Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Let's Talk About Sex [Education]

My sister and I were home schooled from the ages of six and eight. When she was ten and I was eight, we moved from our small house near the beach, to a large rural property in a different town. It was decided that we'd go to school in this new town to make friends...we lasted two terms. School crushed our creativity and desire to learn. While teachers thought we were way ahead of the other students, we didn't thrive. My sister and I enjoyed learning, but the school system was a very negative experience for us.
At the beginning of 2012, when we were a few months away from me turning thirteen and my sister fifteen, we agreed we wanted to go to the high school there. We both wanted a high school experience and our parents wanted to support whatever decision we made.

High school was even more damaging for us. My sister had nervous breakdowns, couldn't learn in that environment and left school pretty quickly. I stayed a little longer and I did surprisingly well coping without Ireland (my sister), although I was still incredibly socially awkward and stuttered on occasion. I quickly learnt that I didn't care what other people thought, was quite happy to stand up for myself, I ignored the kids who were negative and I didn't take any bullshit. In that respect, I think high school was good for me - I needed to realise how confident I was in myself and in my own morals and ethics. I got by, I didn't make any friends but was happy on my own and my grades were an average of As, Bs and Cs. But I was infuriated by the school system and the terrible education we were receiving, particularly for HPE.

Health and Physical Education - basically, teaching teenagers how to barn dance. Regarding Sex Ed, we learnt a little bit about a few venereal diseases and menstruation. The subject of rape was briefly discussed - girls were told to be careful: about what they wear, how much they drink, who they talk to and how they behave. Rape is caused by a rapist, not the victim. I worry about what that puts in their minds. They are almost saying to girls that it's their responsibility if they get raped. What if a girl doesn't report a rape because she is practically being taught that it's her fault? Teachers are telling this to the girls (forgetting that men get raped too), in front of the boys. I wonder what that could make them think, subconsciously or otherwise? I'm male and I can't control myself, it's her responsibility, she's been warned about what she should wear and she's still wearing something besides a hessian sack, she's a "slut" and "asking for it".  They should be teaching "don't rape" rather than "don't get raped".

That was all my experience of sex education at school, but I have talked to people from different grades at that school and other schools, teachers, read about the school system and have found out a lot of what goes on in sexual education.

The education we receive is discreet and sex shaming. We are taught about sex by teachers who pretend they don't know what a vagina is. We should be taught about peer pressure, body image and how to have safe, healthy sex, both physically and mentally, in an honest, sex-positive manner. I'm not talking about encouraging teenagers to have sex - if they want to, they're likely to be doing it anyway. Which is why, instead of attempting to discourage them by talking about sex like it's shameful and unnatural, what should be done, is to ensure that if they are going to have sex, they will be safe and healthy. Some sexually transmitted diseases are life threatening, but something that is still so, so, so important is for us to be shown what is healthy - both physically and emotionally, and what is positive. Show us the importance of treating your sexual partner as an equal and the importance of being able to openly discuss how you feel and what you do and don't want to do.
Some kids (like my sister and I) will have parents that make sure they're setting good examples for their children. My sister and I have a very open and honest relationship with each other and our mum, but there are parents who leave stuff like Sex Ed up to school. This is why having good sex education (and teachers/counsellors) is so very important. 

I know this is very different to the usual posts on my blog. But I really wanted to write about it and decided I wanted to put this on my blog and see if anyone else was angered by the Sex Ed that kids are receiving at school. So what are your thoughts?

Oh, and sorry if the title to this post got Salt-N-Pepa's song 'Let's Talk About Sex' stuck in your head!


Jacqueline Stewart said...

It wasn't stuck in my head until the apology at the end, and now it is. Ha! I'll listen to 'it's a she-thang' by them to get it out. :)

I think this post is good Willow and it highlights what is obviously a very important part of high school, and is often glossed over by teachers.

Sex and the proliferation sex/sexy images etc is everywhere now more than 20 (even 10) years ago because of the internet and the stats for how old someone is when they are exposed to porn is really insanely disturbing, but
I think schools, particularly ones under the government, state school system are terrified of this topic and parents complaining about the way it is taught. If the teachers say what is deemed the 'wrong thing' by a parent or student then they will get into trouble, hence, a lot of fence sitting and mumbling, or, in my classes on sex ed, learning all the names of various parts of the reproductive system via big diagrams. Um, it seems to me your teachers ARE actually giving very bad advice and perhaps need to reexamine the way they teach such a topic of rape (and everything else) . I guess the good thing about the internet is there are lots of good sites/teacher & edu packs brought out by many good organizations that can be used by teachers for free on all of these types of things, if they want to take the time to re-structure their lessons and then get the approval to actually use them from their school/gov.

