Written by Austin VanKirk—
I was watching Orange is the New Black and something Taystee said in episode seven reminded me of something that has been irritating me for a minute now. When talking to Suzanne, “Crazy Eyes,” about her erotic creative writing and a counselor’s condemnation of it, she said something to the effect of, “Well of course she has a problem with it. This is America. Gratuitous violence is fine, but sex—God forbid!”
I find this to be rather true. We have movies where people are decapitated while their entrails spill out, zombie apocalypses, and we show things like UFC on television. Let’s not forget video games either. No big deal, right? But when it comes to sex—while things have begun to change over the years—America is still squeamish on whole.
This is reflected in the way we teach sex education to our young folks. I can’t speak for everyone, but my backwater high school taught only abstinence and was hyper clinical in its approach. I really don’t understand why educational officials think this is the right way to go about it. It’s like drinking: if you tell a teenager not to drink, they’re going to drink. The whole abstinence version of sex ed. comes from a prudish and religious origin—and don’t we have that whole separation of church and state thing still? (But maybe not for much longer—thanks, RFRA) High schoolers, especially the variety with penises, are approaching the peak of their sexual maturity at their age. As a result, they have hormones swirling around in them demanding that they seek out sexual partners. By telling young folks to avoid sex, we’re asking them to deny their biology. (What’s the deal with religion and preventing us from doing fun things?)
Sex education courses don’t teach students how to do it smartly, either. I don’t mean like they should have a demonstration or watch a porno in class (although, sign me up for that course!), but they are not equipped with the knowledge to have safer sex. They are not taught consent, how to use condoms, or anything about birth control. Historically, we know that teenagers are going to have sex. It’s what they do. If this is inevitable, why are schools trying to hold back the tide? Why aren’t students taught how to have sex in a safer way to prevent the spread of STIs and unprepared parents from having children?
I can think of two reasons why school officials aren’t doing this. One, they believe that if they keep students in the dark about sex, they won’t engage in it. This doesn’t work, because high schoolers have access to television, movies, and the Internet that show them what sex is and basically how to do it. Instead of using sex ed. as a true learning opportunity, they are waving a steak in front of a bunch of hungry sex hounds. The second reason is because they feel that high schoolers are children. As such, they shouldn’t know too much about sex and are uncomfortable explaining it to the students. We have this idea in society that young people should be kept in the dark about sex, like it’s some horrible truth they need to be shielded from. But sex is so not that! It can be a wonderful thing. Is there any real reason why we should not inform young people about sex at a young age, to treat it as a normal part of life?
And finally we come to the thing that irritates and concerns me most of all: most sex education classes are grossly heteronormative. Queer students are not taught the explicit details of their version of sex or how to be safe when engaging in it. It is unfair to make young queer boys listen to the ghastly business of vaginal sex and then not explain to them how to safely have anal sex. The education queer individuals are receiving in the class is hardly useful to them. To me, the solution is to teach all students all different kinds of sex. If queer students have to learn about hetero sex, then straight students should have to learn about homo sex. I believe that it is even more critical for queer students to learn about their versions of sex in school, because it is even less likely that their heterosexual parents are able to teach them. Teaching them safer sex in schools is the only alternative to them picking up what to do “on the streets” like how I did. And I mean, it’s not like straight folks are uninterested in anal sex and rimming. These things are no longer as taboo as they used to be, and you can bet that high school boys who are already sexually active are dying to stick theirs into their girlfriend’s behinds.
In short, let’s make sex education useful again, and not only that, let’s make them useful for everybody.
But what do I know?