Sex Ed. Ooh, the phrase strikes fear in the hearts of so many for such a variety of reasons. I’ll admit that, as the mother of two daughters, I was a little afraid to broach the subject, too, and with Eve being the first of my girls to get any sort of formal sexual education at school, I was curious and a nervous. But, three weeks into the six week program, I have to say that I don’t even know why it is called “Sex Ed.”
Let me preface this by saying that my own personal experiences with Sex Ed are basically two: mine and Eve’s. I have no idea what the curriculum is like at most public schools these days. I only know what I got (an awkward, red-faced teacher whose attempt to educate us was limited to a thirty minute film coupled with two worksheets that basically described male and female reproductive anatomy), and what Eve is getting and the two are not even in the same universe.
Of course, any faithful reader of my blog has read my fawning words of praise for Eve’s school here and here, so I suppose none of the following should come as a surprise. But, that being said, I honestly think that even if half of the content given to Eve and her fellow students is presented in public schools today, we ought to rename the class itself and maybe douse that fear strike with a big ol’ bucket of water.
While the staff at Eve’s school do tackle those big scary concepts of anatomy and development and *gasp* sex, there is so much more involved. Like discussing how we make decisions and why. Like understanding that, in the heat of the moment, we often can’t rely on our brains to give us accurate enough information so it’s important to build a moral framework that will carry us through. Like learning to accept that our bodies and minds are changing and making friends and staying true to ourselves during those shifts is really, really hard. They ask the girls to think about whether the pediatrician they’ve seen since the day they were born is someone who they can comfortably talk to about their period and their body image. If not, they want the girls to explore whether they feel like they can talk to their parents or guardians about that and find someone who they can trust and talk to. They talk about peer pressure and nutrition and how they can take care of their bodies and cherish them, no matter the package they come in.
The lessons are also broken down into developmentally appropriate classes so that the eighth graders are getting slightly more sophisticated information than the 5th graders that makes sense to their lives and acknowledges the fact that they are moving on to high school where relationships are vastly different. Last week, the sixth graders wanted to talk about their periods, and the teacher divided the class into groups of three or four and asked the girls to put on skits about having their periods to demonstrate what they already knew, or thought they knew. One group of girls designed a show around a girl who lives with her dad and was mortified to have him take her to the local drugstore to buy tampons. The third member of their group was the nearly-deaf cashier who insisted on hollering, “TAMPONS? I THINK TAMPONS ARE ON AISLE THREE!” in the middle of the store. Another group showcased a young girl who desperately wanted to cancel a sleepover she was going to because she was having her period and was embarrassed to think about throwing away soiled maxi pads in someone else’s bathroom or leaking blood onto her pajamas unknowingly. Once she found the courage to confide in her girlfriend, it turns out they were both cycling right then and everyone had a good, hearty laugh.
These girls astound me with their cleverness and honesty. And the staff bring tears to my eyes with their willingness to listen to the concerns these young ladies have. There is an anonymous question box that has served to enlighten everyone simply because nobody has to raise their hand and ask the embarrassing question everyone wants the answer to.
More than anything, though, I am pleased that “Sex Ed” is treated like just another subject at Eve’s school. These girls are given information that they need just as much as long division or social studies and encouraged to participate by asking questions and exploring ideas outside of school. Eve asked me the other day, as I was driving her and five of her classmates in the carpool, about my first period. I told her honestly: I was in seventh grade and went to the bathroom during the break between Algebra and PE to discover a lot of blood in my underwear. Nobody had ever talked to me about menstruation, so the blood that showed up after a morning of back cramps told me one of two things – either I had some horrible childhood cancer, or God was smiting me for making doe-eyes at Eric during math class instead of listening to the teacher. Either way, I was going to die, but first I had to stuff half a roll of toilet paper into my pants before heading off to PE. The girls were mortified and they all vowed to bring pads to stash in their lockers the next day in case they started their periods at school.
When I think about the things these girls are learning that have nothing (or at least, very little) to do with actually having sex with anyone, it makes me sad to know that there are families in my neighborhood who purposely keep their own children home on the days Sex Ed is scheduled. I am disheartened that the curriculum is even saddled with that particular name, given that these are tremendously important life skills that are being offered, but that the politicization of sex has frightened so many into thinking that we are, instead, encouraging our children to think about sexual intercourse by teaching them about their bodies. What I see them learning is how to understand and care for their bodies, how to ask questions that are important to them (even if they prompt blushing), and the notion that adults in their lives trust them enough to give them this information that is vital to their well-being.