Sex education for me and many young black girls in the 1980s consisted of shallow, scary, guilt-laden directives on what to and (especially) not to do. From the women in my family I learned, 1. Keep your skirt down and your panties up. 2. Good girls don’t… (do anything related to sex with men, definitely not with women, and especially not with yourself). 3. All men want is sex. The only thing my father ever said regarding sex was, “Ain’t no abortions in this house”. From school I learned that if I insisted on being a wild, unruly, teenager and having sex, absolutely use condoms because unprotected sex causes pregnancy and nasty diseases that itch, burn, stink and cause sores. Finally, from the church I learned that my body is solely for my husband’s pleasure when making babies and premarital sex will certainly send me straight to hell.
To say old school sex education was less than comprehensive is an understatement. Additionally, girls’ education was drastically different from, and often in direct opposition to, boys’. While girls were taught to guard and value virginity at all costs, boys were often encouraged prove their prowess by having sex with multiple girls and women before, during and after marriage. Girls were given chastisements for chastity. Boys were given condoms and told, “Just don’t bring home no babies”.
In addition to being inaccurate and contradictory, these lessons lacked information on anatomy (female and male), autonomy, consent, sexual assault (particularly by acquaintances and family), the reproductive process, and pleasure. How do you talk about sex and not talk about pleasure?
Not only was the teaching incomplete, it was physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually dangerous, proving detrimental to girls’ development into holistically sound women. Hence, the staggering number of sexual assault survivors who have come forward during the rise of #MeToo is not surprising given society’s, especially women’s, poor sex education. Sadder still is that as bad as the sex education of the 1980’s was, for previous generations it was worse. Basically, our parents didn’t teach us better because they didn’t know any better.
But better knowledge is widely available now. And those who know better must do better and teach others so they can do better as well. We must uproot the culture of sexual guilt, shame, oppression, repression, silence, toxic masculinity and rape that has grown from the seeds of miseducation and flourished under sexist and patriarchal reign and rain. Simultaneously, we must sow new seeds of equality, respect, honesty, trust and communication to cultivate a new society free from sexual violence.
In teaching we must continue learning, to avoid inadvertently imparting obsolete and therefore erroneous information to those trying to learn. Education, like sexuality, is fluid: it can change over time. We must be prepared to adapt. And now that we know what we must do, let’s begin. The bell is ringing. School is back in session.