“Human sexuality, unlike calculus, is something you actually need to know about for the rest of your life,” said political satirist and comedian John Oliver on his HBO television show, “Last Week Tonight.”
That’s just one perspective into the current standard of sex education in America. Society has changed a lot over the past several decades. We’ve seen our culture grow and adapt to technology, and we’ve evolved into a society that’s becoming more accepting of individual differences. Women are more empowered to embrace themselves and their sexuality, and men are quickly following suit. We are living in a new age of acceptance and tolerance.
Controversy surrounding sex and sexuality has come forefront time and time again. It’s a popular subject in politics, religion and activism, leading to disputes about what is right and wrong. Changing the way we view sex and sexuality opens the door for us to learn and become educated, thus having more positive experiences. Leading the way for sex education is Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit that’s recently been in the line of fire in the media. They believe that educating everyone about sexuality, instead of looking at it just as an act of sex, helps us to have conversations that we aren’t typically comfortable having.
Everybody’s Doing It
The majority of humans will encounter sex at some point in their lives. Building a positive connotation around the word “sex” is important for educators trying to move people to have a more scientific view of sex. Ehryn Barthelme is the education manager for Planned Parenthood in Rochester. She advocates on the side of promoting education. Her priority is providing open communication for people to learn about something that will probably affect their lives at some point.
Right here in Rochester, Planned Parenthood runs several programs, including outreach at local fairs and festivals, Parent Programming, Peer Education and a Women’s Health Night. For adults, they have an Advisory Committee. “All of our programs are comprehensive sex ed.,” says Ehryn.
Open Communication Builds Trust
It’s difficult to find the right time to have the “sex talk,” but it’s important. Consider how the average teenager learns about sex: social media, the internet, television and their friends. It’s easy to see how misinformation spreads.
Ehryn advises people to find someone they trust: a friend, parent, other family member or partner. She says, “Talking about a relationship between characters in a movie or dissecting song lyrics can be a fun way to examine healthy traits or possible red flags that appear in everyday relationships.” The point is to just start talking.
You’re Never Too Young or Old
Ehryn says her dream for the future of sex education is to have a standard of teaching set across the country. According to the National Conference of State Legislature, 24 states mandate public schools to teach sex education, 33 states mandate students receive instruction about HIV/AIDS and 20 states mandate that if provided, sex and/or HIV/AIDS education has to be medically, factually or technically accurate. That means there are possibly 13 states that are providing medically inaccurate information and 17 states that aren’t required to teach students anything about sex and sexuality.
Ehryn wants people to know that it’s never too late to start the conversation, even if you have kids in college. She says, “Knowledge builds confidence.” Confidence is sexy, so when you give someone the power of knowledge and build their confidence, they pass on that information. If you want to help shape minds and become more informed, become a part of the local Planned Parenthood Advisory Committee. If you have or know young teens who would make great leaders and educators amongst their peers, they can become Peer Educators. If you or someone you know would like more information on educational programs from Planned Parenthood or would like to volunteer, visit PlannedParenthood.org.
Caitlin Summers is a local certified personal trainer and nutrition and wellness consultant.