Improving Sexuality Education

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Following several reports of sexual assault in our school this year, one recurring question seems to keep arising from the students: What is the administration going to do about it?

Maggie Giblin has an answer.

Maggie, along with her peers in the fall Peace, Nonviolence and Social Justice Course, have been studying rape culture since September. Once more details came to light about sexual assault at our school, they began to focus on what could be done at Friends. In Maggie’s research, she found that more educated populations have lower rape statistics, which led her, along with several other students, to begin working on revising Friends’ sex education program. “We want to change the curriculum to start incorporating more consent based education from very early on in appropriate manners”, says Maggie. “We want consent to be talked about through lower, middle and high school”.

Upon reflection about their own Friends school experience with sex ed, students revealed that there was a lot they thought could be improved upon. “Basically anything besides the basics of how babies are made I had to look up on my own, because other things simply weren’t covered”, says Marina Chiaramonte. “In lower school I learned a lot of Biology and that was done well. Middle school I feel as though we rehashed the same things we learned in 4th and 5th grade and randomly threw in new terms. It was a very awkward set up”.

Local high schoolers’ reflecting on their own sex education experiences show that this problem is not limited to Friend’s school. “My entire middle school health education was terrible” says Margaret Akey, a junior at McDonogh school who attended Northwest Middle School. Margaret recalls being taught about the biology of sex and a little bit about birth control, but ultimately, her school taught abstinence.

 

Reid Anderson, a senior at McDonogh who attended Calvert Middle School, says that even though he wasn’t taught abstinence, he still feels as though he didn’t learn much from his sex ed classes. “In high school it was just the same stuff I learned in middle school”, Anderson says. “More about anatomy, which obviously is important, but it actually doesn’t tell you anything about the real world and sex.”

Each of the students interviewed had vastly different sex education experiences – some were split up by gender while others remained in the same room, some were taught by health teachers while others were subject to the sex ed expertise of middle school spanish teachers or heads of school. But one variable seems to run throughout all of their experiences, the existence of sex ed “horror stories”, ranging from awkward scenarios to flat out inaccuracies given by the teachers. Students recalled being told to stand up in front of the classroom so the teachers could check their skirt lengths and shaming them if they were deemed too short, being told personal anecdotes by teachers about their sex lives, or forcing students to stand up and repeat the words penis and vagina if they weren’t paying attention in class. Akey recalled one of these so-called “horror stories” during her freshman year. “She [the teacher] put us all in the auditorium and told us that if guys watched porn too often they would get erectile dysfunction”. At Friends, Chiaramonte remembers being told that boys couldn’t help themselves when it came to sex, and that she needed to dress to not attract their attention.

And even the best sex education programs, where “horror stories” were limited, didn’t have comprehensive sex ed. “There’s a certain portion of it that you’re informed about in school but it doesn’t actually explain anything for you”, says Anderson. “I didn’t have any crazy horror stories per se, which is why I’m kind of lucky. I would say I got one of the best sex ed experiences around, but even the best sex ed experiences in a school these days isn’t good”.

So how can sex education be improved at Friends and in area schools? Giblin says that peer based education, as well as sex ed that covers more than just biology, is the answer. “The influence of peers on younger students is so important, and they will listen and they will ask questions and they will be honest with you as long as you’re honest with them.” says Giblin. Anderson, too, believes that a peer education program would be useful for younger students, saying that “If I could go back to myself in 5th grade from where I am now and talk to myself in 5th grade and just be like alright look: here’s how it actually is that’d be great”.

As well as incorporating an aspect of peer education into sex ed at Friends, Giblin hopes to revise current curriculum to include ongoing lessons about consent and healthy relationships. “Mr. Micciche and the administration have been so very cooperative with the student initiative to revamp the curriculum”, Maggie says, saying that he has held several sessions with students to talk about their experience in sex ed and how it could be better. Currently, Mr. Micciche and the PNSJ class are in the midst of forming a committee to work on revising the Health and Wellness curriculum across all three divisions. The committee will consist of faculty, students and parents, and according to Giblin, will hopefully start meeting this spring and into the beginning of next year. “I think that the committee will hopefully should be enough to change the way that stuff runs.”, says Maggie. “If it’s not, then we’ll see.”

 

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Improving Sexuality Education