We’ve got big Valentine’s Day expectations

By Zach Eisenstein, Communications Manager

In 2018, Valentine’s Day is marked by flowers, hearts, and hard-to-make dinner reservations. But the origins of the holiday (while a bit muddled) are actually rooted in misinformation about sexual and reproductive health.

Specifically, historians date earliest V-Day celebrations back to an Ancient Roman festival called Lupercalia. Celebrated February 13–15, Roman men would kick off Lupercalia festivities by sacrificing goats and dogs. Then, they would whip women with the animal hides — believing this would make them more fertile.

Whipping people with freshly slain animal hides in the name of fertility? That might be less common among today’s celebrations.

But, misunderstandings about how sex works, reproductive health, and our bodies? There’s still a lot of that happening now.

When I look back on Valentine’s-Days-past, I fondly remember exchanging Valentines and candy with classmates through elementary, middle, and high school. However, I wish I could have a positive recollection of another school-based memory: sex ed.

Thinking back, I only remember spending a few days of health class learning about the different types of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in tenth grade — that’s it. And that’s more than many people can say.

Right now, only 29 states and the District of Columbia mandate that sex ed be taught in schools. Of those states, only 12 require sex ed to be “medically accurate.” That’s right: Even in places where students are legally required to receive information about sex and sexuality, it’s totally cool if what they’re learning is inaccurate.

But wait — there’s even more terrible news. The majority of states in the U.S. require schools to focus on abstinence when discussing anything sex or sexuality-related. And yet, decades of research show abstinence-only programs (recently renamed “sexual risk avoidance”) are ineffective, stigmatizing, and harmful to young people.

Most sex ed classes are also really bad at being inclusive. Only 7 states require instruction that is culturally appropriate for students and not biased toward any sex, race, or ethnicity. And 7 states actually mandate that teachers portray LGBTQ people negatively or not at all.

Clearly, we’ve got a LOT of work to do when it comes to improving and expanding sexuality education in this country. Why not start today?

As we talk about love, romance, intimacy, and chocolate this Valentine’s Day, we should also talk about the knowledge that everyone deserves to be able to happily, healthily show love for both themselves and others.

Fortunately, we already have the tools we need get sex ed moving in the right direction. We have The National Sexuality Education Standards. These standards take into account the fact that not every school has the resources or time needed to effectively provide sex ed for their students. They call for clear, consistent and straightforward guidance on the essential minimum, core content for sexuality education that is developmentally and age-appropriate for students in grades K-12. Doesn’t that sound a bit more beneficial than an oversized teddy bear?

In 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius decided to call it quits with the Feast of Lupercalia (RE: animal hide whipping) and dubbed February 14th, “Valentine’s Day.” Legend has it, this was meant to honor a Roman Priest named Valentine who, despite an evil emperor’s ban on all marriages across Rome, continued to marry young lovers in secret.

Valentine was caught and beheaded on the 14th — but not before signing a love letter to his jailer’s daughter, “From Your Valentine.”

Though the exact history of Valentine’s Day might just be “doomed never to be solved,” we at least know how it is celebrated today. It’s a day designated to honor love, romance, and intimacy.

And there couldn’t be a better time to talk about sex or, more specifically, how we teach people to safely and healthily navigate their sexuality today and for the rest of their lives.

Happy Valentine’s Day!