Feminism | Posted by Amber0sine on 11/3/2015

The Importance of Comprehensive Sex Education in Faith Communities

Sex, Etc.

Sex, Etc.

Growing up, neither my parents nor anybody in my religious community spoke honestly about women’s sexual wants or needs. I was taught to follow a single rule: to remain pure until I got married and could satisfy my future husband’s sexual needs. To this day, my parents still regard sex as an act that happens only between a husband and wife and believe those who act otherwise are condemned to a lifetime of shame and damnation. While most of my peers had at least an inkling about what sex was by the time they reached adolescence, therefore, I remained uninformed.

That changed in fifth grade. My school held a seminar about “what happens when a girl becomes a woman.” We were handed permission slips and told to get our parents’ signatures. Like any curious child, I was excited to learn what my body was about to go through and skipped home — only to have the paper torn up by my parents. I was angry and felt that my parents were effectively manipulating me by not allowing me to learn about my own body. I decided to forge their signature on a spare slip my friend found and attended the seminar.

I’m glad I did. The class turned out to be the first time in my life any adult figure actually addressed developmentally appropriate issues related to puberty and sex — like physiological development, sexual health, and relationships. I learned that I would soon get my period, about the difference between male and female anatomy, the purposes of birth control beyond contraception, the importance of sexual communication and consent, and even about homosexuality.

This experience led me to believe that comprehensive sex education like this should be taught in all communities. Each year, as many as 850,000 teens have unwanted pregnancies and youth under the age of 25 experience about 9.1 million STIs according to the organization Advocates for Youth. This is particularly a problem within religious communities, as studies show the teen birth rate is higher in states with high proportions of religious residents. These states also frequently implement non-contraceptive and abstinence only sexual education, which has been proven ineffective. Comprehensive sex education, on the other hand, helps young people make healthy decisions about sex and protects adolescents from pregnancy and sexually transmitted illnesses at first intercourse and during later sexual activity.

What’s more, comprehensive sex education helped affirm the way I view the intersection of my faith and sexuality. I never really understood why I should only worry about fulfilling the needs of my husband and not consider my own wants and needs. Although there seems to be a widespread notion that women who care about their own needs are “selfish,” I felt it was selfish for a husband to deny his wife pleasure. Ultimately, I decided if I was going to choose abstinence, it would be my personal choice — not an attempt to adhere to the expectations upheld for women in my religious community. I don’t believe that my connection with God is based on the status of my virginity. God and I will always have an understanding that how I regard my faith and what I do with my body are separate matters.

Even despite this education and reaching this conclusion, though, I’m still generally uncomfortable talking about my sexual habits unless I am certain I am among people who will not judge my choices. I am still very much influenced by the culture of silence in which I was raised. I still have not told my parents that I went to this class, nor about following events and experiences that allowed me to break the barrier that had been constructed between my faith and sexuality.

Ultimately, I believe comprehensive sex education should not be seen as incompatible with religion. Faith communities purport to promote justice for all people, to value personal responsibility and independence, and to affirm their dignity. Open conversations about sex accomplish these things by providing young women with a sense of self worth, responsibility and a better understanding of their own bodies. Rather than prohibiting young women from getting all the information about their bodies, they should be educated about accurate, safe and effective sexual health so that they have the tools and resources they need to build the kind of lives and relationships they want for themselves.

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  • Round-Up: Nov. 5, 2015 | Gender Focus @ at 7:35 am, November 5th, 2015

    […] the importance of comprehensive sex ed, even in faith communities, Amber at The F Bomb reflects on her own experience in fifth […]

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