Homeschooling Made Education Sexy. Like… TOO Sexy: Ephraim’s Story

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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.

Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Ephraim” is a pseudonym.

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I first discovered porn in the library.

By “porn,” though I don’t mean porn porn. I mean porn like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart meant porn: “you know it when you see it.”

Well, I saw it, and I knew it.

How did I know it? Well, I was 15 and got a boner in the library.

That’s how I knew it.

“How on earth did a 15-year-old kid find porn in a public library in the early 90’s?” you might ask. Well, see, it wasn’t really porn that gave me a boner. Education gave me a boner.

I got a boner from a book about sex education.

That’s the funny part of the story. Now let’s go back to the beginning.

I was taught nothing about sex or human anatomy up until that fateful day. My parents were fundamentalist Christians, they homeschooled me to shield me from the corrupting influences of the world (read: sex education in public schools), and they emphasized modesty and purity on a regular basis. Everyone I interacted with, from homeschool park days to homeschool co-op meetings to homeschool Shakespeare productions, was similarly into modesty and purity. Josh Harris was our patron saint… and probably our holy pin-up boy, since I got the feeling most of the girls I knew thought he was hot but never dared to say so.

Consequently, everything about sex and sexuality and hormones and puberty was shrouded in a veil of mystery and taboo. Like, why was I growing hair in odd places? Why did the girls always speak in hushed tones once a month? No one would talk about these things. They were off-limits. They were dirty.

Taboo.

My family often went to the library to find free literature to read for homeschooling. We’d get history books, historical fiction, etc. Anything our mom approved of. Sometimes I’d be allowed to check out some Hardy Boys books or a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book.

During one visit at the library, however, I stumbled across the Sex Ed for Children section.

Oops.

I don’t remember the title of the book. But the book was about sex. And bodies. And…

…and omg it had pictures.

Cartoonish pictures, of course. But oh wow there were pictures of naked bodies. Like there was a penis. And a vagina. And a diagram explaining menstruation. And something about an “egg.”

I… I felt like I had stumbled across the dirtiest thing I had ever read (apart from certain Bible verses, of course, because we all know there are some really X-rated Bible verses out there. Emissions like donkeys, anyone?).

Anyways. I found this book. And everything I ever wanted to know as a kid about sex and bodies was there. Out in the open.

And I got hard.

It’s kinda embarrassing to think about to this day. (Ok, it’s really embarrassing.) It’s weird and uncomfortable. But I wanted to tell it today because I’ve thought long and hard (no pun intended) about what happened and something struck me the other day:

The reason why something so non-sexual like education about the human body and natural changes it undergoes was interpreted as sexual by me was because that very education was treated as taboo.

My family and homeschooling community literally turned education into something dirty. Into a fetish. They unintentionally fetishized knowledge.

So when I had to (secretly, mind you, so I wouldn’t get caught) educate myself, I felt like it was something bad, something naughty. Seriously, how messed up is that? I was raised in such a way that educating myself about my body felt naughty.

Sometimes I think about that fact and it puts me in a rage. Other times it just makes me laugh. Really, most of the times it makes me laugh.

I was homeschooled and homeschooling made education sexy. But not in a good way. In a too sexy way.

Here’s to growing up?

Ten Things That Are More Important to Teach Than Abstinence: Heidi Joy’s Thoughts

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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:

1. Anatomy:

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.

3. Consent:

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.

Sex Miseducation

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on July 18, 2011.

Children who go to public school receive sex education. Some sex education programs are better than others, some are more comprehensive, others less so, but at least children attending public schools get sex education. I didn’t. My parents never told me about sex, never had “the talk” with me, nothing. My parents taught me that sex within marriage was the most wonderful thing ever but that sex before marriage was the most sinful thing ever, but they never actually explained what sex was. They just told us that it was a “special way of loving.” Weird? Yes. In an ideal world children will learn both about sex and to hold a healthy view of sexuality from their parents. Unfortunately, this is not an ideal world.

Now of course, I was curious: just what was this “special way of loving?” What was this thing at once so dangerous and so wonderful? And why was it so taboo, kept hidden from me like a secret? I pieced this secret together here and there from various sources over the course of six or eight years using a variety of sources:

A Biology Textbook: When I was in middle school I found a description of sex in a biology textbook. The two or so sentences of clinical explanation horrified me, and I quickly closed the book and put it away, more confused, terrified, and ashamed than enlightened.

