Imagine going in to your first day on the job as a neurosurgeon. How do you feel? Excited? A little nervous? Surprise! You have never been to medical school, and the only thing you know about the brain is that it’s somewhere in your head. What could possibly go wrong? Without proper training and education, you could kill or paralyze someone. While you may not kill anyone entering a sexual relationship uninformed, you can just as easily hurt others or yourself if you are ill-informed. This is why offering teens a comprehensive introduction to sexuality is so important.
Comprehensive sex education is a really awesome idea, but something you are often hard pressed to find many schools. Why aren’t we teaching our children healthy and holistic ways of sexuality? What are the consequences of not doing so? What can you do to help the situation? Let’s find out together!
When I say sexual education, I do not just mean learning about the mechanics of protection and how babies are made. Comprehensive sexual education also includes a measure of discussion about consent, relationships, and the requisite sexual information. We all know of the bad things that can happen when we fail to educate teens about their choices; we see the statistics on them every year. Things like teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and the like are all things that happen when we enter the realm of sexuality unprepared. Conversely, what happens if we don’t educate our children about what it means to consent to sex? I love the “Don’t be that guy” project, and I think the message is outstanding. If we don’t educate our youth on the very real and very complicated dynamics of sex, how can we expect them to act accordingly? How do we expect them to respond to domestic abuse and dating violence when they are never shown what a healthy relationship looks like or how to build one? Some responsibility does fall on the teenagers themselves: if they want to become sexually active, they should take the initiative to educate themselves. However, the burden should not rest on those of us who know better. It is not always easy to find reliable information about sex and sexuality.
The question now shifts to, “How do we solve this problem?” I personally want to start a peer mentoring program during my undergraduate years for local high school students to provide an environment for teenagers to ask questions and get answers about sex and relationships in a less confrontational environment than they might find at home or in a clinic.
If you don’t have the time or resources to start your own group, there are also a bunch of amazing programs already out there. Planned Parenthood has an awesome program similar to this in Arizona, and I’m sure there are many others in more sex-ed friendly states. Why not give a few hours of your time to one? Or, if that’s not an option, just talk to the teens and young adults you know about these issues. Many seem to underestimate the impact talking to a few people can have. Information about sex will spread around throughout social circles, whether it is true or not. Why not take a step to providing better sex education outside of the classroom?
Sex and sexuality can make many people very uncomfortable. However, we can’t let that discomfort allow us to stand idly by when we could step in and change things for the better. It can be a hard conversation to have, especially for those of us who’d like to believe that “they’re too young to need that much information.” Trust me; by the time a teen starts high school, they need this information, either for themselves or their friends. Knowledge is power. Let’s empower our children, peers, and friends to take control of their sexuality and their choices before that choice is taken from them.
Using gender neutral language as a default certainly is not easy. Unfortunately using gendered terms and pronouns is so ingrained in most of us by the culture we live in that breaking out of that mold seems incredibly difficult. I still catch myself making assumptions when answering questions and writing here on Tumblr, and even more often when speaking to people face to face. It is difficult to do but in order to create safe spaces, accept everyone for who they are, and break out of thinking about certain causes as “womens issues” or “mens issues”, making this change is very important.
I broke out of using gendered language on Tumblr by doing a lot of editing of my posts. Before I post anything that is purely of my own content (asks, original posts, etc) I go through it to make sure that I haven’t made any assumptions about anybody. If I am responding to a question where someone names their pronouns, then I will use their pronouns. However, most of the time I stick to using gender neutral terms like “you” or “they” which are pretty easy to substitute in. Instead of saying “men” or “women” I often say “people”. I try really hard, but that does not mean that I never make mistakes.
I think that the most important thing you can do is to be open to criticism when you are actively trying to change over to using gender neutral terms. You will make mistakes, and other people will point them out. Asking other people to let you know when you’ve made a mistake, taking the criticism, apologizing for your mistake, and learning from the mistake all make a really big difference in the grand scope of things.
I hope you never feel intimidated coming to me and asking questions. I do not expect people to format their questions in any specific manner, and I will not attack you if you do not use gender neutral terms. This is a safe space, all I ask is that you observe it as such.
For those of you who haven’t read it, you can find my post on using gender neutral language here.