When I was in the third or fourth grade, my class was met with a startling change. I recall it more vividly than I probably should; we had just finished reading class and were preparing to go outside for P.E. class, stuffing our ragged books back into the desks we had pulled them from and had begun to throw on our jackets, ready to embrace the midmorning April chill, when a sprightly woman entered the room.
"Alright, friends," she announced, her high-pitched voice travelling slowly so that our underdeveloped minds would comprehend it, "Boys need to go to room 103, and girls need to go to room 108."
And with that, we were instructed to form two lines, divided by the sexual binary we thought so little of at the time, and were marched into our respective classrooms. I couldn't tell you what the boys' room was like, and can only begin to imagine what was discussed, but in the front of our room was a SmartBoard, upon which was the image of a smiling girl and the words "Your Developing Body".
You can imagine where this went; we heard our first instance of the words "vagina" and "ovaries", found out what a tampon was for, and discovered that some day we'd be hairy, sweaty, smelly, acne-covered monstrosities. We were also given small, flower-printed bags filled with our first deodorants, pads, and a booklet covering the basics of a female's development through puberty.
There grew a sort of divide between the girls of our class; half of us (including myself), simply wanted to forget what we'd learned and never face the fact that we'd one day have periods, while the other half was fascinated by what their bodies were going through. This group of girls decided that day to form a sort of club to help teach themselves about puberty and to embrace the beauty of womanhood.
Later that day, as I was passing through the library, I caught a glimpse of the "detention table", where sat that very group of girls. As soon as their time was up, I approached them and asked how and why they were there. I was told by one of them (who happened to be a good friend of mine) that they were being punished for speaking to a boy about what we had been told during our session. The girls explained to him how the female body functioned and showed him a few examples from their booklets. They were told by a teacher that "boys don't need to know about that kind of stuff."
To this day, I remain puzzled about the segregation our class was put through for the discussion of sex and puberty. Why was it so important that we never discover the secrets of the opposite sex? I always saw this as more of an annoyance at most until I discovered just how imperative a proper sex education is.
229,715 babies in 2015 were born to teenage parents. Nearly half of STD cases are from teenagers. There's obviously a problem with sex education in America, but what exactly is that problem? Let's take a look at three major flaws in the system.
Abstinence-Only Sex Education
Let's face it-- the goal to prevent sex in teenagers is a futile one, whether you support it or not. It seems obvious: scare teens into not having sex, and they won't have it. However, this has proven unsuccessful ; not only does it fail to lower the rate of sexually-active teenagers, it also fails to inform them on how sex is properly and safely done, which can lead to both injury and illness. Abstinence-only education tends to show a strong bias for religion, and therefore will often times display harmful views of transgenderism and homosexuality. Teens don't need to be told not to have sex-- they've heard that from their parents for years. What they need is sex education that teaches how to safely go about having sex.
If you're lucky enough to not have to suffer through an abstinence-only sex education, it's likely that the only form of sex you were taught how to safely have was with a partner of the opposite sex. Of course, this is useful for most students, but what about the students that prefer same-sex partners? Most LGBT teens resort to the internet for a proper sex-education, and this simply isn't satisfactory; LGBT teens have a right to a proper sex education like anyone else . Though the idea of LGBT people transmitting more STDs than straight people is often used as harmful propaganda against them, there is a legitimate reason for this belief; if LGBT people aren't taught how to engage in sexual intercourse, there's a higher risk of illness and injury, just like in an abstinence-only education.
Going back to my own experience with sex ed, gender segregation proved to be more harmful than helpful. Sex is natural, and puberty is something that nearly every human goes through, but by separating us and not allowing us to collaborate with each other to achieve understanding perpetuated the idea that there was something taboo about the subject. When sex education is coed, students are allowed to have a more rounded education and fully comprehend sex a lot sooner. Segregation also proved harmful for students like me who at a young age did not fit the sex/gender binary; I am intersex, and therefore went through a different type of puberty than my female peers. While we were being taught that we'd have periods, mine never came, and though we were taught that the large amount of estrogen may make us emotional, the large amount of testosterone in my own body caused me to be aggressive. I can only imagine how uncomfortable the unaccommodating nature of the class could have made any transgender students feel. However, had the class not been segregated, this would not have been a problem; the education would have been equal on all fronts.
Though the topic of sex ed is controvercial and heavily-debated, it's no secret that changes are necessary in order to keep the youth of our nation safe and free to healthily explore themselves and others.