Rewriting school-based sexual education

Sexual education in schools varies greatly from generation to generation and perhaps even more so by state standards. Growing up near Atlanta, Georgia I did not have much sexual education before middle school and the fifth grade was the first year we had a special health class where sexual health was introduced to us in preparation of puberty. A school nurse led the introduction into sexual health class and we were not separated by sex/gender, we all stayed in the same room and the lecture was brief. At some point between sixth and eighth grade we had a couple of health classes that went into more depth around sexuality which included separation of boys and girls for a few of the class meetings. There wasn’t any availability in the early 2000’s growing up in the south for gender discussions or education around sex and gender being different parts of ourselves so boys and girls were distinctly separated. All I remember from these class meetings where we females were separated from the males was watching a video of a birth. Looking back on this now and I feel irked that little boys and little girls were likely taught different things about sex. Of course, becoming familiar with our differing anatomy and creating space where young adults are most likely to be comfortable asking questions is useful however, watching a birth for example, relates to all people. 

I remember a thick layer of energetic fear and general uptightness around the middle school sex-ed class. There was a focus on abstinence only education and a lot of talk about STD/STI transmission and the dangers of sexual contact. There was no conversation whatsoever around how to communicate with a potential sexual partner, boundaries (besides avoidance), or the fact that sex is a desirable act of consensual adults and young adults respectively. Pleasure being left out of the discussion is an integral part of how this type of reduced and shameful sexual education feeds rape culture. How are we supposed to know what feels bad if we’re not able to recognize the pleasurable feelings? I am not sure if i was given any useful information about sexual expression in school. I suppose the fear of getting pregnant was instilled and I am grateful for my intentional perspective around creating life. Although, exposing young adults to birthing videos in the hopes that this will instill a fear of becoming impregnated is coercive and is founded in shame and inability to have straight-forward conversations. The air of shame around sex did not empower me to speak up as I matured and this led to me engaging in risky behavior in my early 20’s. I did not contract any venereal diseases or infections I did, however become impregnated once unintentionally, chose to have an abortion and I am happy that I made this choice for myself. I do consider these types of choices innately personal and respect others’ choices in this matter however, due to socialization and pernicious religious shame I do question if people truly are at choice. I understand being truly ‘at choice’ is a somewhat deep philosophical matter and that curbing abortion rates comes down to proper sexual education and intelligence.  

In my personal development, the double standard of education between boys and girls was compounded by the fact that the subject of sexuality existed in a void in my home life. Not only did I not receive any ‘sex talk’ but affection between my parents was expressed minimally. In my upbringing, my parents decided it was my Father’s responsibility to have ‘the talk’ with my brother and my Mother’s responsibility to talk with me. Because of my Mother’s uncomfortable relationship with sexuality, I never got the sex talk. As a young adult I was able to talk with my brother about this as our relationship matured and learned that his version of the sex talk, which did actually happen, consisted of encouragement to ‘play the field’ before settling in a relationship. Fortunately, because of my close relationship with my sibling, we were able to share this information fairly early on and learn from each other. My perspective has involved a reactionary bias from being raised in a religious culture and I am trained through the Somatica® Method, and other inter-personal communications education, to be hyper-aware of my biases, process them with my teachers and my therapist and prevent them from influencing my relationship with clients. Growing up in the bible belt and in a home where sexual affection was not visible between my parents, I am biased towards proactively creating a sex positive culture in my personal and professional life. Sexual positivity mindset allows for individuals to be aware of their choices in sexual relationships, feel good about their choices and to not infringe on others’ right to pleasure or to have consensual adult exchanges. I have faith in our society’s ability to flourish in a sex positive culture thanks to the Somatica® Institute, Esther Perel, and many others’ awesome work around sexual intelligence and somatic awareness.

We could benefit from sexual education starting at a much earlier age, especially because young girls are more likely to start their cycles earlier in life now (possibly due to increased hormones in processed foods and xenoestrogens in plastics). Also, since children are hopefully exposed to adults expressing loving affection to each other, they deserve a relatively simple explanation of what is going on. Sex can be introduced to young people with tact and age appropriate language. This will create a strong foundation of effective communication and awareness that they have a right to feel good and to celebrate bodily sensations. This right to have celebrated sensuality can start very young because sensuality, awareness and embodiment of sensation and our senses, is ageless. This will also create empowerment for young people as it sends a message that they have a right to know about the world, they are capable of understanding basic human behaviors, and that their curiosity deserves an age appropriate and informed response. I am trained as a triangle speaker for The Diversity Center of Santa Cruz and I was drawn to this group because I am bi-sexual and non-monogamous. I have worked with foster youth, co-parented and co-housed with children and I desire support a healthy education for young people around sexual empowerment so I am very grateful for organizations such as this center and their triangle speaker program. I had the privilege to speak with a class of third graders about myself as a bi-sexual and non-monogamous person oriented around committed relationships, regenerative farming practices and communal living. As a part of the triangle speakers training, we are given the health standards for primary schools so we can use grade-appropriate language. This was extremely empowering and it was a deeply healing experience for me to be able to speak with eight and nine year olds about sexuality in a way that was welcomed by the teachers. I am so happy that there are schools here in central coastal California that are changing the standards for sexual education. 

