It has taken me almost 3 months to calm down enough to write this article. I decided to write this now, as a better alternative to allowing my frustration to produce the aneurism it was most definitely inducing.
In February, I accompanied my now husband to the South Carolina School Board Conference in Myrtle Beach. As a very active advocate for Comprehensive Sex Ed to be taught in South Carolina Schools, my husband knew I would be listening for any opportunity to hear about this issue from the “front lines” of school curriculum decision making. As my wonderful husband hit the registration table, he immediately handed me the scheduled list of workshop topics knowing full well that I was salivating at the hopes of there being one on Comprehensive Sex Ed.
There was not.
My first thought was, “What do any of the other issues matter if young women aren’t even in the classroom because of a pregnancy?”
The first official night of the conference, our district board members and their guests went out to dinner. I was seated directly across from the Superintendent’s wife (who is an awesome, intelligent, and empowered woman by the way). To my right was my husband, and the Superintendent was directly across from him. It only took a course of appetizers before I pounced. “So where are you with your Sex Ed curriculum requirements?” I asked. I have to say that he was very honest, forthcoming, and confirmed what I already knew: that our school district had formed their committee last fall as required by law. The committee had a strong interdisciplinary membership including 2 nurses. As a side note, I considered the nurses’ presence to be a major victory since I was told by the sex ed/gym teacher at Dawkins Middle School that “you would lose your virginity if you used tampons.”
Anyway, back to the conversation. We have a solid curriculum committee. Check. This is where the conversation got revealing. He was a good chap and asked for my input on the issue. I said that I had noticed the topic’s absence on the schedule for this conference. His rebuttal was predictable. “I trust our committee’s decision on the upcoming curriculum, and we have more pressing issues to discuss at this conference.” I kindly replied, “But those issues don’t really matter if the students aren’t in the classroom due to them dealing with giving birth and all.” My retort lead to his reply about the local assistance program for teenage mothers in Boiling Springs. “Now, those young ladies have a place to go. I know they are doing great things for pregnant teens and their babies at the Upstate Family Resource Center.”
Now do NOT get me wrong. That place is an absolute God-send. Please send them a donation if you can. They do so much with so little that is so urgently needed. However, they only provide GEDs. I wish I had been thinking quickly enough to reply, “Yes, I heard ‘separate but equal’ is a great way to educate!” So a pregnant girl can receive her GED while the baby’s father may still happily enjoy the rewards of a formal diploma. As the president and owner of my own career-coaching company, I know the future financial implications of both. The “At least we helped them get a GED” mindset is basically telling someone they should be grateful for being given “2nd-class citizenship”. Heaven forbid we teach sex ed and eliminate the need for such a place. Now I was born and raised in Spartanburg, SC. I escaped to Columbia, SC twice, but came back.
As a “born and bred” southern, Methodist-raised woman, I know EXACTLY what topic is about to rear its ugly head. Jesus and my lady-parts. It never fails. And off to the religion-races…
Mr. Superintendent then asked me the ultimate question. “What information do you know about abstinence programs?”
“They don’t work.” I replied. “Students who take abstinence pledges are just as likely to have sex. HOWEVER, they are MORE LIKELY to have UNPROTECTED sex.”
His face tightened, “Well, are you comfortable talking about condoms and such in your home?!”
“Absolutely!” I replied. Now please note that my 17 year old step-daughter was sitting to my left. He then turned to her and asked her about her experience with sex ed in his school district. My brilliant child responded, “It was awful.” I love that kid! She explained how they were given vague, sparse, and at times, completely incorrect information. I can back that up. A few months before, I had helped her clean out her closet and found her 7th grade sex ed curriculum workbook. That was a depressing and frightening afternoon read, but I digress.
It was about that time, I began to feel bad for the man who really does a great job. Ours is one of the top, if not the top, districts in the state. He sighed, “I’m just not comfortable sharing things that don’t come from what the bible teaches us in my household.” There it was. “I understand Sir, but frankly it is not about you and what you are comfortable with. It is about the safety of all the young people in our district.” I was proud of that statement. However, the conversation was beginning to lose its rhythm and dissolve due to the general interactions of dinner parties.
I let the poor guy off the hook and verbally meandered onto a completely different topic with someone else, but I spent the next 24 hours trying to wrap my head around everything I wish is HAD said. Like Meg Ryan’s character in “You’ve Got Mail”, I wish I had more zingers! I was proud, but at the same time felt so sad for how far we still have to go. Coming from someone who has probably read and studied religion enough to receive an honorary doctorate in the subject, I still do not understand why the topic of “Logical Human Sexuality” must be accompanied by “Religion”. I know it has been a 2000+ year-old web of history weaving sex, gender, power, money, tradition, heritage and the destiny of one’s soul tight enough to be bullet proof. In all of my years of research on this topic, I see it always coming down to a pretty common construct. Most politicians and decision makers do not truly understand the subject. And they fear what they do not understand.
Please spread the word about this issue. Please educate yourself on this issue. A great documentary resource is “Let’s talk about sex.” It is available for free in its entirety on youtube.com. I will continue to have the much needed discussions in my community about this life altering issue. I will continue to happily break out of the “quiet, passive, Southern-belle” stereotype so many of us are forced into. And each day, I will continue to read the words of the sign above my desk, “Well-behaved women rarely make history.”