Throughout my sexual health education, I was taught about sex only from the perspective of cisgender and heterosexual individuals. It added to my shame as a trans queer person - that sex involving me was wrong, gross, inappropriate, and immoral. It made me afraid to openly ask questions that could have protected me, especially regarding contraceptives and STIs. My sex education in Massachusetts public schools failed me - and more so, shamed me. If the Healthy Youth Act is passed, it will save kids like me from questioning their worth, dignity, and right to exist. This is urgently needed in a time that has become increasingly hostile to the LGBTQ+ community. Please vote to save the lives of kids and future adults like me.
I consider myself extremely lucky to have attended a high school that included healthy relationship education in Sex Ed. That class helped me realize the relationship I was in at the time was abusive, and empowered me to leave. I don't know how much longer I would have stayed in that toxic situation if I hadn't learned about what a healthy vs unhealthy relationship looks like in school.
The sex ed I received in the 1990s was about the dangers of sex. Unwanted pregnancy, disease, and violence. I was scared of sex before I had a chance to have any first hand experience. These attitudes had negative impact on many intimate relationships and in my relationship to my own body and sexuality. I have spent my adult life unlearning this attitude about sex. Yes, all of those risks important to talk about. But sex is not defined by them. My entire life - romantic, sexual, interpersonal and intrapersonal development - would have been improved if I had received formal education about how to trust my own body, how to navigate consent when I myself felt conflicted about an encounter, and how to explore fluidity in my own sexual orientation. These feelings had been repressed for 25 years, and caused a lot of shame and confusion for me. I pray that students now can grow up with a sex-positive, medically accurate, and psychologically sound, and trauma-informed sex ed.
I attended a school where our health ed teacher wasn’t even allowed to bring in condoms. She literally drew a picture of one on the board. When I got to college, I had never even seen a condom outside its wrapper. As a resident advisor, it was my job to stock boxes of condoms on our floor. I always did and one week I finally decided to go and take one into my room just to open it and see what it looked like. I was so embarrassed that I didn’t have this basic knowledge. Thank goodness I was able to seek out resources to learn more about how to actually use them when that became relevant soon after, but if I have been in a different college environment or needed them at an earlier age, I would not have known how to protect myself.
I was lucky. My Unitarian Universalist Church offered Our Whole Lives, a sexuality education program that taught me that my queerness was a gift and let me hear narratives of LGBT+ adults. It taught me about consent and self esteem and dating and how to respect other people's boundaries. It taught me not to be afraid of my body. We learned about different options for protection. We learned about STIs and pregnancy in a way that didn't also communicate that all sex was bad and dangerous. OWL shared information that young people often report having more fulfilling relationships when they wait to have sex but also let us know that it was our choice and helped us think through how we'd know when we were ready. This was in sharp contrast to the sex ed in my public high school that used a fear based curriculum trying to convince us that pregnancy and STIs were awful while providing very little useful, factual information. Most people have sex in their lifetimes. OWL provided me with the skills that I needed to navigate consent, desire and sexual health concerns throughout my life. My public high school's curriculum seemed at best, highly unrealistic imparting no useful information to help make decisions or have consent whenever I did decide to have sex. There are versions of OWL that are taught in public schools with any faith component removed. I think having a curriculum that is at a minimum fact based and that engages with what young people need to know to have consent-based, safe and fulfilling relationships their whole lives is incredibly important.