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Sexual Education and its Shortfallings

Whenever I talk to someone from the US education system, or hear about it on TV, I feel lucky to have gone through the Australian system. While we were taught about STDs and how to say ‘no’ to sex, we also learned about many different types of contraception, and the stupidity of the rhythm method was fully addressed.

So, I think it’s important to preface my post with the fact that I am grateful for my relatively open and honest school-based sex ed. But, I think there are a few places where it could be improved.

diagram prescribes normal
Diagrams prescribe bodily ‘normality’. I get that for health, it’s probably a good idea to be able to name the reproductive organs. However, there are a few problems with diagram-based learning:

  • In diagrams, there are illustrations of bodies which do not allow for much diversity. Moreover, it becomes easy to feel alienated from normality given that the depictions of the body only really represent a rather small segment of the population. For instance, this picture shows a very specific illustration of the female reproductive organs. Note the lack of body hair, and that vulvas come in a range of different shapes and sizes.
  • Sex and reproductivity are reduced to names of parts and scientifically divided categories. All of a sudden, a very intimate part of one’s education becomes very cold and factual. There’s nothing wrong with learning the scientific facts, they are useful. But, the scientific facts are so pervasive that feelings, and god forbid, enjoyment, take a back seat. Sex is a prescribed process rather than something you do on your own terms.

Despite good intentions, sex-education is aimed at heterosexual people. High school students are of course aware of different sexualities, and indeed I do recall being taught about dams and suchforth. However, ultimately, ‘sex’ is defined as PIV contact, and this problematic definition of ‘sex’ is never addressed. You can view a whole range of interactions as being ‘sex’ – oral sex, anal sex, fingering, or masturbation. And you definitely don’t need two people of the opposite gender to have it, unless you define it in that way.

To some extent, sexual-education reflects the exclusionary definitions of intimate relationships that are often held in wider society which really must be challenged.

Sex is depicted as a little bit scary. It’s always very awkward to talk about in the classroom. Moreover, the emphasis is always on preventing STDs and pregnancy, rather than enjoying a fulfilling and safe sex life. If you believed every word of health class, and you did not want a child, you would probably think that sex is terrible and you would have no part in it. But people clearly don’t feel that way, yet still were never taught how to relax and really enjoy sex. 10-15% of women never reach an orgasm. Perhaps sexual education could work on painting a more well-rounded picture of sex.

What was sex-ed like at your school? Were there any problems with it, or did you find it really helpful? I find it interesting that even when we eliminate the pressures religion puts on directing conversations about sex in certain ways, we’re still left with an imperfect system and a lot to work on in terms of building attitudes towards diversity and positivity.

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