Let me begin by saying that I am a product of the South Carolina educational system; from my first days at Chapin Elementary to my current graduate education at USC, I’ve never attended a school more than 25 minutes away from the lovely desk at which I now write this blog.
I attended great schools—award-winning, BLUE RIBBON SCHOOLS. I had amazing teachers, access to wonderful resources, and a wealth of extracurricular opportunities often denied to students in this state. I was one of the lucky ones. I received a lot from my SC schooling.
What I didn’t receive was a solid sexual health education.
Like many of my coworkers have already expressed, my sex ed experience was unremarkable and more than a little forgettable. I remember being separated from the boys…I remember Xeroxed handouts with charts of STIs (or were they STDs?) and their laundry lists of symptoms that smudged my hands…I remember a beloved biology teacher telling me somewhat covertly that SC ranked pretty poorly in terms of sexual health outcomes. And that’s about it.
We didn’t talk about sex itself (especially *gasp* outside of marriage!) No condoms were handed out, nor did I know how to go about procuring them for myself. There was no discussion about same-sex relationships or “alternative lifestyles.” I recall timidly bringing up the untimely death of my beloved uncle due to complications from AIDS—was it true that uncle Rickey had died because he was gay? My teacher’s response to that question was “You better talk to your parents about that.”
Maybe now is the best time to point out that I was raised in a strictly religious household where talks about sex or sexuality were not just discouraged, but explicitly forbidden. Never mind the fact that I had used simple arithmetic to figure out that my parents were only 16 and 17 years older than my oldest brother, respectively. Never mind the fact that the lone photo from my parents’ wedding day shows a noticeable swell under my mother’s short wedding dress. The elephant in the room was clearly my parents experience with an unplanned teenage pregnancy, and yet they NEVER had the sex talk with me. Not once.
I say all of that to say this—sometimes, trusting the parents to take the reins on sex ed is simply not an option. Sometimes, an adolescent isn’t getting the facts at school, and they’re not getting the facts at home, and what they’re getting from their peers is an amalgamated mess of anecdotes pulled out of Redbooks they stole from their mom’s nightstand. And we can do better than that. Giving our students medically-accurate, age-appropriate, non-discriminatory information about their own bodies should be as essential as making sure that they understand calculus or what iambic pentameter is. I haven’t used the quadratic equation since I graduated high school, but I live with my body and my sexuality every single day of my life.
I shouldn’t remember learning the Krebs Cycle more clearly than I remember learning about my own sexual health, but I do.