A Positive Sex Education Experience!
Despite the United States’ sex ed programs being notoriously general, non-inclusive, uninformative, and poorly structured, I experienced a positive and safe learning environment. My school structured and led sex ed classes every year, from fourth through ninth grade. The curriculum built upon itself, paralleling our increasing maturity and understanding of relationships. We learned about everything from consent to contraception, sexual positivity to LGBTQ+ safety. Due to a holistic and engaging approach, I am proud to feel educated and confident within my own sexuality.
It all began in the fourth grade, a time of eating wood chips on the playground and spilling chocolate milk out of your nose at lunch. I, personally, had never heard of sex, and was completely unaware of my imminent physical and mental changes. My dad thought we were too young to start the sex ed discussion, and many other parents complained directly to the school about the early introduction to a mature and complex topic. Despite this, my school taught us about periods and body odor, encouraging the use of deodorant and acceptance of physical changes. They separated girls and boys, which took away some of the stigma and giggles we otherwise might have experienced. Yes, we were young, but some of my classmates had begun their periods, others were beginning to grow breasts. I truly believe that this early introduction to the basics of sex ed lay the foundation to a successful and in-depth education promoting safety and curiosity.
Through the fifth and sixth grade, we learned sex ed 101 (so to speak). The nurse, Nurse Jasmine, led a mandatory PE unit during the winter, in which we learned about periods, sex, sexuality, contraceptives consent, and mental health. Again, the classes were separated by gender, which instead of leading to unequal education or a gender disconnect, gave us increased confidentiality and comfort. Nurse Jasmine led both genders’ class and did a fantastic job. She is someone who cuts to the point and speaks factually and without hesitation. She made the entire experience normal, as if we were learning about metamorphosis in butterflies. By encouraging us to ask questions, she facilitated an age-appropriate, curious, and safe environment.
In seventh and eighth grade we continued a biological approach to sex ed but began to include discussions of consent and mental safety. We covered sex ed in science class, the first time we experienced a co-ed environment during a discussion about sexuality. Besides learning about childbirth (ouch), we began to understand the pleasurable side to sex and sexual interactions. I had never understood why people had sex, I thought the only outcome was pregnancy or STIs. Thankfully, my science teacher, Mrs. Pennock, had us read a book on pleasure, introducing oral sex and masturbation to the girls. The boys had learned about masturbation during their fifth and sixth grade classes, which highlights one of the few faults I noticed in my school’s sex-ed curriculum (perpetuating a binary, male-centric perception of sex and pleasure).
We did eventually get there though, and even now both my boy and girl friends and I feel comfortable talking about our own sexual experiences. Part of that comes from what we learned in advisory, a group of mixed seventh and eighth graders with the same teacher. Advisories act as home bases for students, and your advisor is your biggest advocate. This is where we opened the conversation to consent and had lessons to instill the importance of safety. My school gave us these lessons repeatedly, which normalized the practice of consent throughout my grade.
My formal sex education ended in ninth grade, when we learned more about contraceptives and STIs. While we had touched on the necessity of contraception before, we never went in depth about them, or had any hands-on experience working with them. Nurse Jasmine returned to teach us and gave us good explanations of IUDs and the pill. As a class we covered all the many types of contraceptives, and touched on the importance of protection, even if pregnancy is impossible. The highlight of this class was practicing with condoms, the classic and accessible contraceptive. Parts of this course were even presented by seniors, which normalized the idea of contraception in my grade. We again touched on consent, talking a lot about the importance of checking in throughout each individual sexual experience, in addition to the entire relationship.
Very obviously, my sex ed experience has impacted my own understanding and comfort with relationships. The way material was presented allowed me to have an increased understanding each year of my education. This meant I gradually became a more mature and sexually aware person, which was appropriate with my equally advancing age. I am beyond comfortable with consent and empowered as a woman to make my own choices which are fitting for my body and mindset. While sexual relationships are new and different for every teenager, my school’s sex ed taught me a solid and safe foundation upon which I can build with my own curiosity. My sex ed has provided me and my classmates with knowledge about, and in some cases access to, contraception. I was introduced to birth control at a young age and am comfortable talking about the options with both my mom and provider. Maybe above all, my friends all have the same understanding of sex ed that I do, allowing us to talk openly, and be really vulnerable about our own experiences. For me, this ensures security and continued conversation about sex, love, relationships, safety, contraceptives.
Emma Dower is a rising senior at Sidwell Friends School. Emma hopes to study English and Gender Studies in college and pursue a career in social justice or communications.