lady stated, “ugh, it was so disgusting! He talked about diseases and pregnancy. I was so over that class.” Another young lady explained that around her 7th birthday, her parents played her birthing video, including labor pains, crowning, and afterbirth. That was her vivid introduction to sex.
The final question explored their comfort level with sex. I asked if any aspect of sex frightened them and what additional information would they like to know. Almost as if they rehearsed it, most of the responses were “no,” and they were comfortable with their knowledge of sex. The only two exceptions came from the oldest participant and the middle schooler. The 17-year-old made it quite clear that the internet was accessible if any questions came to mind. “There’s way more resources online and qualified professionals can answer any question I have.” The 12-year-old says that her only fear is pregnancy. “It’s a lot of work being pregnant, and then even more work taking care of it.”
Rarely, a curriculum exists that pleases sex educators, parents, school administration, and teachers. And although the insight offered by a few young ladies is not indicative of the masses, it does offer a glimpse of how receptive children can be towards sexuality. Young people are capable of comprehending sex education that addresses sexual activity, sexual identity, reproduction, and sexual transmitted infections, among other things. But at some point, we need to start ‘adulting’ and have genuine and honest discussions. The school system is not guaranteed to provide sex-positive and expansive information, so not only can we advocate for systemic change, but we can also be that change. Sex is penile insertion, but not just into the vagina, and yes, pregnancy can occur, but you can also engage in sex purely for pleasure and without contracting diseases. If adults continue to hide behind their own biases and fail to explain the fullness of sexuality, the sex education of the next generation will be minimized to “ugh!”
Cheryl Walker is a counselor in Atlanta, Georgia working with adults and children. She is currently training to become a sex therapist and advocates for the equal rights of all humans.
This blog is brought to you by the Sexual Wellness in Counseling Interest Network. SWIC is comprised of a group of individuals who value the richness and complexity of human sexuality. Intentional efforts are made to advocate for sexuality education and training of professionals and students through a multi-dimensional approach. Sexual wellness elucidates the salience of sexual freedoms, rights, and expression while honoring the holistic exploration of the human existence. SWIC advances this sentiment by providing support and guidance to professionals and students that recognize the imperative nature of sexual wellness.
Facebook link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/552520588588161/
Twitter link: https://twitter.com/SWIC_ACA