By Megan McKinnon
What do you remember learning about sex? Did you talk to a parent, teacher, medical professional, or another trusted adult? Did you learn about it from friends and what they had heard? Or did you sneak peeks at magazines or watch some late night movies on cable? Did you learn that you just shouldn’t do it…ever? Did you learn that sexuality is complex, mixed up with health, relationships, self-image, and so many other things? Or was it just the facts, ma’am?
I am the daughter of a university health center nurse and a high school biology teacher. We talked about sex growing up. It wasn’t touchy-feely or like on t.v. when a parent gets embarrassed about having “The Talk” with their child. It was dinner table conversation, and it was honest. I’m pretty sure we weren’t a typical family. I learned the basic biological facts about sex growing up, which is more than a lot of kids are taught now, but navigating what healthy relationships look and feel like, and not feeling secretive or ashamed about my feelings was a bit trickier.
Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act on November 2, 2011—legislation that would “provide young people with the comprehensive sexuality education they need to make informed, responsible, and healthy decisions in order to become sexually healthy adults and have healthy relationships.” Wow. What would it be like to live in a culture where children are taught about their bodies and relationships? What would it be like for them to learn about happy, healthy, loving, respectful relationships and feeling good about growing into their sexuality?
If kids are given comprehensive tools to understand their own sexuality and sexual health, might it be easier for them to navigate a world that tries to tell them that how they experience themselves and others should revolve around toxic, exploitive, and harmful expectations? And, if that’s not their experience, there’s something wrong with them; they aren’t cool, or they’re a prude or cold or a tease. What would it look and feel like for kids to learn that their clothing and relationships, their experience of life, doesn’t have to be pornified or hyper-sexualized? What would it be like for them to learn that healthy sexuality does not mean that they have to be able to perform like a porn star? What would it look like if they learned that treating a partner with respect and care feels better than being abusive or exploitive?
Comprehensive sex ed is not going to make kids run out and start having sex with their nearest peer. It will, however, give them so much more information about themselves, their feelings, and their relationships as they navigate a world that tries to tell them who and what they’re supposed to be. It is another important step to demand the change.