I know I've probably mentioned this before, but I had the opportunity to teach in a really special kind of program when I was in high school. It was called Teen PEP, short for Teen Prevention Education Program. This was a glorified Sex Ed class, geared specifically toward the freshmen at my school. But I always try to take the time to tell people just how different this program was. We worked one-on-one with kids and encouraged them to talk about sex in a way that they never were before. And it would surprise one to think that they actually wanted to talk. A few weeks in, they were genuinely excited to talk. But also - after a pretty short time - I realized just how much our schools really weren't teaching them about sex.
Here's the first problem: Before Teen PEP came along, freshmen at my school did not get a Sex Ed class. It was written into the curriculum that they would get one marking period - maybe 2 or 3 months - of Sex Ed in their Senior Year. But kids are having sex younger and younger now, and that's a fact of our society that we really need to stop trying to get around. That's exactly what this program did. Because girls can get pregnant at 13 or 14. It sucks, but it's true. And they need to know that they have resources available to them. And maybe - just maybe - if they are shown that people were there to help them, these accidents would happen less.
I'm obviously not condoning the idea of 12 or 13-year-olds having sex, but I think the least we can do is teach them that it can be done safely. Sex Ed in the public school system today does the exact opposite of that. These classes are basically a PSA disguised as a biology lesson. Kids look at diagrams of the penis and the vagina and try their damn hardest not to giggle. And they cringe while an out-of-touch, unenthused teacher lists all the weird and smelly symptoms of every STI imaginable. They know about herpes and chlamydia, we spare literally no expense in teaching them about that. Yet we don't teach them how to put on a damn condom to prevent these infections. We teach sex strictly in terms of its physical consequences, and I never understood how that made sense. Because the curriculum offers no resources or practical situations that could help them in the real world. So, all these classes do is leave kids terrified and ill-prepared for when they actually have sex themselves.
Sex Ed classes do not encourage young people to have sex; it's almost hilarious, how wrong that assumption is. Schools are supposed to prepare them for a successful transition into the real world. And -with how triumphantly flawed the public school system is already - I feel like it's our responsibility to at least get Sex Ed right. That's why Teen PEP was so special. We didn't teach freshmen based off of some pre-existing belief about kids and sex. We taught them that abstinence is the only 100% effective way to stay safe. But we also taught them that sex - done safely and when they're ready - is perfectly okay. We encouraged them to make their own decisions and provided them with the right help and resources for either side.
Programs like Teen PEP encourage conversation among everyone involved; freshmen, student leaders, and parents. What it was supposed to do was slowly eliminate the social taboo of talking about sex with your parents. Yes, it's obviously a little awkward at first. But after getting over the initial embarrassment, it's really not all bad. All the talk of diseases and death in regular Sex Ed classes discourages kids from going to their parents with any legitimate, practical questions. And if kids feel like they can't talk about sex with adults, why are they being taught Sex Ed by someone as old as them? Believe me, it made so much difference, having 18-year-olds teach them instead of 50-year-olds.
Sex is so much more than just penis-in-vagina. It's so much more than just biology. Teen PEP showed the freshmen at my high school how to navigate the real world safely. The actual real world, not the "real world" filled with gonorrhea and pregnancy that schools try to teach you about. We didn't try to shield them from the things in life that would inevitably happen to them. Kids need to know what should and shouldn't feel okay during sex, physically and emotionally. They need to know - boys and girls - that it's okay to say no. They need to know what to do to get out of a situation that they don't feel safe in. And what we as a society really need to do is pull our heads out of our asses and show young people that sex for pleasure is okay.
Sex is natural and - with the right person - it can be a great experience. Young people need to know how to make these smart decisions. Giving kids the tools to make these decisions safely was something that I loved getting to do when I was in high school. Because our Sex Ed curriculum today is highly flawed. As a society, we're fine with showing kids pictures of emaciated cocaine addicts and twisted, mangled victims of drunk driving. But God forbid we try to teach them about birth control.