Senior Family Life & Sexuality Education Instructor
Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program
(Picture taken in Kenya while providing HIV education)
Sex was not something that was widely discussed in my school growing up. I went to a large public school, where health class was required for a total of one year between middle school and high school. The sex ed unit, while not abstinence-only (thank god) was not exactly comprehensive. The “instruction” mostly relied on scare tactics and horrifying STD slideshows (STI’s were still STD’s back then!) and nowhere do I recall learning actual skills that I could use to protect myself in real life. Sadly, the memory that I recall most clearly from high school sex ed was that of a girl literally fainting at her desk while being subjected to slideshow images of vulvas covered in herpes lesions. At this time I remember thinking, “Oh boy, look at how obvious STD’s are! I will definitely be steering clear of anything that looks like that!” Needless to say, my sex education needed some work.
Insert Alison. Alison was my best friend’s brother’s girlfriend (got that?) when I was in high school. Alison did not have a background in sexuality education or public health, or anything health related for that matter, but she was a grown up, and she “knew stuff”. Thankfully, she knew that my best friend and I were not getting a proper education when it came to our bodies and keeping ourselves healthy. I do not recall exactly how she knew this, but I imagine that our discomfort in talking about the topic was a dead giveaway.
Alison called us up one Saturday morning and told us to “get dressed” because we were “going on an adventure!” Turns out the adventure was breakfast at Friendly’s followed by a trip to Planned Parenthood. I was terrified. I actually think I cried in my SuperMelt.
Alison had set up an appointment with a sexuality educator at Planned Parenthood to talk, like really talk, to my best friend and me about sex (did you know that they do that there? Planned Parenthood is awesome!) We met with a trained sexuality educator who talked to us about menstruation, pregnancy prevention, body image, and healthy communication with our partner. She even let us practice putting on a condom in her office. After that, my best friend and I each met with a doctor who verbally walked us through a typical pelvic exam and then explained the different hormonal birth control methods. I left with a goody bag of safer sex necessities, and a brain full of knowledge– ready to protect myself and make healthy decisions!
But I noticed something when I went back to school that Monday. No one else had this knowledge. It was like I had unburied a hidden treasure and was greedily hoarding it, never to let anyone else benefit from my newfound wealth. All around me, my friends were scarily misinformed or uninformed completely. They needed help and they didn’t even know it. They needed my help.
Today I teach sex ed to middle school students in the Bronx. I am excited to say that the seventh graders that I teach are getting the skills and knowledge about sexuality that I wish my teachers had given me. They are not only learning how to protect themselves from STI’s and pregnancy, but also how to communicate about their bodies, about sexual orientation, gender identity, self esteem and many other things that just weren’t discussed in my school. These amazing seventh graders are talking about sexuality in a healthy way. They aren’t using slang, and they are comfortable asking questions that will lead to real understanding. Understanding that they will one day be able to share with others who have not had the same education. They are becoming advocates for their bodies and for their sexuality, and my hope is that someday, maybe soon–they too, will pay it forward.