A Call for a Feminist Approach to Sex Education

I grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana, a blue bubble in a red state. I was in fifth grade when I
received my first talk regarding sexual health and education. This talk centered around puberty
and growing up. I watched a video called “Just Around the Corner.” Like many of my peers, I
remember barely anything from that conversation, I only remember what followed. The constant
talking about what the girls and boys got, why they were separated, and some form of
embarrassment, because everything seemed secretive, and we discussed that the boys “did not
need to know about our talk because they were having their own.”

Fast forward to middle school, I was in eighth and seventh grade when I began receiving
talks about what sex was, but not in an informed and comprehensive manner. During class, we
were visited by the “Peers Project,” which was comprised of high school students coming to
teach middle schoolers about how important it was to stay abstinent and refrain from drugs and
other dangerous behaviors. If our conversations weren’t enough, we were offered abstinence
cards to sign to remind us of our “promise to ourselves.”

I remember from that point forward, viewing sex as a means of shame. I thought it would
be bad to be sexually active because I was not setting myself up for a “successful future.” As I
moved on with my academic career, I had more inclusive sex education in my health class as a
senior in high school, but still, abstinence-only sex education was stressed and emphasized. It
wasn’t until I was in college that I took a human sexuality class on a whim. My eyes were open
and my jaw often dropped, not because any of the material I was learning was incomprehensible
or because it was outrageous, but because I couldn’t believe I had never learned that information
before. It opened me to a world that I only knew about through the judgment of others. I quickly
realized that not only were those judgments haphazard, but they were guided by misinformation,
disinformation, and general ignorance of the world of sexual health, well-being, and education.
I was lucky. I had a professor who cared. I go to a college that has one of the largest and
most advanced sex research institutes in the world. Others are not that lucky. I know others who
did not receive the sex education they deserve. And what happens to them? Some of them learn
on their own, some of them learn through experience, and some of them end up absolutely fine,
but every one of them is impacted in a way they might not have been had they have been given a
comprehensive sex education.

I call for a better approach to sex education. A feminist approach to sex education. While
some states, school districts, and communities already do this, there are many who do not receive
adequate sex education. A feminist approach shifts the lens from an abstinent-only view about
sex education to empowering youth to make safe, informed, and thoughtful decisions regarding
their sexual health. We wonder why women often feel shamed and disregarded when it comes to
sexual matters and freedoms, but I pose the question: who teaches them to think otherwise? We
should (and often do). Women should (and often do). Comprehensive sex educators already do,
and it’s time for a desperately needed shift in health and sex education to set up our future
generations for true success: a world where they need not worry about the judgment and
chastisement of others because they grew up in a world where they were always empowered to
make smart, safe, and informed decisions about their health, their bodies, and their lives.

Bell Pastore, Intern to the office of the President

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