What Your Middle School Sex Education Was Missing

A couple months back, I talked to my friends about the current status of sex education in public schools —especially in the southern states. We hazily recalled the details of our laughable sex education experiences, or lack thereof.  We had grown up in Georgia and Texas where abstinence-based sex education seemed more prominent. In fact, the Bible Belt has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy, according to a 2017 study by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Many of these pregnancies could be a result of a lack of sexual education. 

“I remember raising my hand in 7th grade sex ed and asking what an orgasm was,” Aundera Schroder, one of the friends in the group said. “I knew that men could finish, we had talked about that, but I didn’t know there was a female orgasm. The class erupted in laughter and the teacher quickly told me that this was a question I should ask my mom.” 

This kind of reaction quickly shamed her into thinking female orgasm, or any sort of female pleasure, was something inappropriate and embarrassing. Personally, I remember thinking it “wasn’t normal” for a girl to orgasm before her partner did. In other words, as a society, women have been taught to put the pleasure of a man first and to be ashamed of her own sexual desire and in result hiding it away. The result: Generations of women have engaged in unenjoyable sex and learned to not ask for what they want sexually, mainly because they don’t know what it is. This stems all the way back to our sex education in the seventh grade classroom and I believe the change to this particular stem of the education system should begin even before middle school.   

I decided to post polls on my Instagram story, asking for my followers to answer questions about their sex education. Questions ranged from “Was your sex education heteronormative?” to “What would you change about your sex education if you could change anything?” The responses came quickly and many of them were shocking, even troubling. What I received was basically a ton of high-school and college-aged people telling me that they had less than perfect sex educations. Some were worse than others —some people grew up in small southern towns and were too scared to come out or talk about sex in any form. Some were unsure of many sexual terms or concepts. All of them were curious to see how it could be better. 

“I was taught nothing about sex other than abstinence, so I just go for it,” one high school student responded. This response struck me as one of the most alarming from all of the responses to my polls. I know it’s not all that surprising and I know abstinence-only programs are all too common, but what this said to me was that this person wasn’t taught that they can be sexual without shame and didn’t know how to go about their sexual encounters safely. Poor education leading to a “just go for it” attitude is a sure fire way to cause teenage pregnancy, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and engage in unsatisfying sex. 

Sex education methods currently used in the United States public schools are Abstinence-Based programs and Comprehensive Sexual Education. The latter is more likely to include education surrounding STIs and contraception, but still doesn’t typically go into the idea of sex for pleasure. It seems as if teenagers aren’t learning the type of information they need to know to be able to go into sex confidently, and it is having long term negative affects on their health. 

I interviewed Alessandra Velez, a Baruch medical student focusing on Psychology, Philosophy, and Biology. She is currently in her seventh and final year. In addition, she works for the Echo Free Clinic in The Bronx as a Pre-Health Interpreter. The clinic provides an array of services including free sexual health care. You’re able to get affordable or free STI testing, contraception, and treatment based off of your financial status, no matter your immigration status or situation. Being that the clinic provides many sexual health services every day, Velez has a high knowledge of sexual health issues and the lack of education there seems to be. Velez made it clear that she can’t speak for the institution’s views, but she has been able to develop an educated opinion over her 3+ years at the clinic and seven years in medical school. 

“Abstinence-only education completely needs to go,” says Velez. She’s referring to the all-too-common program taught in public schools that hints that not having sex at all is the best way to go. It’s unrealistic and sets teens up to not be able to make educated decisions about sex. “I cant’ speak for Echo, but speaking for myself, just seeing the age of the patients and listening to some of the questions we get asked and sort of noting how young some girls are when they had their first kids or first sexual experience, it seems like girls should be given the information (sex education) as soon as they start menstruating.” Velez also believes it would be beneficial for public schools to give out information on where people can go for free sexual health care, such as the clinic because often times young people are uncomfortable asking their teachers or parents themselves. 

Velez has noticed that younger girls are typically less likely to talk about female orgasm or ask for what they want during sex, as opposed to women with children who have become more comfortable with their bodies. This is why it is important to implement sex for pleasure into sexual education curriculums. In the long run, it’ll help remove the shame and stigma surrounding female orgasm and pleasure and lead to more satisfying relationships. She also believes masturbation needs to be taught and normalized because the more comfortable you are with your body and the more you know about your own anatomy, the more you will be able to know what to ask for during sexual experiences. 

“Eighty percent of women can’t orgasm through penetration alone,” she says. “I think men and women need to both understand their own anatomy. I think if there was this anatomical understanding of the fact that it is a basic function of biology, the same as 2 plus 2 is 4, the same as gravity, that the clitoris needs to be stimulated if a woman is going to be satisfied, it would do a lot to get rid of misconception (that women will always orgasm through penetration alone). Porn and movies badly portray sex and this can be misleading.” 

This is why she firmly believes masturbation should be taught early and the stigma surrounding sexual issues should be taken away at a young age. Also the fact that you do not have to have penetration to engage in sex should be taught and normalized. Sex can range from oral to penetrative sex and is different for everyone. 

Kids should learn about their anatomy early so later on when sex is brought up in a middle school sex ed class, jokes are less likely to be made and kids are more likely to take away a helpful education. If this was made more common in households and schools, it would be easier for people to have satisfying relationships and to avoid sexual health problems. Ideally, parents will start normalizing sex from a young age, so when their kids learn in school they have open minds. It is also important for schools to base their education programs around the fact that teens will most likely start having sex before leaving high school. Providing resources — like where to get affordable sexual health care — will be more beneficial than abstinence-only education.