Sex Education That Every Teenager Would Benefit From
Originally Published: February 9, 2018
Revised: February 9, 2018
My first experience with sex education was in the fifth grade. I spent much of the course trying not to cringe as my classmates struggled to utter the words “penis” and “vagina” from a handout we had to read aloud. Throughout middle school, sex ed was limited to basic anatomy, birth control and how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs.) There was a lot of nervous chuckling during these lessons. My peers accepted that health class was awkward and just something to get over with. But I knew there had to be something better.
After finishing OWL, I became the go-to for my friends’ questions about sex and relationships.
No Shame Here
Luckily, in seventh grade, I got the opportunity to have a completely different sex ed experience. My church offers Our Whole Lives (OWL), which is a comprehensive, non-religious sexuality education program for people of all ages. There are six different curricula, each designed for a certain age group. My class was for kids in grades 7 to 9.
According to Karen Eckert, a longtime OWL facilitator at my church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring, MD, “OWL helps participants make informed and responsible decisions about their sexual health and behavior.” She says that the OWL curriculum is based on the Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education, created by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.
I got to participate in activities like brainstorming a list of all of the possible slang terms for penis, vagina and breasts. While this may seem silly, it really helped me and the other participants get more comfortable with talking about our bodies—which are nothing to be ashamed about.
Throughout the yearlong course, I learned all about body image, healthy relationships, gender identity and more. There are public schools that may not teach about sexual orientation, gender identity or other material covered in OWL because each state has its own set of rules about what can and can’t be taught in health class. According to the Guttmacher Institute, only 22 states require information about making healthy decisions around sexuality. Shockingly, just 13 states require information to be medically accurate.
The OWL outlook is that all people deserve to get honest and accurate information about sexuality in a positive environment. As Eckert says, “Activities help participants clarify values and improve decision making skills in a safe and supportive peer group.”
Although it would be a few years before I asked anyone out in real life, I got to practice asking a friend out on a date during my OWL experience. As a class, we also discussed consent and what we would do if we ever got in a situation where someone was pressuring us to have sex. These kinds of activities were empowering because they gave us a plan to handle all kinds of situations that might come up in our future relationships.
A Lasting Impact
After finishing OWL, I became the go-to for my friends’ questions about sex and relationships. I also noticed that, unlike many of my peers, I was comfortable talking about issues related to sexuality, and I knew that it shouldn’t be a taboo subject. Plus, I now feel empowered to communicate my needs clearly, whether I’m talking to a partner or a health care provider. Taking OWL had so many benefits for me—I wish every teenager could do it.
If you’re interested in taking Our Whole Lives, look into your local Unitarian Universalist and United Church of Christ congregations. Non-church-members are welcome to participate. OWL is also offered at some schools and community centers.
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