Recently a friend asked me how my life would be different if I was a man. At first I thought about some obvious differences, like safety, salary, and the size of my jean pockets. But upon reflecting a little further, I realized that the way I learned about sex, and therefore a lot of what is still engrained in my subconscious, would be radically different.
In 6th grade, I sat on the ground in a circle with the other girls from my class and signed a piece of paper where I promised to keep myself sexually pure until marriage. The contract was not my idea, but the fabrication of the private Christian elementary school I attended. At this school, 6th grade was the last year of elementary school as well as the grade with an abstinence-only sex class. It would probably be more accurate to call it an anti-sex class.
The week before this short curriculum was to start, we were sent home with permission slips for our parents to sign. It was the first of many times we learned that a higher power reigned over our bodies.
The day came and we were segregated by gender. We did not cover STDs/STIs, pregnancy, the mechanics of sex, emotions, consent, or anything of substance. Instead, we learned our school’s definition of what the Bible says about sex: it is evil and permanently damaging unless it is within the confines of a heterosexual, monogamous, God-ordained marriage.
The teacher told us that the Heavenly Father had a perfect plan that He crafted out of love for us. Our virginity was to be a gift to our future husbands. A gift that, if given away, could never be returned. No husband would want to receive a wife that was tarnished. Why would he choose someone who had been used up?
At the end of the session, the purity contract was passed around. The teacher said we didn’t have to sign it, but of course the whole lesson implied that if we didn’t, God wouldn’t love us anymore.
We all signed it.
When the boys came back, they were boisterous and happy. At recess, they told us that in their lesson, they were taught how to put on a condom. Then, the male teacher concluded the session by explaining that boobs were nice to squeeze. There was not a purity contract in sight.
The difference in education between the genders taught us girls that the onus was on us to guard our purity. Boys would be boys, after all. How could they be taught to respect boundaries? Squeezing boobies was too fun.
That day I learned if I wanted the perfect life my loving Father so carefully chose for me, I would have to obey His every command about my sex life. And this was just the beginning of my anti-sex education.
In 8th grade, at the same private school, we were again split into boys and girls groups. The boys played football and the girls learned rape defense. The teacher taught us how to fight to protect ourselves with everything we had. We practiced defense moves over and over again like a small army of thirteen-year-olds.
The beginning of every class consisted of stories with gruesome imagery from the teacher about the power that men can wield over us, should they so choose. She told us that men lurk in the shadows, waiting to spy a woman who looks weak. We must never look weak. We must never tempt them with our clothing, with our body language, or even with a look.
On the last day of class, the teacher summarized everything we had learned and the last thing she said was that she would rather die than be raped. This is where I learned that my sexual purity is more important than my life. Even if I did everything right, warding off the boys who were trying to get into my pants, there were still those who would forcibly take my precious gift. Even if I did everything right, I could still be ruined.
Defense moves are great and being alert is nothing to scoff at, but this rape defense class did nothing to warn us about the gravest danger of them all. According to RAINN, 80% of all rapes are committed by someone that the victim already knows. For all the self-defense we learned, we were never taught to stand up for ourselves against the actual perpetrators of sexual transgressions.
This is why abstinence-only sex education is so harmful. It assumes that young people will not find themselves in any sexual situation before marriage, therefore it neglects to teach them proper protocols.
I was sexually assaulted by someone I considered a good friend back in college. He was a guy I had once liked and who I had once wanted to sleep with. I said no numerous times, but I didn’t push him off of me or physically fight back with all of my might because he wasn’t a stranger hiding in the bushes. He didn’t have a weapon besides my trust.
I grew up learning that sex outside of a very specific set of guidelines was wrong and that I must fight with my life to defend my purity. When I inevitably found myself outside of a situation I had learned how to handle, I froze. I didn’t feel like I had the autonomy to make a decision about my own body because others had been making those decisions for me my whole life.
The boys I was raised with were not taught how to not rape. They did not learn about consent or boundaries. They played football and learned that women’s bodies can be used for their own gratification.
The girls I was raised with learned to feel shame if we did not cover ourselves, that we must never lead men into temptation, and that we must sacrifice everything for our future husband. This was our duty to bring honor to God.
So how exactly would my life be different if I had taken sex ed with the boys in my class? I believe that I would not feel anxious during sex. I believe that I could freely enjoy something pleasurable that is natural to my body. I believe that I would feel comfortable saying no.
I believe that my education would not have been anti-sex.