Millicent Wilkinson said...

Just shared this on Twitter. Really great post. When I was at school girls and boys were split up. Whereas rape was discussed in terms of alcohol and clothing for girls, it wasn't even mentioned for the boys...
Very thought-provoking post

Rosalind said...

Willow, this was a really great piece - immensely insightful and perceptive in categorising what is wrong with the way sex education is taught in mainstream schooling. It's pretty similar here in the UK (although it sounds like it may even be worse in Australia).
I was nodding along with great gusto particularly as you noted that the messages for prevention are often placed on the victim rather than the aggressor. Both need to be taught exactly what the boundaries of consent are, and why communication is SO important.
Have you heard of a young feminist called Yas Necati? She started an amazing campaign in the UK to get consent on the curriculum.

Brilliant stuff,

OrigamiGirl said...

Hi Willow!
I want to say that I really appreciate this post. I know so few people who have had a positive sex education experience. In fact in the UK sex education isnt even compulsory. There was a vote on it recently and it got turned down, saying that it should be up to teachers. It basically means that we are stuck with each school's worth of kids only learning what that teacher feels comfortable telling. I learnt it all through experience and wise girls on the Internet.

I also feel your exasperation about the messaging around rape. The idea that it's her fault is something we have to spend our whole lives fighting. Every time the police make an anti-rape campaign series, it is always using phrasing about clothing and getting drunk. I remember the 'Don't let a good night go wrong' poster. Entirely saying it is you. Plus ignoring the stark truth that most rapes happen in the home, by people known to the victim. But I can say people are fighting and challenging this concept every day.

In response to your comments on my post about insecurities. I feel exactly how you describe about writing! That childhood passion. I wrote a whole book when I was a kid. I mean it was cliched as anything, but I wrote it all. "Diary of a Searcher". I become afraid that imagination is just oozing out of my ears and I cant get it back. :) Thank you so much for your encouragement. I have the greatest respect for you and it really made my day to see it. I got an opportunity to possibly write something for a national paper, and I am backing out because of this fear of failure. I really needed some belief.

Thank you.

Oh and I thought of some things that might interest you:
This sex education site is amazing and practical and down to earth
This Scottish anti-rape campaign directed at men not women

Lydia Armstrong said...

Kudos--American sex ed is totally backwards, especially for a country that celebrates and glorifies sex in its mainstream culture. I always loved sex ed class though, from fifth grade through college. It did teach me to be mindful of my body, the importance of my lady parts, and about things like STD's and pregnancy. I wish we included more education about contraception and protection, and stopped shaming victims of rape.

Carlota Antolin Vallespin said...

Hello! Is my first time here in your blog. This article is just perfect in what you say and how you say it!
You are the living evidence that shows how bad is the educational system which destroys creativity and imagination, and discourages the young people to continue learning.
(In Spain is even worse, and it is getting worse and worse with reforms of the government on the educational system)

Your blog and you reminds me so much to the blog of Rosalind. :)
I'm happy to know your blog. I hope that you visit mine :)


Veshoevius said...

I'm glad you wrote this intelligent and thoughtful post. I'm shocked that sex education in Australia has not moved on at all since I went to high school (more than twenty five years ago now!!). And like the first commenter pointed out, young people are exposed to the damaging influence of porn far more frequently and at younger ages than we ever were. They absolutely need guidance navigating sexuality with it being shoved in their faces all the time by industries using it to try to sell things or deliberately distorting it for financial gain like the porn industry does. Your post gives me hope that actually there are young intelligent minds that can see through the crap and can act as ambassadors for change. Though why we still need it after 25 years is a source of great disappointment to me. As you point out - rape is still being discussed like it is something you ask for if you are a girl or woman and behave in a certain way yet little is being done to change the attitude of boys/men - who arguably need more boundaries of decency instilled than ever. The number of stories I've heard (both in and out of the papers) about young boys raping someone after having watched porn and wanting to "try it out" is disturbingly high.