Madison Kimrey is student, actress, writer and activist who fights for LGBT rights, humane treatment of animals, women’s rights and promotes youth activism and participation in democracy.
High school is a complicated time in life. We’re preparing for college and careers, we’re defining and expressing ourselves, and we’re thinking about sex. However, the way many of my peers are thinking about sex is extremely unhealthy. Many of them are thinking about it as a way to level-up their relationships, as something that will make them more adult-like, and many view sex as something dirty.
The messages teens get from many adults and from society do little but to reinforce these unhealthy views on the topic. It makes many adults uncomfortable to have frank discussions on the subject, either with or in front of teens, and because of this, teens are even less likely to engage in frank discussions themselves.
Even more disturbing and unhelpful are sex education programs designed to indoctrinate teens into a particular mindset regarding the most personal of topics. Abstinence-only programs are the manifestation of adult fear. In order to keep teens from making “bad decisions,” adults step in to attempt to control the decision making. The tactics used in such programs range from instilling fear into teens that any sexual relationship will lead to STD’s, pregnancy, or feelings of shame to directly trying to shame teens by comparing those who are sexually active to a piece of passed-around chocolate or chewed-up gum.
Probably the most perturbing example of the desire for adult control over teen sexuality is the concept of purity balls, where young girls pledge their virginity to their fathers, who will then stand guard over their virginity until marriage. Talk about the ultimate objectification of women, there you go. Instead of being taught that all the beauty inside their minds and hearts is the most valuable thing they possess, these girls are taught that their bodies and their virginity are their greatest treasures. They are taught they are incapable of making competent decisions to guard their supposed most precious treasures and need Daddy to do it for them.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with remaining a virgin until marriage. But the fact is, even if you wait until your wedding night, there is still going to be a first time. And in order for that first time to be the pleasurable experience it should be, both physically and emotionally, you’re going to have to communicate with your partner beforehand and during.
No one is going to be prepared to discuss sex with another person until they themselves are informed. Planned Parenthood has created a very good starting point for teens to do just that on their website. There is information available on your body, birth control and pregnancy, STD’s, and a variety of other topics. There are interactive quizzes to match you with knowledge based on your answers, and a live chat where you can get information based on your questions.
But still, this is not enough. Just because you know all the basics doesn’t mean you’re ready for sex. There is still much to explore, consider, and discuss. Scarleteen is the most comprehensive and straight-up honest resource I’ve found to inform and encourage the kind of discussions teens should be having with our partners and ourselves. It’s not a website I would recommend for those still at the stage of giggling anytime someone mentions a reproductive organ. This is a website designed to engage you and make you think, a place to explore and have your questions answered. It will seriously make you consider what you want in relationships, both physical and otherwise. It will help you set your boundaries and help you decide when you’re truly ready to expand those boundaries in the future.
This world needs more Scarleteen. This point can be no more clearly illustrated than by my friend Kimberley Johnson’s book The Virgin Diaries, in which the very real experiences of first times ranging from wonderful to incredibly awkward to horrific are shared in order to give real voices to topics that aren’t covered in sex ed books.
The teen years are awkward. They’re supposed to be. If nothing else, there is one point that I want my peers to take away from the perspective of sex education. The awkwardness of your communications is directly related to what you’re ready for in relationships. If you can’t talk about it with your partner, you’re not ready to do it, whether it be kissing or going all the way.
We are all under tremendous pressure from society and from each other. Both girls and guys are way too often in a damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation. We girls are judged by what we wear; told that if we don’t cover ourselves it’s an open invitation for guys to conduct themselves in ways that go beyond our personal boundaries. Guys are pressured to conduct themselves in ways that go beyond our personal boundaries in order to “prove” their masculinity. It’s ridiculous. Even more ridiculous is the labeling of girls as sluts out of jealousy and insecurity because of the way they dress or because they’ve made the personal decision to be sexually active, and labeling guys as “pussies” because they aren’t trying to get every girl they meet to sleep with them.
We, adults and teens alike, are taking experiences that should be fantastical and making them dirty, shameful, and way more confusing than they need to be. I am extremely fortunate in the fact my parents let me own my own life. They don’t prescreen the people I hang out with, I don’t have a curfew as long as they know where I am, and if I told my mother tomorrow I needed a ride to Planned Parenthood, she would take me. My parents and adult mentors aren’t afraid to have frank discussions with me and they don’t lecture me. They encourage me to be informed and they trust me to make good decisions. As a result, I tend to put more thought into making good decisions, not based on the expectations of others, but on my own expectations of myself.
Sex education for the majority of teens is dictated by policy decisions. Policy decisions start in the voting booth. While teenagers do need to know abstinence is an option, it makes no difference unless it’s an option that’s respected. The only way it can truly be respected is if my peers truly respect abstinence and all the other decisions that are extremely personal and individual to everyone as being equal to one another.
Adults are just as responsible as teens are for influencing poor decision-making, yet we get the majority of the blame. By reinforcing negative, fear-based, and unhealthy attitudes about sex, adults set the stage for teens to do the same. The fact is that trying to control decisions by limiting choices and access to information simply does not work. What does work is comprehensive sex education programs that give teens the information they need. Adults should not be surprised if they treat us as nothing more than a bunch of raging hormones incapable of controlling ourselves, that this is exactly what we will act like.
The youth of this nation cannot sit by silently and allow adults to control the conversation on sex education policy. Instead of being obsessed with taking our relationships to the next level, think of what we could accomplish if we supported policies to take sex education to the next level, promoting the kinds of conversations that will lead to healthier outcomes for our peers and more pleasurable physical and emotional outcomes for ourselves.
I have friends who have made pledges to each other with purity rings, made pledges to be sexually active in committed relationships, and made pledges to be physical and have open relationships, all of which are decisions I can accept without judgment. The pledge that my generation really needs to be making, however, is the pledge to engage with our lawmakers, and, as soon as possible, at the polls. We have the ability to replace ignorance with information, shame with dignity, poor outcomes with positive ones, and confusion with empowerment.
If we don’t start taking responsibility and taking action, we have no one to blame but ourselves if the conversation on sex education goes like this one with Texas Governor Rick Perry:
|Kimberley A. Johnson (BIO) is the author of The Virgin Diaries and an activist for women’s rights. Like her on Facebook, Twitter or follow her on FB HERE.|