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I throw around the words “fear” and “silence” often when it comes to sex ed. They’re loaded terms, perhaps, but these words best describe my experiences with sex education: my emotional reaction and everyone else’s approach, respectively. These words describe what I feel is not often expressed in the sex education debate.
True, it’s hard to use the “Little Mary Sue is scared” argument to a bunch of adult policymakers who believe that a child will “get over” whatever scare tactics they might use in sex education. I have indeed heard it argued that it is okay to use fear in sex education because, well, incurable STIs are out there right now. You can see the logic: if children grow out of believing in the boogeyman, then certainly they will grow out of being told that condoms have pores that let HIV through, right? At least by the time that they are married, they’ll grow out of it, right?
The problem with this is that these particular things are not so easy to simply grow out of. The boogeyman is irrational. HIV/AIDS and pregnancy are legitimately real, which is why contraception and latex exists. At the same time, we know that this issue has to do with more than just teen pregnancy and some HPV outbreaks. We can’t ignore sexual shaming. When this shaming happens, fear follows. When people are not just a little apprehensive, but downright afraid or misinformed, they have to go through a lot of unnecessary suffering to get to a sexually healthy place.
At this point in my life, I am much better off than many of my friends, who have been sexually assaulted or engaged in sexual activity of questionable consent because the idea that they could negotiate what they wanted was never expressed to them. I didn’t have to deal with pregnancy scares or STI issues in high school. I’ve never had to deal with an STI, period. I haven’t had many relationships, but I have had no major crises within them, just a lot of learning and personal growth with truly good people. Yet with all that good fortune, all that crisis averted, I still struggled because of silent shaming. My struggle, as I describe here, was incredibly lonely and painful–there was just no one to turn to.
I found Scarleteen around 2007, at a time in my life when I was asking a lot of questions about the rights and wrongs of my own sexuality, doubting myself, seeing my drive as an evil and angry thing. I felt like I had a monster inside me, telling me what was supposedly “right” while also bringing me a lot of self-loathing. Arousal meant having to get rid of something, as opposed to doing something that might bring me some joy.
Sex education, as I have said before, seems to be either an abstinence-fest or a condom giveaway. I admit that my view may be skewed, but I don’t have to guess to know that sex in its most comprehensive sense isn’t discussed among us, as a general rule. To me, withholding information, not facing the issues, and saying as little as possible about something, is the same thing as silence.
Seriously! Let’s face the issues. Let’s talk about the difficulties and yes, the pleasures of sexuality. Let’s have real talk, not just the talk we assume those between the ages of 13 and 17 can handle. I say this as a person who is still young, still hanging on. I beg, I plead to older adults, please listen! Please don’t shame us! Please find good, real answers to our questions, at a place like Scarleteen, or a place in your hearts, or another place that accentuates the sex positive!
I can’t know whether anyone has had quite my experience, trembling in fear, confusion, and distress about sexual matters, even without involvement in anything resembling partnered sexuality. But I know that I couldn’t possibly be alone in my old fears. Who is out there? What youth is there who has suffered like me? I haven’t yet “grown out” of my old fears and self-hatred, but think–that self-hatred never had to happen.
Scarleteen steps in to answer my pleas. Scarleteen is sex-positive, open-minded, truly comprehensive. Scarleteen isn’t there to make young people with questions and apprehensions phobic, like I have been. I have asked tough questions on the message boards, read columns, searched for permanent articles, and I have been welcomed, recognized, as a normal and good person.
Thank you, Scarleteen. You have supported a young woman in overcoming her fears, her phobia. In all my grappling, you were there to let me know that there was someone in the world who was not assuming that she would not, could not, could never be a sexual being. Even when my fear kept me from asking questions, you were that presence, that comforting hand, letting it be okay to be myself.
It has been incredibly important and valuable to me, and I know I can’t be the only one who feels that way.
Speaking of Scarleteen, this post is a part of the Scarleteen Blog Carnival, supporting its annual fundraising drive efforts! Scarleteen is a truly invaluable sex education resource for teens and young adults, and it has managed to stay afloat for years with the help of charitable donations from individuals and small organizations. Every little bit helps, so if you want to support and sustain sex-positive sex ed, I definitely recommend making a donation. Do it here!