I sifted through my mail today and found a donation confirmation letter from World Vision. I opened up the letter to find an update on our sponsored child’s community. I read about agriculture, education, and health. Under the health update, I was informed that thanks to the work of the clinic in this community and local churches, “young people were provided with age-appropriate HIV and AIDS education.” I’m supportive of sex education. And I imagine a lot of conservative Christian World Vision supporters would be pro sex-education in developing nations. But many of those same supporters would be against sex-education in the United States. Why is appropriate for African youth to get sex ed, and not American youth?
I grew up in a conservative Christian home with parents who were terribly unhappy when they learned that my 5th grade PE course had contained a sex ed unit. I’m pretty sure they stormed the doors of my middle school when they finally dragged the information out of my embarrassed self.
I’m not sure we ever talked about it, so, if you’re reading mom and dad, here’s the truth: I had a very comprehensive sex education during my public school career – in health class (sheesh people, if that’s where your mind went already, we are in for a long blog). Each year from 5-12th grade, I learned about male and female anatomy, I learned about the mechanics of sex, I learned about contraceptives, and I learned about STI’s (they were called STD’s back then). I learned how to put a condom on properly. I had to practice using words like “penis” and “vagina” out loud without giggling, so that I could dialogue about sex without awkwardness. I also learned that I was in charge of the choices that I would make sexually. I learned that I could say no to unwanted touches. I learned that my body was my body.
At home, I had a very comprehensive spiritual education. I learned that I was fearfully and wonderfully made. I learned that I was beautiful. I learned that modesty was good for me and my neighbor. I learned that I had value. I learned that marriage was beautiful and that affection is a healthy part of married life.
In youth group, I learned that God had designed sex. I learned that sex is really good and super fun within the confines of a marriage relationship. I learned that premarital sex was not Gods’ best plan and I was encouraged to save sex for marriage.
And I did.
I had a really comprehensive physical and spiritual sex education in my formative years. I learned about the science, self-worth, and spiritual sides of sex. Through varied sources, I formed a value system based on my education and faith that would inform my sexual choices.
Comprehensive sex education did not encourage me to have sex before marriage. In fact, comprehensive sex-education might have deterred me from having sex outside of marriage. I learned some facts that I wasn’t learning at home or youth group. Contrary to a lot of Christian popular belief, comprehensive sex education does not teach “do whatever feels good” or “have sex with whoever you want whenever you want” but rather, it teaches biology, mechanics, and protection.
Society teaches “do whatever feels good” and “have sex with whoever you want whenever you want.” Have you watched tv lately? Have you seen magazine covers in the Target checkout lines? Have you mistyped a web address (or correctly typed a web address – ahem)? Sex is everywhere. Sex messages are everywhere, they aren’t reserved for the home or the classroom.
To all of you who think that abstinence only-sex education is the answer , I have a few thoughts:
1. You can’t make assumptions that knowledge encourages unhealthy sex: Knowing about my body and my spouse’s body (how it all works together inside and outside) enhances our sex within marriage. Mystery can breed shame and fear; two things that kill a good sex life. I’m so thankful that I went into marriage with a holy mystery about the act, but zero mystery about the mechanics. I have friends who waited for sex til marriage, who had little to no sexual education, that had a scarring honeymoon. I have friends who waited to have sex til marriage, with little or no sexual education, that don’t enjoy sex, even years later, from lack of ability to dialogue openly about their questions and feelings. (check out this great blog about this topic) I’m not embarrassed to talk about sex, probably because Mr. Santorum in 6th grade made us read articles out loud containing words that send most middle-schoolers and middle-agers into a giggle fit.
2. You can’t make assumptions that every child has a parent who will talk to them about sex: A lot of the arguments I hear are from evangelical Christians rallying for sex to be taught parents. Not every child has a parent, so let’s start there. Some children are raised by grandparents, some by aunts and uncles, others by foster parents, and still others by group home parents. If you think it was awful to get the sex talk from your mom or dad, imagine it coming from your grandma or grandpa or a complete-stranger-foster-parent. No. Thank. You.
