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Forum gets real on sexual education

Lauren Alley, Peter Dissinger and Ariel Kravitz

At Washington University, we are lucky to be a part of a (usually) liberal, progressive culture that promotes healthy sexuality and allows students to explore their sexual preferences without ridicule. But, as the Forum staff has found, our backgrounds in sexual education vary greatly, and they deserve to be examined equally. Without further ado, here is Forum’s take on a serious sex issue:

What is the basic style of sexual education you received in high school?

Peter: I went to a progressive Quaker School that highly valued healthy sexual education, thanks largely to a single literature professor who was also a human sexuality educator. That teacher, Mr. V, has become nationally famous for his ideas on sexuality (see his Ted Talk on the Pizza Model for sex), and now teaches all 9th graders about important topics like defining sexual intercourse, understanding the spectrum of sexuality and discussing the differences between gender and sex. I elected to take a seminar in my senior year that examined these topics in greater detail, so my “sex ed” was definitely among the most extensive and liberal that you can find in the United States.

Ariel: I like to think I received the cliche, suburban Midwest sexual education: gym teacher, straight from a textbook and primarily about pregnancy. You could tell the gym teacher treated the unit as a bad conversation with a distant relative. At the time, I thought we were receiving a decent education (Hey, at least we had a sex ed program!) but there were topics that we never talked about. For example, consent. Or the clitoris. Or IUDs. Or female masturbation. Or Plan B. Or non-heteronormative sex. Basically, anything except the straight man’s experience was conveniently left out.

Lauren: I went to a Catholic high school in Missouri that practiced abstinence teaching. Instead of teaching kids how to be safe they spent about six weeks of every year teaching something called “Theology of the Body.” My teacher told us that sex was fun but only for man and wife, and just for making babies. True love was “fruitful” only when you could produce offspring. Whenever I found ways to poke holes in her logic, she would respond, “If it is meant to be Jesus will find a way.”

What is a prominent memory you have of this sex ed?

Peter: The seminar I just mentioned, called Sexuality and Society, has an annual “Condom and Lube” day, where we come into class and examine over 30 types of condoms and a variety of lubricants. Our teacher gave us the lowdown on everything from flavored to female condoms, lambskin versus latex and the advantages of silicone-based lubricant (a real wonder if you haven’t tried).

Ariel: Our gym teacher teach our sexual education class. However, we had a student teacher that semester—a 22 year old male college student. He taught a good portion of the sex ed while our teacher, nicknamed “J.Loh” sat in the back and observed. Now, our class was separated by sex (the boys were with the male gym teacher, the girls with the female gym teacher), so 20 14-year-old girls were being taught about their vaginas by a very attractive college guy. It was simultaneously awesome and humiliating.

Lauren: In one class in my sophomore year, the teacher had a girl put out her arm to demonstrate a point about sex. Without asking permission, she stuck a large piece of duct tape on the girl’s arm. She told multiple stories about sexually active couples that eventually broke up. After every story, she ripped the tape off the girl’s arm and then she stuck it back on and told another story. At the end of this insanity, she called the tape used and ruined. Apparently, in “giving it up” to guys, we become less human until eventually we are incapable of ever being loved.

What did you take away from your sexual education?

Peter: The most important thing I learned is that open communication is a part of a healthy sexuality, both with your significant other (and for those who are comfortable with their sexual selves) and your close friends. Sexuality is never something to be ashamed of; it is something to be celebrated privately and publicly.

Ariel: I came away from sex ed thinking female condoms were a whole lot more relevant than they actually are. My teacher made it seem like it was the second most common form of birth control next to condoms, whereas most women I know are either on the pill or have an IUD. I have yet to see a female condom, and honestly, I hope I never do. They sound super weird.

Lauren: The class made the majority of people bitter toward the church’s teachings. Many disregarded the teachings completely, doing the polar opposite of what they were taught. The one thing that was nice was that my school emphasized love making over hooking up. They just did it in a very twisted, judgmental way (you shouldn’t need a piece of paper to make love). Both are fun of course, but I believe it is more fulfilling to love who you are with.

Any thoughts on the culture here at Wash. U. ?

Peter: I think that our school likes to think of ourselves as a politically and socially liberal climate, but there are times where our attitudes toward sexuality are overtly heteronormative and frankly, really vanilla. Greek Life especially is a place where sexuality can tend to be a black and white issue that only gets talked about in very private places (with your significant other or a best friend). Sometimes, Wash. U. isn’t as open to healthy sexuality as we might like to think it is.

Ariel: My thoughts are probably a bit skewed. Being a WGSS major and involved in many feminist and sex-positive organizations, I talk about sex a lot in very casual settings. Birth control is just another medication to me—“Oh, you have an implant? How does that work for you?” But while sex is talked about a lot, it’s always in an abstract way. At Wash. U., we may start the conversation on sexuality, but we never actually finish it.

Lauren: The culture at Wash. U. is much more accepting than I am used to. There is less slut shaming and people are more confident with their sexuality. I haven’t noticed guys touching themselves at parties, passing around what nudes they have received or talking about how well shaven their last conquest was. People here are not faced with the need to rebel that my high school felt so it all just feels more tame.