How much do you know about your own body? Enough to pass an online anatomy quiz? Enough to make educated decisions regarding your health? Not many South Carolinians do.
Dr. Ann Ramsdell wants that to change.
An associate professor of cell biology and anatomy and program in women’s and gender studies at the University of South Carolina, Ramsdell believes in transparency when it comes to the human body. Some kids learn about “the birds and the bees” as early adolescents, if at all. Her two sons, aged nine and 11, know more about male and female anatomy than some of her students. In a letter to the editor for The State newspaper, she told a worrisome story from one of her fall classes.
“I taught introductory embryology to first-year medical students,” she wrote. “These presumably are students who have had substantial biology courses in their backgrounds, yet only one out of my 100 students had ever been taught how a woman’s menstrual cycle works. Imagine having to teach medical students such basics about how the body works. And these students are on the path to careers in medicine.” From previous experiences like this, Ramsdell is "alarmed" at the misinformation college and post-graduate students have received in their childhood and adolescence. She, like many other advocates at Tell Them!, want to see a change.
Ramsdell is no stranger to advocacy, but only began her journey with Tell Them! about five months ago. Looking through her email one morning, she noticed a Listserv message about Bee Day. She opened it, and her whole outlook on sex education legislation changed. “I read that email and I thought ‘how in the world could medically accurate information and education in public schools be controversial? That’s absurd!’ I realized that I could get involved…and my students could get involved.” In her undergraduate women's health class that semester, she gave her students the option to go with her instead of writing an assigned essay. Six students joined Ramsdell and joined the State House on March 26, 2014, only intending on staying a little while. They all stayed the entire day, and a tradition was born.
Sex education reform made a huge step in May when Senate Bill 574 passed through the Senate Education Committee after it was shot down in the 2014 legislative session. This bill mandates “medically accurate information” and clearly defines it as “information supported by peer-reviewed research that complies with accepted scientific methods, published in or by medical, scientific, psychological, sociological, governmental, or public health publications, organizations, or agencies such as the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the United States Health and Human Services Office of Adolescent Health.”
Dr. Ramsdell was pleasantly "surprised” to hear this news. “Most of my students grew up in South Carolina, and it is concerning that so many of them are beginning college without being able to name parts of their own bodies or how they function,” she also wrote in her letter to The State. The National Conference of State Legislatures reported that 19 states required medically, factually or technically accurate. That’s less than half of the country. And South Carolina is still not one of them.
Without this bill, without kids receiving this education at an early age, they might live their entire lives without knowing about their own bodies. This can put them at a higher risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and certain types of cancer. According to the CDC in 2013, South Carolina ranked among the top ten states for highest rates of Gonorrhea, Chlamydia and AIDS. Teaching children in public schools at an early age can keep this from happening. If more South Carolina students knew about the male and female bodies and were able to make medical decisions for themselves as adults, these statistics would be vastly different. If passing this bill provides enough education to save even one life, isn’t that worth it?
Dr. Ramsdell plans to continue her journey with Tell Them! and be part of the changes. She raises her sons to be open and candid about sex. She hopes for a future when sex education and the human body are no longer surrounded by “shame, embarrassment and secrecy.” She wants students outside of the sciences to take her undergraduate women's health course that is offered through the women's and gender studies program. She wishes more people would speak up about sex education reform.
“Whether it’s going and introducing yourself to your representative or testifying [in support of legislation]…it’s essentially having conversations with people. It’s a matter of directing those conversations to the people who are in a position to change it. ”