Foundations of sexual experiences should be introduced between first and third grades and perhaps younger if the child expresses curiosity. This would include information about entering into puberty and that way if there are a few children who start puberty earlier than the average, peers will know this is normal and okay. At this age there would also be an introduction around what sexual exploration might look like before becoming an adult. This is helpful because it is very common that sexual explorations happen at early age, adults are unsure how to respond and may create shame, and this can impact one’s sexual life for many years. Since the integrity of this proactive approach would involve parental awareness there could be a half-day (or one class period) where parents are brought in and are directly involved with this positive foundation of sexual education. Once young folks are in middle school there ought to be more in-depth conversations and education around pleasure, consent, the use of protective barriers such as condoms, and birth control options. This enforces the attitude that sex is normal and should be continuously talked about so that we can amplify safety and pleasure. Ideally a combination of teacher, nurses and sex coaches could be a team for sex-ed bringing nurses and sex experts in for specific conversations. Involving the regular teachers for the majority of the class will help normalize sexual awareness and bringing in experts will help ensure proper information is delivered. Using a team like this also gives the message that sexuality is normal for most adults and will allow for young folks to have options for whom they ask questions.

In consideration of being wired as socially complex creatures and how sexual oppression overlaps with other manifestations of cultural oppression, requiring community school gardens to be implemented & maintained is a multifaceted solution for proper sexual education. Because the regenerative garden space contains all the elements of primary education and is a solution to socio-economic, social justice and environmental issues, they ought to be required as a part of basic infrastructure in schools and, what better way to learn about the birds and the bees other than through actual birds and bees? Seeing sex happen in other species will add yet another layer of normality to our human sexuality and relational conversations can happen in the garden space that will ease the pressure and awkwardness that individuals might feel around this subject. Bay Area urban farmer Wanda Stewart, of Common Vision, is currently working on an administrative structure so that once school gardens are in place they can be properly maintained considering the school seasons and the labor intensity. As another added benefit, young children get healthy food to eat at their schools and can be a part of the sustainable food movement. Feeling good about ourselves, including the food we eat and authentic community connectedness, is an integral part of a healthy sex life. To be clear, this does not include certain ideas of stereotypical ‘fitness’ or falling into superfood consumerism as this is just another extension of capitalism and body shape idealism. There are many options for how we  can continue to improve sex education in schools and implementing school gardens addresses multiple issues.

To get sexual education up to modern-day standards, the more ways we can be proactive about removing shame from the mindset that has permeated for generations the better. Silence around any subject can easily be harmful to young people growing up. The more we put sexuality in a special category of human behavior the more easily certain aspects might be overlooked or avoided. Spaciousness for people to develop their own relationship with sexuality is optimal and ought to be available for all. This includes ways to relate through sacred sexuality, tantra, to sex as a mundane self-care act, BDSM, kink and what ever other labels and orientations adults resonate around. I am grateful I found partners and friends as a young adult who encourage me to explore my sexuality . I wish for people to be introduced to a similar, age-appropriate, sense of sexual empowerment at a much earlier age and I am happy to know this is the trend that is gaining momentum. This will feed empowerment in all of their relationships, sexual and platonic, for the entirety of their lives. 

Resources:

Article from the Center for American Progress on Sex-Ed https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/education-k-12/reports/2018/05/09/450158/sex-education-standards-across-states/?fbclid=IwAR1ENBP01dfqIQHMQ8ZkZeTC6TEqReSvS9SSECSkBdKMqidfv2wNP8boOyQ

Sex Positive Families Organization https://sexpositivefamilies.com/?fbclid=IwAR3NNOchMiD9mqGkE7EbhhhsWSh8LUjSo3vR2ehmjNdqTB2228GDeVAJ6tQ

Wanda Stewart and Common Vision http://www.commonvision.org/index.php?id=72

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