From my first day of kindergarten to the anxious reception of my high school diploma at graduation, I was a product of the Greenville County public school system. The GCS district encompasses a large region of the South Carolina upcountry and provides a diverse offering of magnet schools, career centers, and other programming.
Despite the academic, artistic, and athletic successes found in individual schools, as a whole, the educational standards throughout the district represent the ideologies of South Carolina’s policymakers, which unfortunately is most definitively seen through the [lack of] sexual health education provided.
My introduction to sex education in school began in the fifth grade when my class took a field trip to our local science center; I don’t remember much except the varied reactions of my peers – some felt extremely uncomfortable and others (mainly me) were excited to go. The approach of “let’s make this experience as painful as possible so they all dread whenever we have to talk about this stuff” seemed to be a common theme from 5th grade through high school.
Middle school sex ed was instructed by each grade level’s science teachers and was crammed in at the end of the year; without fail, every year the same material was taught and in no greater depth or detail than the year before. My seventh grade year we took a trip back to the science center where we watched a black-and-white video of a sperm inseminating an ovum. At the instructor’s mention of our young ages and therefore, lack of sexual experience, an eruption of giggles exploded from the group of girls sitting to my left and I eavesdropped on their murmured commentary about a friend of theirs that they knew very well was no longer a “virgin”.
From that point on, it was evident that sex ed in school was not meant to educate any of us. It was there to placate and further confuse us. Why were we tested on what the Cowper’s gland is but never discussed what constitutes a healthy relationship?
Freshman year of high school I enrolled in the mandatory physical education class in which the standard two-week sex ed program focused heavily on STI’s, often with the scare-tactic images of vaginas that had chlamydia or gonorrhea, and skimmed over important things like contraception methods. My gym teacher noted that she legally wasn’t allowed to discuss abortion with us before unenthusiastically rattling off a segment about adoption. We watched “miracle of birth” and breast exam videos and I can’t say I learned much from either of them.
I’m honestly not sure how much of what I learned in school was medically accurate; I credit my mother, her openness and desire to educate (as well as her love of buying books about “understanding your developing body”), and my curious nature outside of the classroom to my education of sexual health. However, I do remember returning from the science center in fifth grade with the strong (and incorrect) impression that starting birth control too young would lead me to be infertile later in life.
Allowing the information we teach children in public schools to be medically inaccurate isn’t careless – it’s dangerous and irresponsible. Just because some South Carolinians live in an imaginary world where kids aren’t having or thinking about sex, for those of us in the real world, not providing kids with necessary information (or giving them the wrong information) is a direct attack on our future.
This isn’t a partisan issue; it needs to stop being treated as one.
(Photo by: Errol Tisdale)