Sunday, February 2, 2014

Things I Wish Would End #1: Improper Sex Education

I cannot recall how I learned about sex. The easiest rendition of the story I can remember is via a science book in my childhood home, however more accurately, I think my education consisted of a variety of whispered conversations between my sister and my friends that usually ended with confusion, embarrassment, or fear of what would happen if ever put in that situation. It certainly was not in the sex education class provided by the private, religious school I attended in South Carolina, where facts of biology and videos of birth were encouraged, and questions were discouraged. The only question I ever remember being allowed in the classroom was when one brave 8th grade boy asked our instructor, “What is a tampon?”, only to be hushed and told they would talk after class…Because we should not talk about a woman’s period in public.  

Let’s interject some facts into this conversation. According to the Health and Safety Education Curriculum Guidelines of South Carolina, issues like Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Abstinence should be at the forefront of education from as early as grade four. However, our youth do not learn about what constitutes proper birth control until high school (and even then it’s only introduced), and proper education about sexually transmitted diseases is never required. Studies indicate that the curriculum currently taught in schools is fraught with outdated, inaccurate information, and taught by instructors not qualified to do so. Additionally, the current regulations for sex education in South Carolina prohibit mention of an, "alternate sexual lifestyles from heterosexual relationships ... except in the context of instruction concerning sexually transmitted diseases." It is clear that this outdated system is in need of revision, South Carolina rated higher than normal in teens who contracted STDs, and boasting an average of 21 teenagers becoming pregnant per day in 2011 (statistics show in This Report).

All this to say, I think the way we talk about sex in America stinks, particularly in light of the 2014 Cookie Cott that is waging war on The Girl Scouts of America. I may be the biggest supporter of Girl Scout Cookies in America, a box of shortbread sitting next to me on my desk as I write this entry. I love this organization that celebrates women and girls, described on their website as being an organization that, “builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.” On the community level, they partner with local YMCAs, Churches, and Planned Parenthoods in the service of organizing community service and other events for girls, empowering them through “a variety of enriching experiences…to help them grow courageous and strong.” That is all great work. Though they do not take a stand on abortion, sex education, or other such touchy political issues, they support empowered women across the country and around the world, using their educational tools and community outreach programs to craft the female leaders of tomorrow.

With all this in mind, you may be asking, “Why would an organization with all these great initiatives ever be boycotted?”

And further, “How is this linked with the above information about Sex Education?”

You may have noticed the mention of Planned Parenthood as an organization affiliated with Girl Scouts of America. You may have also heard about the Twitter fiasco in which the Girl Scouts of America retweeted a list of 2013 Women of the Year that included the fabulous Wendy Davis of the Texas Filibuster of 2013. The answer to the above questions is sourced in outrage at how we shape sex education in America, what is and is not being told to our youth, and who has the power to dictate the way sexuality is expressed.

In 2004 the first Cookie Cott was held in Waco, Texas when the Girl Scouts of America highlighted the CEO of Planned Parenthood as a role model for women. The Bluebonnet Girl Scout Counsel of Waco held a “Nobody’s Fool” summer sex education program that was termed an “assault on Christian morality” by asserting that it was “perfectly normal” for youth to feel sexual urges. The program included a book that was deemed “pornographic” in its inclusion of proper education on birth control, homosexuality, what is an orgasm, and the top nine reasons to wait to get pregnant (these entries included, if parents are too young to have a child, if they don’t have the time or money, or if a woman simply is not wanting to become pregnant). When watching the 2004 coverage, I was struck by the number of white men arguing this anti-sex education program and condemning a partnership with Planned Parenthood. I was also surprised that, in the Fox News interview outlining this year’s Cookie Cott, the panel of newscasters shaming this organization for supporting Wendy Davis primarily consisted of women, as if the plight of a sister in need is none of their concern.

Obviously this struggle is not new, whether we’re talking about comprehensive sex education or a pro-choice supporter, we’re still fundamentally talking about what are and are not women’s rights and what girls should or should not know about their bodies. In light of statistics like the ones we find in South Carolina, I’d argue a book like the one put out by “nobody’s fool” in 2004 is not only necessary, the ideas put forth in it are crucial to the ways we proceed in modifying our education of young girls and boys in America. Statistics prove that it is the time for change. Wendy Davis is part of this continuous fight for body autonomy in America, one which, no matter your stake in the debate surrounding late-term abortion, is certainly worthy of supporting.

I’ve had about enough of this. I’m tired of patriarchy prohibiting a woman’s right to choose. I’m tired of looking at Abstinence only websites citing the reason for not discussing contraception as the “sin” of premeditated sex. I’m tired of our own discomfort at discussing sex with children fueling a silence that leads to record number of STDs in youth across America today, and shows like “Sixteen and Pregnant” now a normalized part of culture. We need to move away from our puritanical history that figures sexual desire as impurity, and away from a patriarchal need to control not the life of the baby, but the woman who is carrying it. We need to do better by our children, supporting women like Wendy Davis, who took a powerful stand in the continuous fight for female choice in America. I’m baffled by the legislation that decreases the number of Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas, not only because it promotes illegal, back-alley abortions as the only recourse, but also because Women’s Clinics do not JUST offer abortion services, but regular reproductive health options for women who cannot afford anything else. How dare we take that away? How dare we teach our young girls that supporting their sisters and their choices is not acceptable? How dare we sentence them to unwanted, shame-inducing pregnancy, or a life of battling an ugly disease, because we did not want to provide proper education that would limit unplanned pregnancy in the first place?
I think we can do better. Openness, Strength, and the Courage to Speak. That is what we owe the children of this Country.  

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