Seeing Past the Sex to the Education: A Manifesto on Why We Need Good Sex Education
Periodically a controversy arises in the world of education about what is and isn’t suitable to teach our youth and young adults. Religious groups, parent organizations, businesses, academics and politicians have all taken turns weighing in on a variety of issues of ranging from drug education to the merits of teaching intelligent design in science courses. Yet few things seem to capture the attention of the nation and prompt controversy like discussions of human sexuality and sex education.
Sex, a natural part of human relations, is frequently deemed the most taboo topic one can bring up in polite company. Parents typically dread having “the talk” with their children, but fear what knowledge and misinformation may be picked up out in the world from idle chatter or gleaned from film, television, and online forums more. While many people agree that some level of sex education is needed, how much and at what age such information should be introduced is often hotly debated. Should sex education be abstinence only? Should lessons include discussions of male and female contraceptives?
What about “alternative” sexualities? These questions arise repeatedly as parents, educators, government officials, church groups, and medical professionals struggle to find the perfect balance of information and mode of presentation.
It seems that while everyone has something to say about sex education, very few are willing to take on the hardships of being a sex educator. Let’s be honest – it’s not an easy job. There’s a lot of information to familiarize yourself with. You have to be able to explain complex processes in understandable terms. And heaven forbid you actually enjoy what you talk about! That’s a sure sign you’re an immoral slut/sex addict. After all, American views on sex emerged out of a Puritanical “non-procreative focused sex is sinful” mindset and anyone that advocates open and honest discussion and exploration of sex just may find themselves in a heap of trouble.
Just recently a plethora of sex educators have come under attack from everything from “helping” the spread of HIV/AIDS on college campuses to breaking down the moral fabric of the nation’s youth and young adults. Sex education presentations are far to frequently reduced to mere “titillation,” “trading exploits,” and “visual and verbal pornography” by those that would claim such education is unnecessary or even harmful to society. It’s time that we see past the sex and take time to focus on the education provided.
On the most basic level, good sex education provides us with common terminology. While the few days of sex education many of us receive in middle school or junior high may not answer all of our questions about the whys and hows our bodies work, they often provide the foundation for being able to talk about our bodies in a coherent fashion. While learning or inventing new ways to reference a penis, vagina, clitoris, or other “naughty bit” can be amusing, it can also be horribly confusing. Clear, common terminology is a boon any medical professional attempting to diagnose a “personal problem” will surely appreciate.
Good sex education encourages smart, self-aware sexual choices. The point of sex education is to allow individual to make “smart” choices regarding their sexuality. This means informing students that sexuality is natural and varied. Students need to know about the variety of options available to them from abstinence to oral sex to penetrative sex. However, it’s not just important to acknowledge the various types of intercourse, but the wide range of parings that may occur from monogamous heterosexual or homosexual couples to open polysexual arrangements. Once you know that there are multiple ways to view sex and all of them may not be for you, you also generally learn to start asking for what you like and feeling more confident in expressing what you don’t.
Good sex education is part of anti-rape education. If we want to teach about sexual assault intelligently and meaningfully, we have to teach about enthusiastic consent and self-aware choices. We do have a responsibility to young men and women to give them the tools they need to recognize the difference between seduction, enjoyment of rougher sex, and abuse.
Good sex education isn’t porn education. Educating young men and women on understanding and enjoying their bodies safely and responsibly is a far cry from teaching “How to Recreate the Karma Sutra in Your Bedroom” or “Advanced Blowjob Techniques for the Camera.” It’s about teaching comfort within one’s own skin, normalizing desire, and moving beyond concepts of sex as penises inside vaginas. Sex education is about teaching how to make intelligent, safe, self-aware choices that are pleasurable to the individual whether that be abstinence, masturbation, partnered sex or something else entirely.