Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sex Education is a Basic Right

Call me what you will, right now I've got sex on the brain.

This doesn't come out of nowhere. These two posts on Shakesville and this post at AngryBlackBitch have got my mind workin'.

So, let's talk.

Sex is a touchy topic. A lot of people are squeamish about it. Our culture makes it something to be ashamed of, something dirty, and at the same time, tells us that all the cool people are doing it.

But one thing we need right now is sex education. Comprehensive, open discourse, education about sex in all its wild and woolly aspects.

What would that do? It would help prevent unplanned pregnancies (and by that token reduce the need for abortions), it would help reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and I honestly think it would make the world a better place.

Who should give the sex education? Ideally, parents. As the mother of an 18-year-old daughter, I felt, even before she was born, that it was my responsibility to make sure she knew how to be an adult by the time she became one, and part of being an adult is being educated about sex.

I had my daughter when I was 16. Needless to say, it was not a planned pregnancy. I was in the eleventh grade in high school. I grew up upper-middle-class, and I'm fairly well-educated. I knew where babies came from, I knew what sex was, but from books. My mom handed me books and left it at that. There was no discourse, let alone open discourse.

I decided before I had my daughter that she would know the things I didn't know about sex until I jumped into the pool, so to speak. I wanted her to know that there's more to it than Tab A into Slot B. I wanted her to know about contraception and the correct ways to use it. I wanted her to know about masturbation. I wanted her to know about the ways emotions can get tangled once the pubic bones start bumpin'.

So I opened a discourse with her when she was little. She knew what periods were long years before she got hers. She knew about the changes in her body that would come with puberty before her age was in double digits. And she knew about condoms and how to put them on correctly (which I did NOT know when I was her age). Most importantly, she knew and still knows that she can come to me with questions about sex and her body and boys' bodies and girls' bodies and whatever she needed to ask. I sometimes have had to tell her "I don't know, let me look it up for you," but I'd rather she got an honest "I don't know" than a line of bullshit.

But not all parents are comfortable talking that openly with their kids, gods only know why.

So what we need is comprehensive sex education. Kids need to know this stuff before they jump into the pool. They need to know how to prevent pregnancy, how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. They need to be encouraged to explore their own bodies and discover what they like and don't like before they have sex with a partner or partners. They need to know that sex is nothing to be ashamed of, that when entered into with full consent and responsibility, it can be--it should be--joyous. Every student in every school across the country needs sex education, not that abstinence-only horseshit that the Bush administration tried to push, but comprehensive sex education covering not just the mechanics of Tab A into Slot B, but contraception and how to use it, abortion, disease prevention, sexual health (as in, it's not normal to bleed every time you have PIV sex, another thing I didn't know when I became sexually active), fantasies, masturbation, oral sex, anal sex, all of it. GLB students need to know that their orientations are legitimate, that it is, in fact, okay to be sexually attracted to other people, regardless of their equipment or identity. Transgender students need to know that their identities are legitimate, and they need to know about their options with regard to gender reassignment procedures and the legal tangles of gender identity.

The kids need to know all this. They need to know it without shame, without guilt, and maybe most importantly, without bullshit. And not from a book. From parents and teachers who care that these students, these children and adolescents, these young women and men, grow up to be well-adjusted, healthy adults.