I Interviewed My 14-Year-Old To Find Out EXACTLY What Kids Learn In Sex Ed

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I Interviewed My 14-Year-Old To Find Out What Kids REALLY Learn In Sex Ed

The following is an interview I did with my 14-year-old daughter, Marcia after she graduated from the Unitarian Universalists Our Whole Lives (OWL) Lifespan Sexuality Education Program.

The OWL course she participated in is the program for 7th to 9th graders that runs for 26 weeks and covers just about everything it possibly could within that time frame, including values, gender identity, healthy relationships, and much more.

I asked Marcia these questions about her experience in middle school sex ed during a series of conversations we had while driving in the car.

My younger daughter, Cindy was also with us and chimed in a few times.

Here I’ve transcribed the essential components of our dialogue about what she understood as her takeaways from this progressive sex education program.

Me: So, parents will want to know ... now that you have all of this great sex education, does it make you want to run out and "do it"?

Marcia: Um, No! Actually having information makes you less curious because no one is hiding information from you. If you’re hiding information — and I mean it’s obvious if you’re hiding information — adults aren’t very good at hiding it, especially if they know it’s like, “Ew, embarrassing." Not hiding it and just saying it straight out makes kids not necessarily want to go out and be rebellious because they already know.

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And if you hide info from your kids, they’re more likely to go out and turn to other sources or try it out for themselves.

Me: You said it’s “obvious when parents are hiding something.” How do you guys know?

Marcia: Well, I’ve got a mother ...

(I guffaw. She laughs and says “Um, yeah. I love you.”)

It’s obvious because if they’re hiding something it means they’re not telling you, so they’re doing what they can to avoid the subject and that’s also very obvious. Because if there’s a sudden change in subject, there’s probably something you’re not “supposed to” know.

If kids don’t get good information from the people they trust and the people they trust don’t give them information, they’re going to turn to less accurate resources. And it’s actually so much better to tell your kids exactly what they need to know in their life than to have them turn to websites and learn stuff that may not be true.

Me: So you and I talked about how lots of parents don’t have good information because they didn’t learn it themselves.

Marcia: Yeah

Me: I imagine some parents don’t talk to their kids just cause they don’t know what to say cause they didn’t learn it themselves ...

Marcia: Read mom’s book. (Chuckles.)

Me: Heh! Nice pitch.

Marcia: Yeah, right?

Me: What would you say to parents who don’t have any info ...

Marcia: Don’t Google it, please.

Me: …if their kids ask them.

Marcia: Turn to an expert, like ... my mom. Anyway, um, turn to an expert because if you turn to Google or the Internet ... I mean we turn to Google for just about everything in our lives, but sex and sex education ... It’s not a good source. Talk to my mom.

Me: Did you learn something that you didn’t already know from your mom?

Marcia: Yeah, well, first of all, I learned that a birth control sponge can be a barrier method AND that it has spermicide in it.

(Little sister Cindy, who's in the background and has been listening in, now asks ...)

Cindy: What’s that?

Marcia: Eh, you’ll learn about it. Awww ... (To me:) Well, okay, this is a teaching moment! (To sister:) A barrier method ... What do you think that is?

Cindy: A barrier is something that’s hard to get past.

Marcia: Yeah. And if it’s a birth control sponge ... So, it’s a barrier for what?

Cindy: Sperm?

Marcia: Sperm, mm-hmm. And do you know what spermicides are?

Cindy (feeling sassy): “A” Plus! … What?

Marcia: It kills sperm.

Me: The root word “-icide” is in words like insecticide and pesticide. It’s a Latin root which means to kill. So spermicide means it kills sperm.

We were then interrupted from our “interview” but came back to it when Marcia wanted to correct something.

Me: So you corrected me that the sponge wasn’t your biggest takeaway. What was?

Marcia: That we are sexual beings for our entire lives. We should learn more about our bodies. We will still have the knowledge of math, language arts we get in our schoolwork. But we should learn about ourselves the first thing.

Me: That so interesting, because a little while back author Peggy Orenstein posted this picture from the American Girl book, The Care & Keeping of You 2 on Facebook.

Marcia: … a picture of the vulva.

Me: What do you notice?

Marcia: Not all of the parts are labeled.

Me: Which ones aren't labeled?

Marcia: The clitoris, clitoral hood, the outer and inner labia.