Of course, it’s best case scenario for parents to share values with their children. This should include sex. But the truth is; some parents don’t know what they value in regard to sex and others don’t know the mechanics. You don’t have to know how a car engine works to drive it- if you know what I mean. (I would argue that when you know how the engine works, though, you know better how to drive the car). Sadly, there are a lot of evangelical Christians and non-evangelical Christians living in the world who do not know body biology and are not educated enough to educate their kids about anatomy and sex. And if you are a biology whiz who has no shame and wants to talk to your kids about sex, do it! Teenagers don’t believe half of what their parents say anyway. You will simply confirm what they learn from a respected teacher, and you can add some value and dialogue. (check out this great blog about talking to your kids about sex) Seems like a win win to me!
3. You can’t make assumptions about all of your child’s choices; even his/her sexual choices. I’m not a parent, I can’t imagine all of the the hopes and fears that parents have. I’ve watched my parent friends, and what I see all of them learning is that they don’t have full control of their child(ren), and that they are raising independent creatures who will make their own choices. Parents teach, guide, and love, but they can’t control. Some of your children will have sex before marriage, some will not. There are consequences for abstaining and consequences for engaging.
A recent study showed that 80% of unmarried evangelical 18-29 year olds report having had sex. Your child’s virginity at the wedding altar shouldn’t be your biggest hope or goal. (In fact, your child getting married and having their own family shouldn’t be your biggest hope or goal.) It can be a hope, but virginity on the wedding day isn’t a guarantee for a healthy marriage, and non-virginity on the wedding day isn’t a guarantee for an unhealthy marriage. (check out this great blog about this topic). There is great power in education. Allow your children to learn about sex – all of the nitty gritty details. Allow them to weigh the consequences. Allow them to protect themselves. Allow them to be smart. This knowledge will help if and when they get married, I promise.
4. You can’t make assumptions about all of the choices that will be made for your children. This is an awful thought, and I hate that I’m even bringing this up, but it’s a reality. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are sexually abused before the age of 18 in the United States. Every 2 minutes, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. We live in a sad, broken world, where evil things happen. Not always, but in some cases, abuse is perpetuated because victims don’t know their rights, don’t know they can tell an adult that something bad is happening, don’t know that they can say no. Those topics that we avoid or talk about in hushed tones are usually secrets, and secrets are meant to be kept. When we whisper about sex, we teach our children that it’s inappropriate, that it’s not meant to be talked about, and that it’s meant to be kept hush hush. That’s not true, and it’s especially not true in the case of abuse.
54% of sexual assaults are never reported to police. This could be because of guilt or shame or uncertainty that the victim was indeed violated. If sexual education could prevent one occurrence or re-occurrence of sexual abuse/assault, wouldn’t it be worth it? If a child/youth knew his or her own body and knew that he/she could say no or tell someone, wouldn’t it be worth it? (check out this great blog about this topic)
5. You can’t make assumptions about your child’s future spouse, or her/his sexual history. Parents can have hopes and dreams, but parents can’t guarantee that their child will have a spouse and if they do, that their child’s future spouse will have waited to have sex until she/he married your child. Remember that stat I mentioned earlier? 80% of unmarried evangelical 18-29 year olds have had sex at least once. Let’s get our heads out of the evangelical sand and be realistic: If your child gets married, his or her fiancee most likely won’t be a virgin.
But for your child, knowing about sex, protection, and STI’s is a great starter for healthy talks about sex, consequences, and realities. A healthy sex dialogue is critical for a healthy sex life, and a healthy sex life is critical for a healthy marriage.
Let’s not be naive. Let’s educate our children. Let’s advocate for those children who do not have parents that can dialogue with them. Let’s recognize that a healthy, comprehensive sex education can help our children to protect themselves, make responsible choices, and one day, have healthy sex lives. Let’s be ok with educating our American children and the children around the globe.