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Doing More Than Filling the Gaps in Sex-Ed

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April 21, 2014

One of my younger brothers is in the midst that casual dirtbag period of early tween-dom. You know the one—where he every other joke is about jerking off and his ratio of obnoxiousness to actual humor is 10 to 1. Still, he’s my brother, and I love him, and he’s not a jerk a decent amount of the time. The two of us have a fairly open and honest relationship actually, and we talk about his crushes, about politics, and yes—even about sex.

Seeing as he currently attends the same Catholic school I attended for all of grade and middle school—which still calls it’s “sex-ed” program “Adam and Eve” and segregates boys and girls only to give them the same talk about chastity, the evils of the “homosexual lifestyle,” etc. –I took it upon myself years ago to try to give him access to some supplementary sex-ed materials. I took home pamphlets from Planned Parenthood, pulled up diagrams on the Internet, found age appropriate blogs, even found an interactive chart of both male and female anatomy.

It was awkward, for the both of us, but my brother didn’t have anyone else who would be honest with him about puberty and sex actually works (he basically thought a vagina was a black hole). I thought, between that and what little actual information he’d be provided at school, he’d be fine. That there wouldn’t be any major gaps. Which is why, in a conversation this past weekend when he expressed that he thought people with vaginas ejaculate sperm just like those with penises when orgasming, I was fairly taken aback.

It seemed like a ridiculous statement, and I first I thought he was just making another fourteen-year-old boy joke. However, then I quickly understood he was saying what he thought was medical fact. It astounded me, at first—but then I realized how he’d come to that conclusion. All he has is pop culture references of sexual intercourse, and in those mainstream depictions, the focus is on penises, and penises ejaculate. Why would he think vaginas behaved differently, when no one told him or informed him otherwise? He was just filling in the gaps.

This is what happens when we don’t provide young people with comprehensive, medically accurate sex education. They end up filling in the gaps with misinformation. Whether it’s assuming vaginas behave the same during orgasm as penises, or not knowing what contraceptive methods to use, leaving gaps in sex education is as bad as giving inaccurate information. I realized just how he’s being failed when it comes to sex education, even with having a feminist big sister to try to make up the difference. And so are so many other young people.

I told him about how to use a condoms, how to prevent STIs, and the range of contraceptive methods. And I taught him (well, shoved pamphlets and internet diagrams to him) about anatomy. But this isn’t enough. When we talk about comprehensive sex education, we have to look beyond feeling satisfied when young people do learn about STI prevention and contraception. We need to make sure they learn about consent; about how people with penises come differently than people with vaginas; about how just because someone has a penis or vagina, doesn’t mean they necessarily identify as a man or a woman. We need to make this information just as valuable as preventing STIs or unwanted pregnancy, because if not? We fail our young people.

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