For all the information that’s out there, sometimes when we look around it feels like we’re more uneducated than ever. In no area is this observation more true than when it comes to our own bodies. But it’s 2021 – why aren’t we teaching women everything there is to know about their bodies?
We already know that when it comes to hormones and fertility, only a portion of all the information is what’s really being offered. There are also concerted efforts to make sex education and discourse on sexuality more inclusive or include more diverse perspectives. But again, only half the info is what we’re getting.
As it turns out, there’s a wealth of knowledge on all these subjects that, for whatever reason, isn’t at the forefront of these conversations. But as we know firsthand, when women don’t have all the knowledge available because of agendas or biases, we end up suffering the most in the long run.
The “Sex-Positive” Education Movement
The very term “sex ed” never fails to conjure up secondhand embarrassment. As a teen uncomfortable in her own skin, there was nothing empowering or informative to me in high school about condom demonstrations, lectures on respect, or receiving “worth the wait” bracelets.
Whether you support abstinence-only sex education or not, there’s no denying that our sex education in this country is lacking. In fact, that’s why teens are more likely to turn to the internet rather than teachers or parents when it comes to curiosity about sex and intimacy. Think about it. How many times did we feel more comfortable going to friends with questions about sex than we did raising our hands in health class?
Teens are more likely to turn to the internet than teachers or parents to learn about sex.
If you’re a woman and you’re feeling confused reading through your own child’s sex ed curriculum or thinking back to your own, you’re not alone. I myself went through health class and sex education less than 10 years ago and with no mention whatsoever of sexual assault or concerns over teenage access to pornography, for example.
More than that, there’s no inclusion whatsoever when it comes to thorough and comprehensive discussions on female fertility, hormones, intimacy, or sexuality. The main takeaways from the mainstream high school health class seem to be (à la Mean Girls) don’t have sex, and if you do, don’t get pregnant.
We're Only Getting Half the Story
In health class or sex education curricula, preliminary introductions to our bodies are strictly limited to the fundamental basics. Men have sperm, women have eggs. We carry fetuses for 40 weeks, and sexual intercourse results (most of the time) in pregnancy.
Little reference is given to birth control or contraception, and when it’s referred to, condoms or unwanted and unplanned pregnancy seem to be our only two options. We never learn about hormonally-based contraception methods, let alone natural options like fertility awareness.
The main takeaways from high school health class seem to be don’t have sex and don’t get pregnant.
We don’t learn about the importance of pelvic exams, or of finding medical professionals who support our own goals, no matter their own views. As teenagers, we probably don’t even know what our goals look like and we aren’t enabled with the language to describe them. We’re only told not to get pregnant. And we’re probably not even comfortable enough talking about sex and its ramifications with those who are knowledgeable enough to give us sound and rational advice.
Sex is taboo to us until we start having it, but until then, there’s a hushed attitude around it still overly present in much of our culture, especially in sex education. This, juxtaposed with the constant overload of gratuitous sexual material in our media, gives pointed, contradictory messages to young adults. Don’t have sex, even though everyone else is doing it. Don’t ask about it, or people will assume you’re ignorant. Don’t ask your doctor for all the options, just take the pill because all your friends are on it and there are no other options available. Just let a doctor prescribe you birth control, and take it for 20 years until you’re ready to talk about having kids.
What’s at Stake Here
The thing is, we should be encouraging ourselves to ask our tough or uncomfortable questions. And it’s difficult not to think “what if” when we look back and think about how things might have been different in our own lives had we had all the information.
I think about this a lot. Had I had all the possible information, I wouldn’t have been as readily swayed as I initially was to take birth control, and then continue taking it for seven years until my mental health deteriorated and I was a hollow shell of the vibrant woman I once was. I would have asked more questions, been more familiar with my cycle — even its irregularities — and asked for opinions and concerns outside of the norm.
We should be asking the tough or uncomfortable questions about sex, birth control, and our bodies.
It’s strange to me that the method I now use — fertility awareness — is still considered fringe or out of the ordinary. Had I known about it years ago, I could have saved myself and my loved ones considerable heartache.
This is the choice we’re faced with — to make quick, conventional, and easy decisions for the price of going years without having all the knowledge, or ask the uncomfortable and uncommon questions for our own education and empowerment. This kind of education isn’t necessarily one that will be taught in schools one day. Body literacy is a knowledge and a mindset we have to constantly seek out and investigate. But that empowerment is there waiting for us to find it.
Much of the confusion, anger, resentment, depression, and other negative attitudes young women have about their bodies today could potentially be solved with a healthy dose of body literacy taught in their most formative years.
What’s more, our sons could do with it too. While there’s a lot of discourse on inclusive progressive topics infiltrating sex education, we don’t seem to be seeing much of it geared towards the purposes of destigmatizing — and having real conversations — about menstruation, pregnancy, infertility, and true intimacy, and including men in those conversations. Men play as much a role in shaping our attitudes towards these things as we ourselves do, and it can often strain our relationships to feel like we’re tackling these things alone. Yet we’re more preoccupied with ensuring inclusive language and keeping men’s opinions out of these topics, so much so that it’s easy to understand why they’re hesitant to offer up any input at all.
Both women and men would only benefit from sex education that’s grounded in body literacy. It’s 2021. We should be able to accomplish that.
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