Ten Things That Are More Important to Teach Than Abstinence: Heidi Joy’s Thoughts
Series disclaimer: HA’s “Let’s Talk About Sex (Ed)” series contains frank, honest, and uncensored conversations about sexuality and sex education. It is intended for mature audiences.
Here are ten things that are more important to teach than abstinence:
It is absolutely necessary to teach children the names and basic functions of the parts of their bodies. This way they are empowered with knowledge and have the language necessary to not only to relate to their own body, but also to know when someone is crossing a boundary so that they can tell a trusted adult. When I was abused as a child, I didn’t have the knowledge necessary to tell an adult what was going on, allowing the instigator to continue the abuse. I know many adults who do not even know the basic functions, locations, and names of their own body parts.
2. Bodily autonomy:
When a person understands that they have ownership over their body and that they do not owe anyone access to it, this allows for healthy physical, relational, and sexual boundaries, as well as the freedom to do with one’s body as one wishes. A child with a healthy sense of bodily autonomy understands that they do not have the obligation to make physical contact with anyone, even a relative seeking physical affection and have the ability to say no.
Consent is necessary for healthy sexual and physical contact. This should be a given, but unfortunately consent is rarely discussed or taught, both encouraging and supporting rape culture while denying personal autonomy and person-hood.
4. Sex Positivity:
Sex positivity is the basic affirmation of one’s personal sexual preferences and personality. It says that the way I am is a good thing, and allows one to celebrate their sexuality. (I believe this includes affirmation of asexual individuals and respect for their identity, as well as affirmation and support for survivors as they may face painful triggers and learn to heal.)
5. Personal choice and respect for other’s choices:
This is important, because it allows a person the freedom to make their own choices without shame or manipulation from others, as well as developing respect and acceptance for the fact that different people may have different experiences and make different choices than us.
6. Healthy Sexuality:
It’s important to develop the ability to experience one’s sexuality without fear, guilt, or shame. For those of us who grew up fundamentalist/conservative it can be hard to shake the shame and sex negativity we were taught.
7. Healthy relationships:
Relationships can be hard and messy. It’s necessary and healthy to learn about appropriate boundaries, personal space, choice, autonomy, and how to recognize manipulation or abuse.
8. Safe Sex:
If you are or will be sexually active, it’s important to be educated about sex, STI’s, and protection… even if you are monogamous or married!
9. Birth Control Options:
Birth control is everyone’s responsibility. There are now many different options and resources available and many of them are free! At the very least, the information is available for free and usually easy to access so there is no reason to be uninformed, or to keep your child uninformed. Even if they are not active now, they may want to be in the future and knowledge is healthy and confidence-building.
10. Having sex doesn’t make you a better or worse person!
Many of us grew up in a sort of “purity culture”, where sex was taught in terms of transactions and marriage. We were taught that virginity somehow made you a good/better person, and that anyone who had or desired to have sex was evil, dirty, worthless, or a slut. They also promised us perfect marriages and relationships if we just didn’t touch or kiss before we got married…and of course, we had to get married to have the sex to make the babies to have the perfect christian family to win the culture war! This is a false dichotomy, a fallacy of black-and-white ideals based in unhealthy patriarchal standards. Sex isn’t the ultimate sin or even “bad”. It can be a fulfilling, healthy thing… even outside of marriage relationships!
Note: If you are choosing to abstain from sex on your own terms without being shamed into doing (or not doing!) something that you don’t choose, that is fine. I think that for some people, chastity can be a healthy state. However, if one chooses to teach chastity, it must be in a way that respects personal choice, does not shame survivors of abuse, and teaches autonomy and healthy sexuality.