In the late 1990s/early 2000s, I was among the cohort of kids exposed to abstinence-only-based education. In my middle-class DC suburb, the prominent focus was on reproduction and the science behind it. Then the buck stopped there. No exposure to safe relationship training, appropriate vs. inappropriate touching, consent, safe sex, solo sex, birth control, or sexual orientation—anything along those lines was explicitly left out of the program.
Into my teens, I attended a private Catholic school, so the dry spell of information continued (in its place were fear-based abstinence stories instead). As many people argue: parents can and should fill the gap with sexual health knowledge. But what if you’re part of a generation where your parents before you are also just as ignorant of the truths that exist (which started with a void in those parents’ education as well, no doubt)? What if your parents don’t view your body as an autonomous entity, and instead see you (the child) as property, and they have the right to withhold medical information from you?
We all know that the stats and the epidemiology point in the direction that abstinence-only education and fear-based anti-abortion propaganda don’t work. I had the self-efficacy to teach myself the science and to seek Planned Parenthood when my education, parents, and even family primary care providers all didn’t complete the picture of sexual health.
Thanks to these few courageous organizations, health facilities, and providers that stand up for the truth, I’m the only woman on both sides of my family to be married, practice safe family planning, have safe sex before that when single, and go on to accomplish an advanced degree—all before the age of 30, to top it all off. That’s an unheard of generational leap in progress for the women in my family.
I wish everyone could access the truth the same way I did. I wish a culture change could happen on a policy level to stop placing the burden of knowledge on one person, and into the hands of multiple willing parties.