That is also what Jazz was taught by her church. The only real information she was given was "sex is sinful and dirty and there are intense, lifelong consequences.”
She knew she shouldn’t so much as kiss a boy, but self-control is useless in the face of hormones. Trying to avoid real-world temptations, Jazz moved her exploration into the online world. As with many of us who grew up in the 2000s, Jazz explored the often dodgy world of AOL chatrooms. She knew that masturbation was not OK either, but it seemed better than real-life sex. She eventually gave in to the lesser sin. This is how, at 14, she ended up masturbating while cybersexing with strangers. Immediately afterward, she was overcome with religious guilt. In a misguided attempt to make amends with the man upstairs, she would introduce Jesus into the conversation and try to convert the cyberstranger. That’s right, masturbation and proselytizating all in the same go. She carried this sexual shame - and its negative repercussions - with her for years.
Learning About Consent
Better sex ed is important not just so teenagers can learn about STIs and pregnancy, but also so they can learn about how they should treat one another. Not fully understanding concepts such as consent can have huge ramifications for people of any age. Sophia told me about how she would always say no, even to things she wanted to do, because she didn’t know she could stop an interaction halfway through. She thought that once she said yes to something like kissing, there was no way to put on the brakes later on.
Consent doesn’t have to only be sexual, either. Tom didn’t understand that consent also applied to relationships. Any time one of his friends developed a crush on him, he would avoid that girl at all costs because he thought if they stayed friends, they would have to be boyfriend and girlfriend. This ended up costing him a number of friends and caused him and others significant heartache. Both of these situations could have been avoided with a basic conversation about consent (something that we, as a society, are at least getting better at).
Talking About Gender
Another topic that is often missed in sex education is a discussion about gender and sexual identity.
For most of her childhood, Cat thought that being a girl meant she had to wear dresses and play with dolls. Since she had no interest in doing either of these things, she struggled with her identity as a girl and wondered if she should have been a boy - just because she wanted to play with Action Man figures and not Barbies.
Patrik worried for years that rubbing up against his stuffed animal could make him gay. He had no idea what gay actually meant, though. But he had picked up the notion that being gay was something weird or unusual and that rubbing against a stuffed animal was probably both of those things (it’s actually not, in reality).
Even if you don’t think that schools should be teaching every detail about sex, there are basic concepts around bodies, relationships, and gender that kids need to learn about in order to have healthy relationships with other people and themselves. Maybe we will never achieve a perfect sex ed system, but in just about every country (except for you, Scandinavia, we know you are killing it), it is clear that we could be doing better. If we continue to let kids struggle to figure out these important life lessons on their own, we will only continue to set them up for failure and possibly damaging relationships.