Last week, I posted a rudimentary, picture of the clitoris from Becoming Cliterate on Facebook, saying "It's not a wishbone. It's covered in schools in the Netherlands but not in the U.S. Not knowing about how it works fuels a gender gap." I was referring to research finding that men have more orgasms than women during partnered sex. The post struck a nerve (pun intended), with over 1300 likes, 200 shares, and 150 comments. The comments had little to do with the the clitoris, however. They were about problems with sex ed in the U.S.
This inadequacy of sex ed was the focus of a position paper published this month by the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine. This position paper took a stance against Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage (AOUM) Programs. While the entire position paper is well worth the read, here are some of the major points, peppered with real-life examples from the Facebook post, students in my Psychology of Human Sexuality course, and a funny but true John Oliver video:
In short, the The Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine calls AOUM programs unethical, harmful, and even a human rights violation. They propose instead, as does the United Nations, that we provide Comprehensive Sex ED.
While that is a critical step in the right direction, even most Comprehensive Sex Ed programs neglect something included by the World Health Organization (WHO) definition of sexual health. The WHO defines sexual health as including "...having pleasurable...sexual experiences" and defines sexuality as including "eroticism" and "pleasure." That's why I wrote my book: To fill in the gaps on female pleasure left out of Sex Ed. That's why I posted the picture and pointed out that we don't teach this in sex ed in the U.S, but they do in the Netherlands.
In the Netherlands, among many other topics (including abstinence, birth control, communication, and the difference between porn sex and real sex), they teach about the pleasure. Scholars have argued that learning about sexual pleasure and gaining comfort with one's own body empowers one to communicate one's sexual desires to others. Such sexual agency makes one less likely to endure painful sex (something 30% of US women report doing) and less likely to be coerced (or coerce others) into unwanted sexual relationships. The data back this up:The Netherlands has three times less sexual violence than the U.S. They also have lower pregnancy and STI rates. As stated by one article, "Girls learn their sexual desires are perfectly natural, and boys are encouraged to embrace their emotions and romantic feelings." Contrast this with one of the more heart-wrenching statements on the Facebook post: "The first time my education stepped in to talk about sex, it was terrifying. I was in sixth grade and all they showed was a slideshow of horribly diseased genitalia. They didn't talk about safe sex. They didn't talk about pleasure. They only spoke of disease, consequences and abstinence. I'm still terrified at 18 years old to have an intimate relationship out of fear."
September 4 is World Sexual Health Day. It's celebrated by 35 countries. I hope our country soon does better. Until then, thousands of dedicated sex educators will, as stated by SEICUS, ".. advocate for the right of all people to accurate information, comprehensive education about sexuality...." We will continue to teach and write with the goal of creating a world whose vision of social justice includes sexual rights--including the right to accurate science-based sex education.