An Art Book: Around the same time, I found a book full of pictures of statues in a stack of art books my mother had gotten from the library. The statues were nude. I stared, fascinated, looking at the pictures in an effort to learn more about human anatomy. I then felt incredibly dirty and put the book away quickly before my mother could notice that I had seen it.

A Book Store: When I was around fifteen, I was at Barnes and Nobles and ran across a book on how to tell your child about sex. I hid behind the shelves of books and listened anxiously for footsteps. I skimmed the pages furtively, hungry for whatever information I could find, information that would help explain this confusing thing to me. Given that I was terrified of being found and that the time I had was limited, the only thing I remember learning was about masturbation, which I had never heard of before. I felt extremely guilty and dirty afterward.

A Christian Sex Guide: At some point during high school, I found a Christian guide to improving your sex life in my parents’ bedroom. Closing the door and extremely nervous I might be discovered, I leafed through the book, slightly concerned that my parents might be having marriage problems and very frightened of being caught looking at the book but more curious than anything else. After a few minutes, I returned the book to where I had found it, feeling guilty and dirty, but slightly wiser.

The Internet: When I left for college I could use the Internet without being afraid that my parents would check the computer’s history. Finally I could solve questions that had been puzzling me, like just what “oral sex” was – I had heard the term somewhere several years back and had been curious ever since, but had been unable to find the term in a dictionary. Finally my questions could have answers. I clicked through pages of Christian sex advice websites, always afraid that my search terms might bring up porn sites. I justified what I was doing by reminding myself that I was now an adult and besides I was only looking things up on Christian websites.

A Mirror: I realized during my first year of college that I had no idea what parts I had down there. My parents’ emphasis on purity had made me feel that my private area was somehow dirty and unclean, and I had therefore never paid any attention to it. I didn’t even know where my vagina was, just that it was down there somewhere. Curious, I looked up anatomy images on the Internet and then then stood naked in the bathroom using a hand-held mirror to explore body parts I had not even known I had. I was both fascinated and horrified by what I learned.

Romance Novels: After I had been in college for some time, I held the hand of the man who is now my husband for the first time. This made me feel warm and wet in certain places that I had not known could be warm and wet. I was completely baffled. I had no idea what was happening to my body. I might now know the basic mechanics of sex, but I knew nothing about how it actually worked in practice, or what it meant for the body to be “aroused.” What was this? And so, I turned to the lurid romance novels one of my friends kept in her dorm room, reading the sex scenes in depth to try to find out what sex was actually like.

And that, reader, is how I learned about sex. Is it any wonder that I wish I had had a sex education class? Some years later, after I left my parents’ home and was married, a fifteen-year-old girl in a youth group I helped out with started asking me questions about sex. I answered her questions, every one of them, with the openness and honesty I wish my parents had had with me. I didn’t want her to have to learn about sex by sneaking her mother’s Christian sex book or reading romance novels. I didn’t want her to be nineteen or twenty and completely ignorant of her own anatomy. I didn’t want her to be like me.

I’ll never understand how my parents could on the one hand teach me that sex was something beautiful and sacred and at the same time leave me in ignorance about it and make me feel like it was something dirty and unclean. It was the most wonderful thing ever…but it was completely taboo as a topic. It was a sacred bond between husband and wife…but please don’t mention it or think about it. The contradictory messages I received gave me a very warped view of sex. I both looked forward to the sacred bond of sex with my future husband and felt dirty any time I thought about it. Learning about sex piecemeal here and there didn’t give me a very accurate view of sex either, even discounting the sense of guilt I felt about doing so.

When I finally got to the point of actually having sex, I was disappointed to find that it neither felt sacred nor lived up to the descriptions in the romance novels I had read. Picking up knowledge of sex in bits and pieces here and there while awash in guilt does not lead to a comprehensive understanding of sex or a healthy sexuality. I had no idea that sex took practice or effort, or that sometimes one partner wouldn’t feel like it and the other would, or that it could be sweaty and gross. It has taken me years to iron all this out and to come to a healthy view of sex. I wish that instead of focusing on keeping me ignorant of it, my parents had informed me about sex and focused on giving me a healthy view of sexuality. But then, their beliefs about sex would not allow them to do that.

What I would have given a sex education class, a safe place where I could have found the basic information and asked questions! Sure, it wouldn’t have been perfect, but it would have been something.