Though sex education comes in many forms, it’s beyond time to reevaluate what we teach young people. My first introductions to bedroom business left me ashamed, terrified and the most confused I’ve ever been.
The kitchen was bright and warm and smelled of double-chocolate cookies. My mother and I, side by side, rolled the dough into balls. “You know, I think you’re old enough now,” she said.
My mother’s voice startled me from the baking process, and I asked what I was old enough for. “To know how babies are made,” she said. What a genius scheme, cornering your child in the kitchen and placating them with cookies. The awkwardness was inescapable.
Surprisingly, I remember little of that monumental afternoon, other than a palpable disgust that a man had something that was supposed to go in me, but only to facilitate making children — otherwise, it was a sin. I wasn’t concerned about sinning, though — I absolutely did not want a man’s anything in me, and I certainly didn’t want to birth a child as a result.
Little else was said on the topic that afternoon — and likewise, for the next few years. I felt uncomfortable breaching the subject with my parents again. I got the sense that sex was a topic to be kept hidden away in sock drawers and closets — something too awkward and indecent to reveal itself in the light of our moral, double-chocolate-cookie-smelling Christian household.
Finally, in ninth grade, a nurse from the Saskatchewan Health Region was supposed to give us a sex-ed presentation. It sounded promising until some buttoned-up woman arrived at our classroom with a slide show wracked with graphic images of infected genitalia.
“This is what can happen to you if you have unprotected sex,” she warned, pointing at the gonorrhea-laden vulva on the screen. The presentation lasted two stomach-churning hours, and not once did she even explain how to use a condom. Even worse, the word “consent” never crossed her lips. This wasn’t sex education — this was a scare tactic.
As horrifying as that abstinence-or-die indoctrination was, what now bothers me the most about my sex-education — both at-home and in-school — is the implication that heterosexual, monogamous, child-rearing marriage is compulsory and that physical intimacy outside of such a relationship is somehow dirty, perverse or shameful.
Not once was I told that same-sex relationships were a valid option — the only education I got on these “non- traditional” relationships was that they were, like premarital relations, sinful.
Luckily, by the time I was 16 and undeniably certain that I was attracted to women, I had cast off the conservative messages surrounding sex that were thrust upon me in my younger years. Thanks to a few older, experienced and more liberally minded friends, I learned that “sex” was a loaded term and that it meant much more than a procreative act of obligatory heterosexual intercourse.
A few internet searches later, I discovered the health and normalcy of varying expressions of sexuality in individuals and relationships of all kinds. Sex no longer seemed like a means to an end that could either liberate or condemn me based on who I was sleeping with, what we did or didn’t do and when, where or why we did it.
Unfortunately, my experience with sex education is fairly typical. Authority figures such as parents and health-care providers often dogmatically preach abstinence — which, don’t get me wrong, is a very valid choice — and fail to teach young adults the complexities of sex and sexual experiences.
By telling kids that sex will make them ill unless they are in a narrowly defined traditional relationship, society is conditioning them to be ashamed of a natural part of their maturation and development.
When I stopped believing that I was wrong, perverse or sinful for failing to fit into the traditional box of sexuality that society has so wrongfully constructed, I moved past that awkward cookie-smelling kitchen and terrifying high-school classroom into a place of self-security and self-knowledge.
We need to begin teaching the next generation what a safe and healthy sexual relationship can mean for them, not what we think it should mean. Most importantly, we need to make sure young adults know that they, and their potential partners, have the agency and responsibility to mutually agree on the type of sexual experiences they will engage in, if they choose to at all.
Photo: Lauren Klassen