I'll be the first to admit that I'm 21 years old, and talking about sex still makes me uncomfortable. Honestly, I can only place the blame on my sex ed class in middle school.
I went to a large, rather unorganized public school for most of my life. Our sex ed classes would reflect that in every possible way. For one, my school divided our large eighth grade class into three separate groups, and the class was taught in three separate courses. We each took different parts of the class on different days.
By the time my group attended the last class, they had run out of condoms and bananas. Instead of demonstrating on the banana they did have left, my school simply decided my group could just figure it out. It was blatantly obvious that the instructors felt uncomfortable being the ones to lead the demonstration, so our whole group didn't gain valuable knowledge that day.
I remember that when we discussed STIs, the instructors only told us one in five people would get one. I'll never forget our health teacher screaming, "One, two, three, four, five: You have gonorrhea."
Seeing as my group didn't get the condom talk, the instructors skipped over how to prevent STIs. We got the basic set-up: the "You have to be overly safe all the time, or you will get an STI" lecture. I won't say this lecture is 100 percent a bad thing because when it comes to sexual disease, it will always be better to be safe than sorry. Unfortunately, it truly warped my view on sex in a way that still influences my life to this day.
According to a study done by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly half of all the new cases of STIs are among 15 to 24 year olds. Keep in mind that this total number of cases is around 20 million per year.
With that in mind, only four out of 10 teens reported using a condom in their last sexual encounter. This relates directly to the fact that our sex ed classes are missing informative sections about STI prevention.
Historian Jonathan Zimmerman thinks these classes are so ineffective because they are teaching us to be afraid of sex. Amy Lang, a sexuality and parenting expert, suggests that this is because our instructors and parents don't want to make us uncomfortable while having this discussion and taking these classes.
But their fear had an effect on me. I was so afraid to engage in sexual activity.
It made me nervous to say the word "sex," and I felt truly uncomfortable dropping the word "penis," even in an academic setting. I was so afraid to learn about sex that I didn't realize I had a latex allergy until earlier this year.
My sex ed course didn't give me the information I needed to make informed choices about my body, and without that information, I didn't know how to ask the right questions. Sex was horribly painful, but I wasn't informed enough to think of it in any other way.
In some cases, teaching us fear makes us afraid. I, for one, became overwhelmingly afraid about the consequences of sex. It made sex unenjoyable, when sex is supposed to be ingrained in human nature.
In other cases, it pushes us to push the fear out of our brains entirely. Half of the STI cases are in our generation alone because of careless mistakes, the same careless mistakes our sex ed classes carelessly dance around.
Regardless of which end of the spectrum you look at, it goes back to the central idea that our sex ed classes aren't teaching us how to protect ourselves properly. Our instructors are too uncomfortable to teach us how to embrace our sexualities, and how to do so responsibly.
My sex ed class was painfully awkward and uninformative, and this seems to be pretty standard throughout the country. We need to be focusing on fixing these ineffective courses. We can't keep living in a world where there are 10 million new STI cases yearly in our generation.
If we can't get the proper education at school and through these courses, we need to be comfortable enough to ask these questions to our doctors and parents. They can guide us on how to ask the right questions, and how to ask informed questions. As a society, we all know we can do better.