Okay, everyone. Let’s play the “do you remember?” game.
In sixth grade, did your school teach sex ed? If so, remember bringing the permission slip home to your parents and wondering if (hoping that) they would sign it? Remember being separated from the boys so you could learn about “girl stuff,” like menstruation, while the boys learned how to put a condom on a banana? Remember making fun of the poor teacher who attempted to talk about abstinence and masturbation amidst constant fits of giggles?
Yeah, sexual education is a rite of passage that most of us associate with our days of Clearasil, bad fashion choices, and crushes. For most people, that’s where sexual education starts and ends. Let’s think about this, though. What did you really learn when you were a teen? How did you feel about the lessons? And, why does sex ed end at junior high? Shouldn’t junior high just be the beginning?
Starting as Kids and Teens, We Need Reliable Information
We know that when kids get quality information about their bodies, they make safer choices and stay healthier. Sex ed paves the way for fewer unplanned pregnancies and more protection against STDs. Let’s face it, some parents’ “birds and the bees” talks don’t quite cut it. Or they skip “the talk” altogether. It’s just too embarrassing. School is the only source of timely, relevant information for many kids.
Or is it? Get this. Only 13 states in the U.S. currently require that sex education be medically accurate. (01) That means that in most of the country, teachers can interpret and teach lessons however they want. Without regulation, how do you know if the information students get is true or unbiased? If teachers are laser-focused on abstinence, are they also teaching about contraception? In many cases, they aren’t. Did you know that some state laws even prohibit schools from “portraying homosexuality in a positive manner?” (02) What?!?
It’s Time to Get Caught Up
Sexuality, no matter how one chooses to express it or with whom is natural. The truth is, while schools may preach abstinence and heterosexualism, kids and teens are having sex. Kids are members of the LGBTQ community. Kids need sexual health information for their physical and emotional well-being. When we fail to recognize that, we fail our kids. We need to empower our children rather than shame them into hiding.
The Netherlands and Denmark are world leaders when it comes to sex education. In the Netherlands, children as young as four begin learning about relationship building and developing the skills to protect against sexual abuse. They talk about what love is and feels like. At age eight, students learn about self-image and gender stereotypes. By eleven, discussion topics include sexual orientation and contraceptive options. The countries take a holistic approach to sexual education. It’s not all purely about sex. It’s about the emotional aspects of relationships too.
Here, however, religion and politics get in the way of open, honest communications. Schools teach as if students are not sexually active. Students don’t know what to do if they become pregnant or think they have an STD. Conversations about desire and pleasure? Those are just plain off-limits. How to handle abusive relationships? (03) Ignored.
So, how do we advocate for change?
Let’s remove the biases and start with open, honest communications led by experts with positive attitudes about sex. If we get the tone and delivery right, our young people will not only listen, they’ll engage. (04)
Your Sexual Evolution
Yes, it’s clear that, as a country, we’re doing a mediocre job when it comes to youth sex ed. Do we have better access to sexual education as adults? Why do adults need sexual education anyway?
Think about where you were sexually at 16 and where you are now. Not the same, right? What you learned back then probably isn’t even relevant anymore. You may not have even been sexually active back then. If you were, you may have been worried about whether it would hurt the first time and how to get birth control without your parents finding out. And your sexual status today? Maybe you’re trying to get pregnant. Or want more intimacy between you and your partner. What if your libido is running low? Back then, you needed Sex 101. Now, it’s time to step it up with advanced classes.
Sex Ed = Better Sexual Health
Here’s a fun fact for you. Adult sexual education leads to improved sexual health. Sure, it helps prevent unplanned pregnancies and the spread of STDs. And, it gives you access to accurate information that tells you if everything is a-okay or if it’s time to visit the gyno.
But, our sexual health goes beyond that. It’s about understanding your body and your partner’s preferences. It’s about communication and consent. Those aren’t topics just for teenagers. Communicating your wants, needs, and boundaries, and understanding your partner’s, is crucial to building healthy, respectful relationships.
And, it can help you weather relationship ups, downs, and uncertainties. Think marriage phases (newly married sex versus when you’re approaching your 25th anniversary), new baby (will we ever have sex again?), and divorce (am I ready to have sex with someone new?) all change the playing field. Adult sex ed can help you overcome these and other relationship ups, downs, and uncertainties.
The Right Approach to Sexual Education Leads to More Pleasure
Close your eyes and go back to 6th grade again. Remember the discussion about how sex feels oh so good? The discussion about how to maximize your pleasure? Or even how to build intimacy with your partner? No? Sounds about right. Most sex ed classes skip right over those parts.
Here’s a secret, though. Research indicates that pleasure-based sexual education isn’t about how to have sex. It’s about affirming the right to sexual pleasure and fulfillment. (05) Think about it this way. A teacher can warn students that if they don’t use condoms, they’ll get STDs or end up as stars on Teen Mom. Or, the teacher can show off different types and colors of condoms and give fun ideas for using them. Now, consider how that translates to the bedroom in the short and long term.
Positive sexual education is also about helping individuals assert what they do and don’t want in their sexual relationships. You also have to have the confidence to speak up without being afraid of being judged. That holds true for anyone, not just kids.
Sexual Education Resources for Adults
So where can you turn for information and advice as an adult? Google “Sex education tools,” and many options for kids and parents to use with their kids pop up. Yes, that’s a good thing. But, where can you find information for grown-ups besides your local sex toy shop? Not to worry. We’ve got you covered.
We’re proud to introduce Playground’s School of Sexology. It was designed to be a positive, candid, fun outlet for learning and sharing. Have personal questions that you’re afraid to ask? The doctor is in. Submit your questions, and Dr. Shyama Mathews, board-certified OB/GYN, gynecological surgeon, and menopause specialist, will post a response. Have a secret that you’re dying to tell? Campus confessions lets you get it off your chest. Plus, it’s fun learning that you’re not the only one with a risque side. We also share blogs, podcasts, book recommendations, trends (vulva nails!), and songs that will get you and your partner in the mood.
Other options include The American Sexual Health Association (ASHA), a reputable organization that shares science-based information and services. We love how the organization provides inclusive information and makes even the toughest topics stigma-free. If you want to get offline, check out local professional organizations and agencies that offer sex education classes and workshops. You can also get an appointment with your gynecologist or even look for a trained sex educator in your area.
Sex Ed is for Life
Let’s rewind. Sex ed is an ongoing learning process. It’s important for everyone. After all, sex impacts our physical health, emotional well-being, and societal norms. How can something that affects us throughout our entire lives be one-and-done? Take advantage of the resources out there and continue the conversation. Education may be just the springboard we need to address our sexuality with humor, sensitivity, and respect for each other.