Me (totally fangirling on my kid at this point ...): Beautiful! Wonderful! I think it’s adorable that you know all the parts! Aaah!!

Marcia (mumbling): Oh my god, Mom.

Me: Okay. This is a book intended for older girls — ages 10 years and up. What do you think of that?

Marcia: I think it should have a little more information. Yeah. It’s saying, “This is what you have,” and then even in the picture it shows this "thing" but doesn’t label it. That’s gonna make them turn to other sources to find out what it is. Possibly. Unless they can turn to a parent, and sadly that’s actually not very likely.

Me: Right on.

Marcia: So, American Girl wouldn’t label the clitoris?

Me: I guess not. That’s what it looks like, doesn’t it? I wonder who decided that. And why. Did they think it would be TMI or were they trying to be minimalist?

Marcia: I guess it is because the clitoris is really sensitive and it has erectile tissue and it ... I learned about this, except now I can’t remember.

Me: It’s only function is to provide a woman with sexual pleasure.

Marcia: That. Yeah.

Me: Do you think they left it out because it's only function is to provide pleasure?

Marcia: Yeah. Cuz if people ask what the clitoris is for and then people have to say it’s for pleasure ...

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Me: So, if you were going to teach parents — as a kid talking to parents — about what’s OK and what’s not OK, what would you …

Marcia (interrupting me): Well, everything’s OK. I’d focus on values. That’s a really important aspect. I’d also focus on what to do and go over options in case of unplanned pregnancy. Telling them they have more options than just abortion or adoption.

Me: What are the options?

Marcia: Like, keep the baby. Or open adoption, which is when you get to see your child grow up even though someone else takes care of them, as opposed to a closed adoption where you don’t know anything.

Me: I recall you did an exercise where you wrote your goals and you were asked when you think you could be a mom …

Marcia: Yes, that was where I said, "If you can’t take responsibility for the possibility of having a child when you have sex, then you shouldn’t be doing it at all."

Me: When do you think you want to have kids?

Marcia: Want to or ready to?

Me: Both.

Marcia: Ready to is when I have a sustainable job and a partner who can help me. And I don’t know when I’d want to. I guess when I feel I’m ready?

Me: OK.

I had been thinking that I still needed to tell my kids that if they can’t talk to their partner about sex, they shouldn’t be having it. That seems to me to be an OK concept. Yet Marcia seemed to develop her knowledge of that all on her own after her extensive sexuality education, both in my home and through the OWL program.

When I’ve suggested this concept to adults, though, they don’t like the idea at all. And it's a challenge, that’s for sure.

It's tough to talk about sex, and about what you want and need. It’s tough to bring up STI testing and results with a new partner.

The very notion that “if you can’t talk about it, you shouldn’t be doing it” would make sex nearly impossible for lots of grown people these days, and I believe that's mainly because of the monumentally ineffective sex education most of us get. We don't learn much as it is, so to actually be required to talk about it when we constantly receive societal messages telling us the opposite sends a bizarrely mixed message.

“Say what I want? And risk being outed as a slut? Or as kinky? Or as a perv? (I mean that in a good way.) Or as someone who really isn't all that interested? There’s too much at stake!"

It would take a whole separate article for me to go into the socialization that pushes people to “pair off" before teaching them how to handle what goes along with doing so.

In our home, we live out the complete opposite of what some abstinence-only sex educators believe — that no one needs to be taught about sex, but rather that they should just “do what comes naturally” when the appropriate time comes.

I believe we can all benefit from more education about how things work. And debunking the harmful myths about sex out there is vital in order for us to ever derive true pleasure and enjoyment from sex.

In a nutshell, my teenaged daughter believes, “If you’re not ready to take responsibility for the possibility of having a kid, then you shouldn’t be having sex.

Bam. That is the opinion of a 14-year-old who has lived with open access to accurate information about sexuality for her entire life.

And I am so proud.


The MamaSutra

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Dr. Lanae St.John, ACS is a San Francisco Bay Area Board Certified Sexologist, Parenting & Relationship Coach, and Sex Educator who teaches Human Sexuality to college students at City College of San Francisco, writes a blog as “The MamaSutra” and has recently completed a manuscript for a parenting book about human sexuality. She is also the proud mother of two daughters with whom she actively embodies her message of empowerment, freedom of expression, and a sex and body-positive mentality.

This article was originally published at The MamaSutra. Reprinted with permission from the author.