Sex in the City (of Stockholm)

It is no secret that sexual education in the United States, especially the southern United States, is flawed. When I say flawed, I mean it is an old-fashioned curriculum based on heteronormative ideas and abstinence only education. Not only does this lead to misinformation, but it spreads dangerous, oppressive, and possibly unsafe myths about how to practice safe sex and what sex even is in the first place. But what if there was another way? What if sex-ed wasn’t just your gym teacher standing uncomfortably in front of the class talking about genital warts?

That’s the goal of the Furman faculty run “Sex Goes to School” May Experience. This program will compare the way Stockholm, Sweden runs its Sex Ed in comparison to the current American education system. Run by Reverend Kate Taber, a Furman University chaplain, and Dr. Erik Anderson in the philosophy program, this MayX will provide an in depth look into the differences between the two methods of education. Students chosen to participate in this MayX will have the opportunity to visit women’s clinics, talk to students, and talk to nonprofits in the Stockholm community how those ideals extend into the culture of the Sweden itself.

When I first learned of this program, what struck me immediately was the fact that this program was in part led by a chaplain. From my past experiences, I had always seen religion and sexuality as two very distinct and separate ideas. I went to high school in Portland, Oregon, so my sexual education was more liberal than most of my friends at Furman. Many of my friends who attended Christian schools had never really had Sex Ed, and the ones who went to public high school in the South received was abstinence only education. 

When I spoke with Reverend Taber about her view on this, she stated, central to “Christianity is the concept of the goodness of creation and the creation of humans as created in the image of God, which should inspire us to care for, love and celebrate our bodies and reject their being shamed, devalued, or objectified”. 

Part of learning to love your body and treat it well is to understand sexuality in a safe and positive way. She also mentions that all manners of sexuality, from body image to gender, are a part of ways people can live wholesome and meaningful lives. She doesn’t believe that our bodies are innately shameful, but instead that they should be cared for, loved and celebrated. She rejects the notion that sexuality is approached from a place of shame, as she emphasizes that shame should have no place in religion. The best way to do this is to educate about how sex can be practiced by people of all genders and sexualities in a manner that stems from celebration instead of shame.

Reverend Taber brings up an important point here. Why do we only talk about the bad parts of sex in Sex Ed? Why are our classroom conversations centered around disease and pain and unwanted pregnancy instead of intimacy, pleasure and connection? When we talk only about the pitfalls of exploring sexuality, we foster an environment where we immediately assume our own bodies to be shameful. 

That is why programs such as this MayX are so important. It is easy to get stuck in the old ways of doing things. It is easier for teachers to use the same worksheets and videos that they’ve used since the 90’s. It is easier to tell kids “just don’t do it”. It is easier to define “it” in terms of heteronormativity. But what if instead of doing what is easier, we did what was better

Reverend Taber has already tried to institute these ideas at Furman. Last semester she ran a series of CLP’s in collaboration with Housing and Residence Life and the Center for Inclusive Communities, such as Sex in the Dark, Hot and Healthy Sex, and Good Sex, which all tried to cut down the embarrassment and “uncomfortable” nature of talking openly about sex. They were some of the most popular CLP’s, demonstrating how hungry college age students are for actual sex education that can be useful and applicable for their own lives. Hopefully this MayX will enlighten a group of Furman students to see what is possible and spread the word for change.

For more information on religion and sexuality, Reverend Taber recommends Good Christian Sex by Bromleigh McCleneghan as well as Unprotected Texts by Jennifer Knust. She also encourages students to reach out to her if they want or to talk about Christianity or LGBTQIA+ issues.