The first time I was introduced to sexual education was back in elementary school. Our teacher, Ms. Isabel, briefly murmured at the end of class that at the end of the week all sixth grade students would be watching a video on “changes in our bodies”. This interesting and slightly unnerving description of the video was the talk of the town -- or at least of the sixth grade. Our attentiveness was gone with the mention of the concept of sex and the only learning our class did that week was finding out who’s parents weren’t going to let their kids watch.
My mom had always been very open with me about sexual health and health in general since she worked in the medical field. Every time I had what we called, “a body question”, her dusty college anatomy book quickly came out. Flipping through the pictures and reading scientific explanations was my foundation for sexual education. So of course, with no hesitation, she allowed me to watch “the movie”.
It was finally Friday. As class came to an end, the girls and boys were separated into their own rooms. In the boy’s room, a teacher that I had never met before stood in front of the class. He was going to be holding the discussion. Since Ms. Isabel was a woman, I’m assuming she ended up with the girls. Regardless, a majority of our class didn’t know the man who was about to talk to us about manhood.
The class started off with the movie. After the conclusion of the 1970’s film, there was a brief open discussion. Some of my peers spoke freely, asking questions and expressing interest. I, however, did not. When there were no more questions left we were sent off with a party-favor-like goodie bag filled with deodorant, combs, and a few other toiletry items. To this day I am convinced that in some way that brown paper bag was my official certificate into manhood. That was it; I was now a certified man. We were even inducted by the wise elders.
This hour-long fiasco resulted in not much more than the next week’s rumors of what had been said in the other sex’s class and who asked what questions.
My next run-in with sex ed was in high school when all sophomores were forced to take a class called Health. Health class was enjoyable because it focused on a wide variety of topics. The teacher, Ms. Whaley, covered healthy eating, proper exercise, and we even had a day of meditation. And then there was our sexual health unit. Now, Ms. Whaley was very blunt with the class. She knew that the STDs and STIs we were learning about were sensitive topics, so she made it a point to make the sensitivity clear and let us know that we can always talk to her one-on-one. I think this really helped some quieter students get questions answered.
But again, in a similar fashion as in sixth grade, I felt like the mechanics of sex, the importance of protection, and the harm of STDs were just thrown at us. It was purely physical. We never discussed concepts like emotional cues, the importance of gender equality in relationships, and homosexuality. With such a heteronormative syllabus, I cannot imagine how out of place a young LGBTQ+ member would have felt. Reflecting on my own experiences of school taught sexual education, I realized that there must be a better way.
I came across a medium article written about a school in Canada called Georges P. Vanier Junior High School that truly teaches sexual education differently. WiseGuyz, a nonprofit based in Calgary, recently set out to reshape the way youth, especially young males, learn sex ed. By covering broader categories like the over sexualized representation of women in the media and the social concept of masculinity, these WiseGuyz are trying to tackle the problem with sex ed head on.
Students covered modules on human rights, gender, sexual health, and healthy relationships in general. Within these categories, students say topics can range from sexual violence to consent, and from LGBTQ+ relationships to homophobia. The topics are diverse and cover social ground that normal sexual education steers away from.
With such a diverse syllabus comes a lot of learning. Their hope with the program is to grow awareness for young males so they can make more educated decisions. The Calgary Sexual Health Centre claims that many cases of STD’s and STI’s happen to young boys who are not informed well enough to know to use protection during sex. The WiseGuyz know that the solution to a healthier, more sexually conscious society is information and education, and the results of the program seem to agree.
The United States also has to start making more of an effort to reshape their sexual education programs and move beyond the videos of "How to Put a Condom on a Banana" if they want to improve sexual health. If programs like WiseGuyz continue to prove themselves successful, then it’s only a matter of time before everyone else finally understands the importance of the social implications of sexual education and decides to follow suit.
Check out the original article below: