I don’t know what it was about my reaction to the new principal’s statement about the year's abstinence only sex education focus that made the teacher next to me, a veteran “give-no-fucks” teacher, pat my leg. She seemed to be telling me to pick my battles. We were teachers in a state ranking 39th in education, a district with a history of administrative troubles, in a culture rife with racism, and a school in the “second level of purgatory” to use my administrator’s words, in state testing. It’s all about money, really. Our kids can barely read and do math at grade level. We need not add sex education to our already overfilled plate.
But the violence in our public schools are symptomatic of a culture lacking affirmative consent. Sex education didn’t need to be about sex at all. These kids needed lessons on consent, anatomy, and healthy relationship behaviors. Teachers and administrators needed lessons in trans acceptance, intersectionality, and frankly a few could use a refresher on consent if they haven’t gotten one lately. This was way bigger than “Sex - don’t do it.”
The movement for standardized sex education in public schools is a matter of public safety. I’m not just talking about lowering teenage pregnancy, or possible STI outbreaks (which happened in a Texas school with an abstinence only program.) I am also talking about a lack of bodily consent and identity awareness among our kids. I’m talking about how they get along with each other and adults on a daily basis. I’m talking about environments that are violent; physically and emotionally abusive to LGBT students. Where binary gender segregation is on the walls, in the rules, in the testing data.
Kids. Almost full grown people. Some of them already acting like full grown people. Having full grown sex with full grown consequences, and yet they are dismally unaware of their bodies, of how to recognize affirmative consent.
It’s baffling to me, now that I’ve been involved in more sex-positive communities - how what we are doing to our kids in this country is legal. I don’t know who taught your sex education class in high school. I’m assuming that’s the last time you got a lesson on sex education, (tell me I’m wrong). If your experience was anything like mine, it was the volleyball coach, who showed us pictures of STIs that were completely meant to scare and not educate about the reality of STIs and risk aware sex. All I remember from my high school sex education was Coach telling us not to do it in the butt. And man, was she wrong about that.
Just recently, Michigan legislators passed a law that banned oral and anal sex (then agreed to take that part of the legislation out) when they could have been paying attention to crisis in Flint. That sex shame got them so wrapped up in oral fixations they can’t get clean water right.
This is what happens when our young people don’t have standardized, science-based, sex-positive education. Remember author and professor Alice Domurat Dreger, whose horrified live-tweeting of abstinence only sex education went viral in 2015? One guess where she was. We made these legislators. Our schools educated them about sex, sex shame, and sexism. We taught them the culture they are trying to uphold.
I’m baffled. I’m just, you know people retain knowledge into adulthood right? You know we create adults from children right? You know if we don’t teach children about anatomy, healthy relationship behaviors, and affirmative consent then we will - IN FACT - have adults that don’t know about anatomy, healthy relationship behaviors, or affirmative consent. HUH. Funny how that works.
We have a million miles to walk in making our schools safe places to be. It starts when we build a new culture of consent into our mainstream population. It’s a keystone to stopping all violence in the places our children go to learn everyday. It’s something we can start when children are in kindergarten, with proven results by the time they are in middle school, raging, and dying. It’s something we need to continue through post-secondary educational programs, when our children are fledgling little grown-ass people making grown-ass decisions.
Not just decisions that affect themselves and their sex partners. But people who become principals in Texas, and legislators in Michigan. People who make decisions that affect thousands of families. If we don’t start educating the people that will eventually be adults, we will have State houses that confiscate tampons instead of guns. Or Congressmen who argue about when rape is “legitimate.”
Sex-positive legislation begins with sex-positive education. When did arguing for a more educated populous become the revolutionary thing to do?