It was seventh grade study hall. I was sitting at a table with some of the “cool” girls. I don’t remember how the topic of sex came up, but I will never forgot the conversation that followed. One of the girls said, “I remember when I used to think that sex was just kissing in a bed.” Quickly, I responded, “Psh, I remember when I used to think that too.”
That was the day I learned that sex wasn’t kissing in a bed.
My only experiences with sex education in public school were, well, less than adequate. In fifth grade, my classmates and I went through “Growth and Development Day,” where we learned about puberty and were given deodorant. The following year, we watched the boys’ puberty video and proceeded to make wet dream jokes for the remainder of the school year.
I remember the fear and presumptive embarrassment my classmates and I felt leading up to these “growth and development” days. No one wanted to hear about the “changes and new emotions” we may be experiencing as teenagers from our elderly school nurse.
Flash forward to health class freshman year of high school. My teacher, who was ultimately fired at the end of the year, spent most of the semester showing us YouTube videos of interviews with recovering crack addicts instead of talking about sexual health.
The topic of AIDS, however, was brought up. One day, three people came in to class and gave a heartbreaking presentation about their experience with AIDS. I was ready to never even look at another person again out of fear of the disease, which can spread through sexual contact, when the presenters announced that they didn’t have AIDS and were instead actors trying to teach us a lesson. I’m not really sure what they told us about sexual health, because all I can remember is the feeling of being lied to by these struggling actors who had somehow found themselves in the basement of a Kansas high school.
Luckily for me (at least that’s how I see it now), my mom was more willing to discuss the topic with me than other parents. When I was in eighth grade, she gave me two textbook-sized informational books about sex. While I never read them, it’s absolutely the thought that counts.
My mom cared enough about my well-being to give me appropriate resources to learn about the topic and told me that she would always be there to answer any questions I had. I never really had any questions, though, and even if I did, I doubt I would’ve mentioned them out of embarrassment. Still, I knew she was there if I needed her.
Not all of my friends have the same understanding parents, and it’s clear that in my public school district, sex education was lacking. When I was in eighth grade, a local girl got pregnant. Sophomore year of high school, the same thing happened. My senior year of high school, I found myself literally explaining to a close friend how babies are made.
No one wants to teach kids about sex and kids don’t want anyone to teach them about sex. This paradoxical dynamic has continued the trend of sex being considered a taboo topic. According to Planned Parenthood, only 24 states require that sex education be taught in school, which does nothing to normalize the topic in more than half of the country.
Honestly, I’m very embarrassed to be writing this column about sex education, even though I think it’s an important topic. Sex is not an easy thing to talk about, but if young people are not taught how to have safe sex, there will be frequent uncomfortable – and potentially life-changing – conversations to follow.