Here’s How You Make Sex Ed Effective

Let’s be honest – Share MayFlowers is really part remedial sex ed. Instead of “Share MayFlowers,” it could just as easily be called “Things you really should know about your pelvis, including what’s normal and what’s not, how to talk about it, and how so many things – bowel and bladder control, musculoskeletal support and stability, breathing, sexuality, gender equality, human rights, and more – are each a part of pelvic health” month. But you try fitting that on a T-shirt.

sexedSo, think for a moment: What do you remember from your own Sex Ed class? Really…pause for a few, & try to recall. Now take that exercise a bit farther & try to recall the situations, feelings, encounters, and beyond associated with your own early sexual experiences and the beliefs and customs of your family and community. What surprised you? For what did you feel prepared – either in part or in whole? For what did you feel unequipped – in part or in whole? My list of answers for these is long and contains a lot of highs and lows.

The question of how this all fits together was tackled by Natalie Cox in an article posted this week in The Independent (excerpted below): Teach them about porn! How else will kids know if what they’ve seen or heard is right or wrong?

The Ofsted report also found that in secondary schools, too much emphasis was put on the “mechanics” of reproduction. My own experience of sex education in my teens involved either biology lessons on reproduction or one memorable video that depicted a young couple disappearing into a room at a house party to do the deed. Rape or other forms of sexual abuse were not discussed, nor was porn, sexism, or any number of crucial issues that children and teenagers must be allowed to explore and question. As a result, I grew up calling girls sluts, assuming that rapists could only be a dodgy man down a dark alley, and that I needed to conform to the women that I saw online, who passively put up with whatever the men wanted from them. It took a long time to overcome the stupid prejudices and misunderstandings that arose from a lack of education on these issues.

Because teachers shut down debate and let the videos do the talking, vital questions went unanswered. School staff need to feel equipped and confident enough to talk about issues related to sex in depth, they need to know how to deal with questions, and children need to feel able to ask the questions in the first place. It’s also crucial that they feel able to reach out to their teacher rather than suffer in silence if they’re being abused, or even just unsure about what’s okay and what isn’t.

We need to be talking about porn, and why it’s so different from the sex that children will later have in real life. Children know what sex is in primary school, and it needs to go beyond a biology textbook and a ten-minute video sandwiched in between ones about getting spots and your period. Because, if we’re not talking about porn, abusive relationships, the idealisation and sexualisation of the female form and other issues closely linked to sex with young children, they will seek the information in the place where they’ve been taught to research everything else: the internet – and good luck trying to police what they find there.”

Ms. Cox is talking specifically about sex ed in the UK, but I’d stake a large bet that we aren’t doing a better job here in the US. Just last week on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation”, Amy Poehler’s character, Leslie Knope, is on the wrong side of many in her town for being a city councilor that promotes gender equality and comprehensive sex ed in the schools. The Parks and Rec team is sharply funny and challenging, teaching students about contraception, demonstrating that women can haul trash and use teamwork, not brut strength, to move a mountain of a discarded refrigerator. These issues need to show up everywhere, including our sitcoms, because they are far from irrelevant in our real lives. Earlier this year I wrote a post for Share MayFlowers in honor of International Women’s Day. It is yet another testament to the need for the type of sex ed reforms and levels of honesty Ms. Cox suggests. As a teen, I, too, thought rape was a violent attack by a stranger and I was taught how to say “No” to that. But I didn’t understand how to say no when it was someone you trusted to know the right thing to do and with whom there was some level of familiarity or emotional connection. And so I didn’t know how to get out of that situation. And I became one of the millions of women who are sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

“Sex Ed” as we know it deserves to become a more comprehensive education – age appropriate, of course – on pelvic health. This should is an unfolding education for our youth during their years in school, and not a subject we accept as covered in full at one point in puberty. My story, Natalie Cox’s article, and the humorous take offered by Parks and Rec all indicate the need for honesty and acceptance of how the ‘biology’ of pelvic health is only one part of a true discussion of pelvic health.

P.S. Amy, if you’re reading this…I love your show, I love Ask Amy, and we need a smart, funny, sassy lady like you on our team. Call me.

-Jessica McKinney, PT, MS, Founder Share MayFlowers, Executive Director of Women’s ACTION Initiative

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