“Sexuality is about much more than just sex. It includes your body, your biological sex, your gender, your gender identity, your sexual orientation, your desires and thoughts, your values and ideals about life and love, and your sexual behaviors.” -Planned Parenthood
Sex (def.) “When a bird has sex with a bee.” -Urban Dictionary
Okay, so maybe the last snippet was a little out there, but I hope you giggled a bit. Whoever posted that definition on Urban Dictionary back in 2006 probably had their reasons. Anyway, we’re talking about sex today. What I had meant to be one big ‘ole…blog post has turned into a two-part blog so that I don’t run you all dry with my ranting. Today we’re talking about sex ed in general for kids and teens, including when they should receive it and what they should learn. Hopefully by the end of this post, you’ll understand why I included the Urban Dictionary definition.
View Part 2 of this post here.
I had the opportunity a while back to interview a good family friend who works as the coordinator for the North Carolina Fetal Alcohol Prevention Program. Amy Hendricks, who holds a Bachelors in Public Health with a Minor in School Health from Florida State, talked with me on the phone about her professional opinion revolving around sex education in our public schools.
The initial questions that I asked Amy were centered around health and sex-ed classes for all ages. It is important for both kids and teens to know about and feel comfortable with their bodies. We both agreed that kids should be taught about their bodies from a young age, with Amy stating, “Many children see or experience some level of sexuality (some which is unhealthy) as well as a curiosity and awareness of their body around the age of three or four.” With this in mind, she pointed out that teaching children to call their reproductive organs a “pee-pee” or “who-who” is almost a form of body-shaming, since we should be comfortable with calling our body parts by their actual names. Coming up with other names for a penis/vagina also leads to derogatory terms used later in life that can be considered both offensive and impolite.
With this in mind, Amy believes that classes revolving around the body and sexuality should begin as early as elementary school. I found myself agreeing with her. Children need to know what to call various parts of their bodies, including their penises and vaginas. The medical terms for sexual organs should not be taboo, and, unfortunately, that taboo sticks on at a much earlier age. In turn, she also finds it best for kids to know about both puberty and sex by the fifth or sixth grade.
Coming from me personally, I couldn’t agree with her more on that last point. For me, I didn’t know what a period was until the fifth grade, when the guidance counselor at my elementary school showed our class the out-of-date early ’90’s video of a girl getting her period for the first time. Even after that, I still didn’t understand. Up until the fifth grade, I had no idea what a vagina was or what it did. Hell, I probably didn’t even understand where the period blood came from after I watched the video. I was obviously in for a shock.
After my puberty lesson in the fifth grade, I was still completely naive about sex as well. When I discuss this with my friends and peers, they too agree that they didn’t know what sex was until middle school when they learned about it in a health class. At twelve, already having my period and everything, I thought sex and pregnancy occurred when two people got naked and kissed in a bed. I was thirteen before I was ever taught about intercourse. There were girls my age getting pregnant at thirteen.
My point with these quick anecdotes, is that it’s important to begin sex education with kids at a younger age because–quite frankly–they need to know.
Continuing on the path of sexual education, Amy and I both fully support the continuous teaching of sex education through middle and high school. No adolescents should be required that one health class that mentions sex. Sex should be retaught year after year as a requirement, still stressing the importance of safe sex and how to stay safe in risky situations. Amy used the term “build” when referring to the education process: “It should be taught every year because it needs to build upon itself. It helps with normalization and stays away from taboo.” She elaborated even further, saying that classes should be offered to those that have even graduated from school because a person’s sexuality is continuously changing and they need to understand how their bodies work.
Should parents still talk to their kids about sex even if the school is doing it for them? Absolutely. In fact, don’t just assume that the school is doing a good job at teaching sex ed to your kids. Hell, I have a friend who wasn’t taught the mandatory sex ed in her Freshman health class this year. With that said, some schools do a great job at teaching students about sexuality but for the most part, our schools don’t. Either way, it’s still important for kids to hear about sex and sexuality from their parents because you’re their role models. What they learn about sex, and pretty much their opinions on sexuality for the rest of their lives, are learned from you. So let’s hope that you’re putting out a positive image about sexuality while still enforcing safe sex and boundaries for your teens.
It’s hard to talk to teens about sex but, the reality of it all, is that it has to be done. Kids need to know about sex the moment they hit puberty because–according to mother nature–they are ready to procreate then and there. Keeping sex a taboo and shady subject (thought: maybe that’s why he’s named Christian Grey from Fifty Shades of Grey?), will only cause teens to keep their questions from parents, leading to possible risky behaviors and bad outcomes. Don’t just assume your teen knows about sex, because sexuality is a broad topic that isn’t as well covered as it should be