Before we get to the business of reimagining sex ed, we must first define “sexual health”. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines sexual health as:
“…a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity.”
WHO goes on to state:
“Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.”
I love this idealistic definition. But let’s be real, how were you educated about sex? Was it a fun, positive, and fulfilling experience? Did you learn about the pleasurable aspects of sex and the multiple ways to protect yourself from disease and other unwanted outcomes? Was it affirming of your sexual identity, expression, and experience?
Or did you learn something to the tune of: Sex is bad, unless you’re married! If you’re not, sex equals, AIDS, babies, and hell!
I would bet many, if not most, were educated according to the latter. Disease, dysfunction, and utter chaos! We are taught to fear sex and all its unavoidable consequences. Yet, we’re expected to enjoy it within the confines of a marriage or committed relationship. Where is the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘where’, ‘why’, and ‘how’ manual that answers those pressing questions that tend to surface from the nether regions of our minds?
What if I can’t get pregnant?
What if I’m not religious?
What if I have no interest in marriage?
What if I’m same-gender loving?
What if…what if…what if…
Yes! What if? What if we disrupt this narrative? What if we teach youth and elders that sex is more than what goes on between the sheets? Sex is more than pregnancy. Sex is more than disease. Let’s talk human sexuality. Sexuality is about people, their lives, their environments, and how they relate to and interact with the others and the world around them.
Imagine a sex-positive educational framework that doesn’t treat sex like the big, bad boogeyman hiding in dark corners, waiting to attack and claim us as its next unwitting victims. Visualize a framework that embraces the body, its function, and its response in wellness, disease, and disability. Envision sex education that dares to embrace pleasure and the fulfillment that healthy concepts of sexuality bring to our lives. Imagine sex education that is inclusive and diverse and grapples with issues of bias and discrimination.
Can this be achieved? Yes it can! We must first transform our ways of thinking about sexuality–confront our bias, address our issues, and question any unfounded beliefs. We must dare to step outside our comfort zones and open our minds and eyes to the experiences of others who may be different from us. Sex and sexuality is not a “one-size-fits-all” experience. All experiences matter and should be treated as such.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not naive and I certainly don’t believe this will happen overnight. Transformations like this face resistance and take time and work to implement. But, I remain steadfast and hopeful.
We have a long road ahead, so let’s get to work and reimagine sex ed!