By Jean Workman, MA, See the Triumph Guest Blogger and Director of Development for SHIFT NC
She timidly raised her hand and with a very shy and quiet voice asked, “So am I still considered a virgin if I was raped by my mother’s boyfriend a few years ago?” With as much compassion as I could muster, I replied, “Yes sweetheart, your virginity is yours to own and when someone takes away the choice of sex, you still own your body and your virginity.” As an adolescent sexuality educator, I have heard this story too many times while teaching sexuality education to 7th and 8th grade girls.
Too often. a middle school girl’s question in class is the first time she has admitted to anyone that she was sexually abused and is the door opener to advocacy on her behalf. It’s one of the reasons why I believe sexuality education should be free of shame, guilt, and fear and is imperatively important in our middle and high schools across North Carolina and the nation. As John Oliver recently explained in his conversation on sexuality education on Tonight with John Oliver, “There is no way we’d allow any other academic program to consistently fail to prepare students for life after school and human sexuality, unlike Calculus, is something you actually need to know about for the rest of your life.” (Oliver, 2015)
Sexuality education is far from just teaching about sex. It includes information on the importance of having a strong self-esteem and provides tools for how young people can own their assertive voice for communicating their wants, needs, and desires. This is important not just for sexual relationships and intimacy, but also in friendships, where having an assertive voice can help them navigate the prickly road of saying what they mean and standing up for themselves in peer pressure situations.
Comprehensive sex education includes decision-making skills so that young people can strengthen their ability to listen to that gut instinct that tells them when a situation is dangerous or inappropriate. It’s a practice makes perfect scenario, and quality sex education provides a safe practice space for negotiating those necessary skills. These skills allow young people to practice owning their assertive voice for healthy communication.
Creating a safe space for learning is vital to the topic of human sexuality. Young people need to feel they can talk openly with one another and their instructor without fear of gossip, judgment, shame, or guilt. This safe space is crucial for young people who have experienced past sexual traumas, as sexuality education often opens doors for adolescents to share past sexual experiences, including non-consensual experiences.
Darkness to Light (D2L), one of our nation’s leading resources on child sexual abuse awareness and prevention, has championed the movement to end child sexual abuse since its founding in 2000. According to D2L the risk of teen pregnancy is much higher for girls with a history of child sexual abuse, most likely due to over-sexualized behavior, another common consequence of child sexual abuse. (http://www.d2l.org/).
Comprehensive sexuality education is an important piece to the teen pregnancy prevention story throughout our nation. North Carolina’s teen pregnancy rate has dropped 67% since its highest peak in the early 1990s. It opens doors for assertive communication, builds awareness about resources adolescents and young adults can use and increases knowledge about the sexual and reproductive health system. It also links young people to resources when the choice of sex has been taken from them and they desperately need an advocate to help illuminate their voice. This education is a powerful tool that adolescents will use well into adulthood.
As a mother of two adolescents, my mantra for raising sexually responsible adults is to inspire the vision that their sexuality and the sexuality of their future partner is powerful, extraordinary, and worth protecting. As Maya Angelou said, “People often forget what we say and forget what we do, but they will never forget how we made them feel.” Comprehensive sexuality education that is free of shame, guilt, or fear creates a magical melody that inspires that vision that young people are powerful, extraordinary and worth protecting. What other melody could we possibly want for our children to embrace with regards to their sexuality?
Oliver, J. (2015). Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Sex Education (HBO) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0jQz6jqQS0
For over 20 years, Jean has shared her enthusiasm for inspiring competence, confidence, and connectedness with young people and creating magical classroom experiences on the local, state, and national level. She is the co-author of several nationally-recognized, award-winning, research-based sexual health, teen pregnancy prevention, and parental involvement curricula. Jean has a BS in Community Health Education from UNC Greensboro and an MA in Nonprofit Management from High Point University. In her spare time she teaches a Human Sexuality course at Guilford College, coaches her daughter’s elementary cheerleading squad, and enthusiastically cheers at her middle school son’s sporting events. She has lived in NC all of her life and resides in Greensboro with her partner and two children.