I was given a well-round sex education for the time, progressive even, from my parents. As a result, I am a rare woman after having sex regularly starting at aged 15, has never been assaulted/coerced, never had an STI, and never had an unwanted pregnancy. My sexual health, autonomy, and pleasure is always a priority with no shame.
This is about my experience with my overwhelmingly conservative, mostly Christian high school classmates.
I ran a friendship/relationship after-school peer group as part of my social work elective. A place for students to talk about what they wanted. I decided to have a box for anonymous questions. It was quickly overflowing with questions about sex. I answered the ones I was allowed to answer with a teacher present, but I quickly became the girl who knew about sex. Fellow students would come to me for discreet advice and information and I would give it, making clear I wasn’t a doctor. But most of the time, I didn’t need to be. They were engaging in sexual activity with absolutely no knowledge of sexual anatomy, functions, sexuality, or sexual safety.
I felt confident when I told a Mormon girl that she could not get pregnant from her boyfriend ejaculating on her chest, for example. She was worried it could “seep into her womb through her skin.”
So I found it shocking when most of my class got religious exemptions from our sex ed class because it wasn’t abstinence-only, which they would be taught in church. I was there with 3 out of 35 classmates. One of whom I knew was not new to sex. After class, for weeks, students came up to me, asking if I took notes, asking if I had any information share. Had I been bolder, I would have set up a secret sex ed class, but I was not brave enough. Instead, I just quietly answered their questions.
On one occasion, I even explained “sodomy” to an English class because it came up in a book. I was so confused. Hadn’t they all been to church? My prudish teacher found it too distressing to do herself, so I said it. It was referring to gay sex. I was once reprimanded for choosing female genital mutilation for an assignment about controversial topics. It was deemed, no joke, “too controversial.” When I refused to write a new one, I was given a C.
Sometimes I would send students to Planned Parenthood for information, HPV shots, condoms, birth control. And of course the worst happened, me driving a distraught girl, a year older than me, to an out-of-state clinic so she wouldn’t have to get parental consent. She said if they found out, they would kill her. I believed her. She now has two kids. I wonder if she ever told anyone else.
There are more stories, a few more abortion road trips. I told no one, not even my progressive parents because they might have told me to stop. I was determined to help.
These were burdens I should not have had as a teenager. It did however make clear that abstinence sex ed, did not prevent sexual activity. All it did was create an undercurrent of shame, frustration, fear, and danger. I wish I could have given more – more info on consent, more info on sexual orientation and gender. To keep my friends safer and happier. I didn’t know many of these things at the time, but I did my best to honor their needs with compassion and no judgement.