Teen Talk: Your Sexual Education

Flashback: I remember standing in the girls’ bathroom at school during fifth grade recess while my best friend explained to me how babies are made. I was shocked! Suddenly I had lots of questions about these “facts” — and no one to ask. Talk to my parents? NO WAY! That scenario was out of the question. Even if there had been an understanding adult around who I trusted talking to about big stuff, I’m sure I would have been much too embarrassed to start that discussion.

In the age of the Internet and free-flowing information, almost everything is out there for you to find!

How did you first learn about sex? Who did you ask those intimate and embarrassing questions about your body and the new feelings you were experiencing? Where did you go to get the truth about sex, reproduction, relationships? Who explained how to use contraception or what sexually transmitted infections are — without judgment? Or are you still trying to find the facts you need?

If you are fortunate, your parents may have initiated early and open conversations with you about healthy relationships, sexuality, and reproduction. Surveys have shown that 36 percent of teen girls get information about sex and reproduction from friends and family. But even some of the most progressive parents may find it hard to talk about sexual relationships and intimacies outside of their own beliefs and experiences. And older teens are really not that interested in discussing sex with their parents, no matter how good a relationship they may have.

My public school “sexual education” continued later on in sixth grade when my mother and I were invited with other girls from my class and their mothers to attend a movie explaining the changes in our bodies and our upcoming entry into womanhood — read: “menstruation.” Also known as: “your period.” I don’t recall receiving any information about sex, relationships, or contraception along with this movie. Perhaps it was supposed to be a starting point for my mom to have the “sex talk” with me. That didn’t happen, by the way. And I don’t know if the boys in my class received any similar information that year.

Today, some 28 percent of teen girls find this info on the Internet or websites, 21 percent learn from health care providers, while the rest talk to teachers or pharmacists, read books and social media — or talk to no one at all. And though most teens are waiting longer to have sex these days — the average age of a first sexual encounter is 17 — still 14.6 percent of teens have had intercourse by the age of 15.

Arizona laws do not mandate sex education in public schools. Schools may offer elective classes in sex education, usually in high school. These classes must be approved by the local governing board and made available to public viewing. And parents must opt their children into these classes by signing permission slips — if the parent forgets to sign it or the student forgets to bring it to class, the student cannot participate. Discussions about sexual intercourse must stress abstinence from sex until becoming mature adults, and abstinence is touted as the only 100 percent effective method to prevent pregnancy. Monogamous heterosexual marriage is to be promoted and encouraged. These standards, or lack thereof, obviously do not ensure a consistent or reliable sex education instruction for all Arizona students.

The good news is that we are in the age of the Internet and free-flowing information. Almost everything is out there for you to find. However, not all Internet sites are equal and trustworthy. Sexual predators may lurk among the websites, so personal information and identity may be at risk if you aren’t careful. But good information is available and just a mouse-click away. If you do not have your own personal computer access, libraries offer computers for public use. Here are a few reliable sources for information on sexuality, reproduction, relationships, and health.

And parents, in case you are reading this, there are even some excellent websites that help parents talk to teens about sex.

If you would rather read a book, librarians can suggest some excellent titles. There are some wonderful books, such as “Our Bodies, Ourselves” by Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has put together an excellent list of websites, books, and resources it recommends for sex education material — check it out here.

Don’t assume your best friend knows all about sexuality and relationships, even if they are older or seem to know a lot about sex in general. You are only able to make good choices when you get all the facts. If you can’t talk to your parents or someone else you can trust, Planned Parenthood has health providers and health services that are available to all teens. These services can also be provided confidentially, which means you don’t need parental permission.

Comprehensive sexuality education is something you deserve. Planned Parenthood is here for you.

Check out other installments of our Teen Talk series here!