Here’s the story of a girl who got a comprehensive sex education and still chose abstinence. That girl was me.
Did I gain this knowledge from school? Heavens no. I grew up in the South at the turn of the 21st century. Abstinence-only sex education was the name of the game (still is, last I checked), especially in the school district I was in. Ironically (or maybe not so, in light of scientific study), my school district had a pretty high teen pregnancy rate.
Did my parents render this knowledge unto me? Also no. In fact, my parents neglected that part of parenting me. I say me specifically because I know my dad had that conversation with my older siblings at some point (I still don’t know about the younger one, and I will never ask). My parents were also completely on board with abstinence-only education, primarily for religious reasons.
My mom at least made sure I had a basic knowledge of puberty and menstruation before I got my period … before anyone makes more assumptions.
Over the years, I have formulated many theories (some of them potentially conspiratorial in nature involving the fact I’m the only girl in my family) as to why my parents did not talk to me about sex. A few years ago, I finally confronted my mom and asked her why she never gave me “the talk.” She was genuinely surprised that she never had.
So the answer is simple: my parents forgot. I mean, I am a middle child, after all.
Where did my comprehensive sex education come from? Why, the library, of course!
My family lived within walking distance from our neighborhood library, and my mom agreed that I was old enough to go on my own when I was in middle school. On one of my trips, I got curious about a couple of titles in the juvenile nonfiction section: “Love and Sex and Growing Up” (no longer published) and “What’s Going on Down There?” (written for boys but includes information about girls too). Part of it was genuine curiosity (since I was too scared to ask my parents), and the other part was teenage hormones.
I only read these books at the library — I knew better than to bring them home.
From these books, I learned more about puberty and menstruation. I learned about sexual intercourse and was horrified. I learned about oral and anal sex. I read about the various forms of birth control. I learned about STDs and how to prevent them. I learned about homosexuality. I even learned about consent.
Certain people would think that having this knowledge would have given me permission to be promiscuous with both men and women.
Surprise: It did not.
In fact, I was pretty horrified upon finally learning what sex was. It all sounded complicated and weird to me, though still intriguing to a point.
Learning all about sex empowered me in my decision to abstain.
While I am eternally grateful to my local library for keeping these books on their shelves, easy for my teenage self to access, I wish that it hadn’t come to that. I wish my parents had created an atmosphere where I would have felt safe asking them these questions.
My knowledge not only empowered me in my decision to wait, but I was also able to educate some of my peers, even when I was in college. It still shocks me that so many adults still don’t know the difference between semen and sperm.
Before my children were born, I vowed not to make the same mistake my parents did with me. I have always used the correct names for their genitalia and answered any and all questions in age-appropriate ways. I also got books like “It’s Not the Stork,” and we read them together. Is any of this uncomfortable? Sometimes, but it gets easier the more often we talk about it. At this writing, my children still seem comfortable talking to us.
What is my stance on comprehensive sex education in schools? I’m all for it.
In a perfect world, we could count on parents to give their children accurate information about sex. I mean, we already allow our schools to teach our kids subjects we aren’t equipped to teach them at home. For example, I have a child who is learning Mandarin at school, and I could never teach Chinese at home because I have never studied it myself.
Numerous studies have shown that comprehensive sex education has a higher success rate than abstinence-only. Fewer teenage pregnancies, fewer STDs, and even the age of first sexual encounter is higher than abstinence-only sex education. It’s far past time for us to overcome our hang-ups about our kids learning accurate information about sex.
While I do hope my children will decide to abstain from sex until marriage like I did, I know that the decision is ultimately theirs. I only hope that they will have enough information to make a safe decision.
The author is an anonymous physician.
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