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For a young person, it often seems like everyone’s having sex, or at least talking about doing it.
In the past, sexual education classes in schools have primarily focused on abstinence programs. Students were discouraged from engaging in sexual behavior, and were not given a realistic picture of what they should expect or seek out when it comes to sex.
“We know that school has never been the place where this [sexual] education really happens,” says Jonathan Zimmerman, professor at NYU and author of “Too Hot To Handle.”
Zimmerman explains that the kind of education students may receive in a formal institution is often fairly limited, focusing more on the basic mechanisms in reproduction rather than on the issues that kids are really curious about.
Young people, says Zimmerman, wonder with whom they should engage in these activities, when to do so, and where. They are interested in whether or not love should play a factor, what exactly constitutes consent, and if their concerns and tastes are normal or acceptable.
He explores this issue in “Too Hot To Handle” by addressing the societies which promote sex positive education and yet still don’t show progress in integrating these programs into schools.
“It turns out that sex and school don’t play well together,” says Zimmerman, in reference to progressive, sex positive countries such as Sweden.
“When you get a bit closer,” he clarifies, “it turns out that there really is little or no mention of the subject in a lot of Swedish.”
Where, then, are students gaining their knowledge of sexuality and intimacy?
Zimmerman says that, historically, we gain this information from three sources: peers, family, and mass media. Educators certainly attempt to jump in at times, but often reside at the lower end of the list.
Part of the problem involves the attitudes of these educators who believe schools should stick to the basic information rather than expand their lessons to cover detailed topics. They fail to align with sex positivity, and therefore aren’t listening to the young people they teach.
Allison Moon, author of “Girl Sex 101” and sex positive speaker, explains the importance of approaching sex as a natural aspect of life in the classroom. Learning about intercourse should not leave out specific individuals and groups either.
“Sex positive education is based on the idea that everyone deserves access and sovereignty to there own sexuality,” Moon explains to BTRtoday.
Moon advocates for honest discussion on sex and believes that the responsibility falls on educators to provide students with factual, affirmative information on sexuality.
Groups at risk of alienation by dated sex-ed information include people who are asexual, who actually want to get pregnant, want to be intimate with different partners on a frequent basis, or have fetishes and kinks that are considered taboo.
“When we talk about sex as a part of humanity,” Moon says, “everyone can learn something.”
Moon specializes in lesbian issues on her website, stressing the substance of keeping an open dialogue where both young and old can freely voice their thoughts on sexuality. She believes that parents and school administrators are afraid of teen pregnancy, sexual assault, and losing their children to disease, so much so that they close off all discussion.
“Hiding information won’t protect your children, but giving them the facts will,” she clarifies, in the hope that parents will readily initiate those difficult discussions if they understand it is the only way to truly keep their children safe. Real sex positivity includes people of all sexualities, genders, and preferences; even adults who feel less than comfortable speaking candidly on these subjects should not prohibit their children from a comprehensive education.
“Educators and parents need to be brave and offer the right information to their kids, with the faith that their kids will properly integrate this information and make the right choices for themselves,” Moon states.
Moon advocates forthright conversation that focuses on consent, communication, relationship skills, anatomy, sexual health, and identifying when something feels or seems wrong. In addition to these subjects, she promotes learning about sexual orientation and gender identity, contraception, STIs, and the many reasons why people chose to have or not have sex.
“All the lessons good parents are trying to instill in their children fit inside these parameters,” Moon argues. “Lessons like self-respect, respect for others, tolerance for difference, and making smart choices are essential for raising bright, healthy kids.”
These lessons are the pillars of an education that forms openness, honesty, and acceptance.
The conclusion to Zimmerman’s book, “A Mirror, Not A Spearhead,” sums up why sex positivity is only just reaching popularity in the USA.
Zimmerman explains that the kinds of lessons we teach tend to reflect our own evolving growth and nature. Schools are reflectors of that change rather than leaders, which is why sexual education in formal institutions has never been particularly groundbreaking.
After all, if we can’t speak openly with our children on these subjects how can we expect them to grow up comfortable in their own skins or accepting of others who may live life differently than them?
Moon says that the number one question she hears on a daily basis, from all kinds of people, is whether or not someone is normal for having their specific preferences and tastes. She believes that sex positive education helps teach our children, as well as our peers, that no individual should feel shame or embarrassment over their sexuality.
“We all just want to feel normal, but the truth is that there is no true normal,” Moon explains.
“Everyone is weird, everyone has a thing that’s different from their neighbors or friends, and everyone has a different shape and pattern of desire. Variance is the norm.”