My sex education experience was very forgettable. I remember being separated in elementary school for puberty lessons, and I remember being INSANELY embarrassed when my mom gave me a book on one of my pre-teen birthdays titled something like, Puberty! Your Body Is Changing and That Is So AMAZING! I put the book away in disgust at first, but eventually ended up devouring it cover-to-cover and learning hilarious old-school slang for female genitalia such as “muff,” “poontang,” and “honeypot.”
I remember my fairy godmother (Yes, I have a godmother AND a fairy godmother. Don’t be jealous.) wanted to throw me a “red party,” when I had my first period, which I declined. Instead, she gave me a very interesting piece of pottery that was a clay interpretation of a vagina, with a bright red glaze on the inside. I still have it.
I’m sure one or both of my lovely, encouraging parents had some sort of talk with me at some point, but it wasn’t memorable enough for me to, well, remember. Neither of them is very comfortable talking about sex; I definitely never asked any follow-up questions.
But although my parents were well-meaning, my fairy godmother had some great ideas, and the Puberty! book was pretty excellent, none of that counts as sexuality education.
As for my sex education experience in school, I remember my mustachioed P.E. teacher telling us that abstinence is the only way to be 100% safe. I remember another health class where the teacher was a brand new coach who seemed completely nerve-wracked to have to be teaching sex ed to high school students. There was no discussion of birth control options, although I do recall giggling through some pretty cheesy refusal-skill-building scenarios with classmates, and I have a vague recollection of learning about STDs.
Truthfully, I have no idea where I got all of my information on sexual health and pregnancy prevention as a teenager. I assume I got it from friends. I think I retained more information about sex and sexual health through secret readings of Cosmo (secret because my mom said it was “total trash”) and pamphlets from the student health clinic at Clemson University than I did from any formal education or research.
There are a lot of problems with the way we implement and think about sexuality education in this state (and the U.S. as a whole, really), but we have to do better than this persistently path-of-least-resistance, unremarkable NOTHING. And unfortunately, that’s what most young people in SC are getting- unremarkable nothing. The vast majority (84%) of adults in this state support sexuality education (that includes abstinence AND information on birth control), so it’s not controversial anymore. It IS, however, a proven way to prevent teen pregnancy and STDs, including HIV, and to promote healthy relationships. It is a young person’s RIGHT to have access to medically-accurate, age appropriate sexual health information so that they can learn to protect themselves and make good decisions. We can do better than unremarkable nothing.