Birds, bees, and their privates

Yesterday I wrote that my own sexuality education began on a busy street in Milwaukee nearly 60 years ago. The national discussion of sexuality education, however, heated up over 100 years ago when the National Education Association (NEA) recommended that training be provided to teachers so that they could provide school-based programs on sexual health. Almost a decade before I was born, the U.S. Public Health Service was urging school sexuality education classes because they were concerned about the high rates of sexually transmitted infections among soldiers returning from WWII. Shortly after that, the NEA published a series of pamphlets that later became the basis of most modern school program in sexuality. 
So it seems odd to me that schools and many school-based health educators remain prudish about sexuality education. There has been a circular argument for the past 50 years that parents ought to be the primary sexuality educator of their children, but that parents don’t provide adequate education because they don’t know much themselves. They feel awkward and are thus let off the hook. So are schools. So are teachers.

bird-beeAt the end of the 19th Century, experts advised mothers to teach their daughters about the “birds and the bees,” a comparison which suggests girls lay eggs and boys pollinate them. More than 200 years later, this euphemism for human reproduction remains the same, even though the analogy is laughable for its quaintness, especially when it comes to human reproductive anatomy.

Can our communities continue to ignore this lack of access to basic information regarding our sexual health? Will we continue with our Victorian pearl-clutching, referring to genitals alternately as junk, down there, and privates? Can we at some point notice in public that sexual behaviors happen, with great regularity, and with pleasure? Will we get to a point where we can actually agree that sexual health is a worthwhile area of inquiry, health promotion, and celebration?

My own sexuality education — even if it was not quite accurate, at least it was verbally informative — began nearly 60 years ago. My sexual activity started three or four years earlier. Others described it as “playing doctor,” but there was no stethoscope or thermometer, no hospital gown or nurse’s cap. We were age mates with mutual crushes. We lived a few blocks and a few thousand dollars in family income apart. One of us was an only child; the other, the youngest of four. At six or seven, we held no degrees in medicine. It was definitely sex. It might have also been love.

In my pre-teens, another crush. Then another. No sex to speak of.

Which brings me to my point in this post: No sex to speak of. A couple of weeks ago, I witnessed three male teens boarding a train in Chicago at 8:15 AM. In frigid weather, they wore flip-flops, T-shirts, and pajama bottoms. They had no jackets or coats, but were rather wrapped in blankets. They somehow had train tickets and were travelling alone without luggage. Why were unaccompanied teens traveling to Milwaukee at 8:15 AM without proper clothing? Why was security not helping them? Could I have been the only person in rush hour to notice them? I still feel the shame of getting to my meeting on time, not knowing their fate.

At every stage of our human development, sexual health plays a role in our successes and challenges and failures.

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