Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Episode 26: The Layers of Sex Education

Right click here to download the mp3.

"Teach Your Baby about the Birds & the Bees" Mobile
What were you taught about sexuality by your parents, in school, and at church? Could you name your genitals correctly as a child? How did you gain your most valuable knowledge about sexuality? Often, sex education fails to empower women about their sexuality and instead makes them feel that they need to be the gatekeepers of chastity and keep the boys in line. In this panel discussion, Sybil, Sara, Juliane, and Heather discuss their experiences with and hopes for sex education.

If you have ideas, stories, or suggestions for Sara's Mormon Sex Ed project, email her at mormonsexedproject @


  1. Heather, I wish I'd had you for a mom, somehow (I know it would be a weird sci-fi thing), but to have a mom who would teach me to name my vulva and own it as a part of my body ... I can't even imagine what kind of difference that could have made for me.

  2. What a great discussion. One additional thought I had was sparked by an experience I had in a BYU human development class. When we talked about sexuality the instructor said "The man places his penis inside of the woman's vagina. And why does he do this? Because he loves her and that is a way to show that love." The way that this was stated always bugged me for some reason, but I could never figure out what it was. Years later I realized that I didn't like the framing of this statement because it makes the man the actor and the woman the object being acted upon. The man is the one actively engaging in the sex act and the woman is passively receiving it. Also the man is the one doing the loving while the woman is the one being loved. I think that it is important for women in the church to be taught to take on a active role in their own sexuality both in selecting their sexual partner (choosing instead of being chosen) and in the physical aspects of sex.

  3. As far as teaching about sexuality, I love it when instructors put sexuality in the context of relationships and personal identity. I taught the law of chastity lesson once as an instructor in a BYU student ward. Instead of focusing on the dos and don'ts (which is often the way it is taught) I started by asking the women what type of relationship they would like with a future spouse. I then asked them about how they could approach their sexuality in a way that would most likely lead to the kind of romantic relationship they wanted in the future. I think the lesson went over pretty well and put the focus on "What do I want?" and "How do I reach that goal?" instead of "how not to sin."

  4. Beatrice, love that framing of "What do I want?" I'm going to remember that should I ever be in a position to teach such a lesson.

  5. I can't wait to listen! I learned about my body & sex all on my very own. Nobody, but maybe a few friends talked about it. My own mom was a teen mom, yet she never taught me anything. The subject was hush hush! I was sexually active, starting in high school. I wish someone had felt comfortable to teach me something! I would have appreciated a heart to heart conversation about how to protect myself. We don't need "our body is a temple" lessons over & over.

  6. I'd forgot so much of what we had talked about :)

    Sara, do you have an update for us on how the project is going? The thing you said in the podcast that I was glad to be reminded of again, was that sex can be so many things, it can be good, and bad, and boring and funny, and passionate and how it depends on so many different things, and especially how sex ed shouldn't be just about how great sex is, but teach people about the variance they will most likely experience in their sex life.

    I agree with Tansy, I think you make a pretty cool mom, and I would love to meet your kids. I'm sure your awesomeness must have rubbed off on them :)

  7. I can't remember who said it, but the message that I heard most clearly was that the church is not open enough about this topic to make it safe to make appropriate choices and to have an equal and loving relationship between two people.

    I see the church as not being open about a lot of things and that creates doubt in the minds of believers and non believers alike as to the reality of the message. Sacred does not mean secret even though that is how it is used in the church to justify not talking about all sorts of things.

    When I think about the whole world being a Urim and Thummim and our ability to interact through every part of our being, I do not see the church's acts of secrecy as movement towards that theology. If nothing will be hidden when the world is sanctified, why is so much hidden now - even the knowledge of our bodies from ourselves?

    Theology and culture often do not match up in the church and I wonder where the disconnect happened. I wonder how Germany turned the corner from their days of extreme disconnect. I wonder when the Church and the United States will grow out of their need for a black and white world, an us versus them mentality.

  8. FMH had some topics in this area recently:

    The Menarche, where lots is NOT discussed or planned for, in some families:

    How do we Talk to Our Child About Masturbation? Another subject either taboo, or over killed:

  9. This podcast really touched on all the issues I was hoping it would. Bravo!

    I had a situation similar to your chalkboard story, Sybil. As a 19 year-old girl's camp director I was told that the stake had arranged the girls by ages and run them through a "chastity clothesline." They had to pick things like "necking", "petting", "holding hands", and "all the way" from a basket and arrange them on a line with a white paper on one side and a black paper on the other, symbolizing the severity of sin. The 12 year-olds knew what they were supposed to answer and breezed through. The 16 and 17 year-olds, however, were mortified because almost all of them had done things that were clearly outlined as the "dark side." That night, around the fire, we had a
    "big girls only" chat to discuss boundaries and emotions and relationships.

    A friend who is a crusader for all things human started a project called Stirrups and Stories as a visual forum for discussion. Here's the link. I think this crowd will especially appreciate.

    PS - H-less, can you guess which ones are me? :)

  10. Manda - Yes, I can tell immediately which ones are you. =)

    Juliane - As for how the project is going, we are still ramping up. I've started a blog but am not sharing it on a large scale yet because I'm finding it difficult to (a) find the right tone and (b) arrange my own schedule to be able to post regularly. So anyway, essentially, we are still gathering resources and trying to be receptive to people's input. Emails to are still very much needed!

  11. I reached my teens also without knowing the proper names for all my girlie parts. I remember being little (7 maybe?) and my sister and I came up with the name "front bum" because from what we could see, our fronts looked about the same as our backs.
    I knew what a vagina/birth canal was (I was present for several siblings' births), but didn't have a sense of any of the other parts. the first time I tried to put in a tampon it was pretty painful until I finally figured out that I had been trying to put it into my urethra. (On the other hand, just recently I was chatting with a friend who is older than myself but unmarried/virginal, and she didn't know that there were separate holes for pee and periods!!)

    In my mid-teens I remember my mom offering me an article from some hippie magazine, and I read it and was a little shocked that it suggested getting a hand mirror and looking at my parts (it also suggested tasting my fluids). So I got a mirror, and I don't remember my feelings about what I saw, except that I discovered that my labia were not symmetrical, and I spent years stressing that my husband would find me unattractive because of that. I had actually been married 7+ years before I learned that it is NORMAL to be non-symmetrical there (just as it is with breasts). You have no idea the confidence it gave me to know I was NORMAL!!! So that is something I would wish for every girl for her sex ed--to know what normal is!

    I have only sons. They know that they have a penis and a scrotum. They know that mommy has a birth canal and breasts (they've seen their brothers' births and lots of nursing), and they also know that I don't have a penis. My 4yo got very concerned about this a few months ago "but mommy, how do you pee?" I told him I still had a hole for the pee, it just wasn't on a penis. I haven't gotten more detailed than that because they have not asked...I am inclined to just answer the questions they ask as they ask them.
    With that said, and going back to my first point, I think the main reason that we have words for boy parts but not for girl parts is that boy parts hang out where everybody notices them. Girl parts are mostly internal and not very visible, even to the girl herself. If I had daughters, I would teach them to get a mirror, see what they have, learn to feel their cervix and know what their assorted vaginal discharges are. But I don't have daughters, so I hope to teach it to other peoples' daughters via a workshop I am developing (which I will totally share here when I get them together!)


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