Keep Them Coming: Sex ed can’t be ignored

Open The Doors Coaching

Kristen Thomas. // Photo by Nicole Bissey

Between book banning and censorship in schools, it’s imperative that parents feel informed and empowered to take on a role once reserved for gym coaches, biology teachers, and library materials. 

Someone I know—in their early 30s—didn’t know how babies were made because their parents opted them out of sex education in school. I recently stitched a TikTok of a young Christian couple in which the young man asked his wife, “How are you peeing your pants? You have a tampon in.” A viral conversation on social media that shocked a lot of non-Mormons this year was about “Jump-Humping,” a technique that is supposed to allow young unmarried couples to work around those pesky details of church doctrine. 

I have zero interest in grooming children, but I want to ensure that under-educated adults gain enough knowledge to successfully navigate sex, love, and relationships, thereby passing on better understandings and less stigma to subsequent generations. 

The only public school sex education I received before my senior year Parenthood class at Belton High School was a reproductive organs talk in 4th and 5th grade. Two formal lessons at two hours each on what ovaries, eggs, and periods were, and advice to shower daily and treat ourselves to a little chocolate. I guess I was supposed to figure out the rest from my parents or peers. 

How was any of that going to teach us how to avoid pregnancy once we had a period, or how to give and receive consent, or that one day we may like touching our genitals and there’s an appropriate time and place for that? 

Current state law in Missouri now requires discussions about sexual violence and consent. All information given to students must be medically factual and accurate, even if there’s no standard for what information is to be covered, or who qualifies to teach sexual health.

School districts have the discretion to teach or omit topics at will. Sex educators may be contracted by schools to come to teach lessons, but they may not be associated with an abortion provider. Only 3% of students report that they receive any LGBTQIA+ sexual health information or education, according to a GLSEN survey in 2017. 

I remember going on a school field trip to the Plaza in eighth grade. We stopped at Barnes and Noble, and I wandered over to the self-help section, which happened to have relationship advice and sexology books. I’d gotten a pretty bad haircut that year, and several kids had taken to calling me a dyke, so, I figured why not skim over a book or two and see what all the fuss was about lesbians.

I read about using vegetables for sex acts safely. I learned what a nipple orgasm was. I got clarification on fisting. For the first time, I understood that oral wasn’t just for a man to receive and that I had something called a “clitoris.” 

That day gave me knowledge about my own body. It satiated my desire for the taboo at a pivotal age. I felt more prepared for what sex would look like one day—when I was ready. I knew I still liked boys, but I was no less curious about what it could be like to be with a girl one day, too. One hour of skimming books written by experts, sitting on a shelf available for me to peruse as I chose, served as one of the best sources of sex education I had in my adolescent life. 

Nearly 30 years later, the internet has completely changed access to information. Yes, there is a lot of crazy shit online, but there is also a lot of factual, science-based information. My favorite sources include scarleteen.com and amaze.org. You can also visit the Brooklyn Public Library website and gain access to any books that might be banned by your library. 

Kids deserve knowledge. There is no way to prepare them for the very big, consequential decisions surrounding sex and bodies if they aren’t educated about sex and bodies. Sex education is a human right because it directly affects our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

Knowing what sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are, steps for prevention, and how to disclose your status to someone are all vital aspects of health education. And this is just one multifaceted topic. Sex education can’t be summed up in a pamphlet. 

It’s vital that kids understand—with age-appropriate clarity—the medical terms for their body parts; that they are in charge of their bodies; that they don’t have permission to touch other bodies without consent; and that if anyone tries or does touch them, they can tell someone and feel protected. 

You would never blame your kid if they drove down the block and got into an accident if you tossed them the keys expecting their hours of playing Grand Theft Auto to suffice as driving lessons.

Studies show two reassuring things I want all parents to know: Your kids will listen to you more than you realize when they are in high peer pressure situations, and when parents are the primary sources of fact-based sexual health info—specifically moms to teen boys—they are less likely to have early pregnancies and STI rates go down.

October is Let’s Talk Month, so push through the awkwardness and load yourself and your kids up with facts, books, and websites. Visit plannedparenthood.org or parents-together.org. Get books like Read Me: A parental primer for The Talk by Dr. Lanae St. John and Guide to Getting It On by Paul Joannides. Don’t wait for them to come and ask questions. Use teachable moments and be as proactive as you can. You got this! 

Categories: Culture