Guest Post by Jennifer Aldoretta
The things that consume my time are many and varied, but one of the most rewarding as of late has been volunteering for a local organization that aims to empower young women as they work through the many hardships of adolescence. Every Thursday for the past few months, I’ve spent the afternoon at a local high school with an incredible group of young women. The program focuses on healthy ways to manage the stresses of young adulthood, but the conversations often strayed towards topics like relationships, dating, sex, and even menstruation. Naturally, they were interested in these topics and seemed eager to get the opinions and advice of adult women who have undoubtedly had similar experiences.
During one meeting that I will likely not forget, the conversation made its way to—you guessed it—periods. The group was particularly fascinated by my current career path, and I was happy to discuss it with them. I imagine it’s not every day that one encounters someone like myself who is so invested in vaginas and other lady parts. Questions about Groove started flowing: how does the app work?, what made me decide to start a business?, what is menstrual cycle tracking?, and how does menstruation actually work?
Something that quickly became apparent to me was how little these young women knew about their bodies. I’ve known for quite some time that sex ed in the United States isn’t the greatest, because I was once a 16-year-old. But when questions like what is ovulation? and what are ovaries? arose, the pitfalls of our current sex education curriculums became overwhelmingly obvious. And I became increasingly angry—not angry with this group of completely amazing young women, of course, but angry at a system that is so blatantly failing them. Unfortunately, since we were on school property, there was only so much that I was allowed to tell this group of inquisitive young women about their bodies (though I have to admit that I knowingly pushed these limits).
The birth rate among teenagers in the United States is higher than in any other developed nation. We belong to a system in which our young people are not being provided even the most basic information about their bodies—have you seen the hilariously pathetic results of adults attempting to label the male and female reproductive systems? Despite our lacking curriculums, we (for some reason) still like to place blame for risky sexual behavior, spreading of STIs, and teen pregnancies entirely on the shoulders of our young people. This seems like an obvious question, but how does this make any sense? We should instead be focusing on how we can improve the current system to prevent these things in the first place. It seems so obvious, yet the concept seems to be lost on those who create these education standards.
Let us properly educate our nation’s young people and then we can point figures and engage in discussions about ways to lower teen pregnancy rates and the spread of STIs—though I have a hunch the conversation might be moot at that point. A single (and far too basic) sex education class cannot possibly create an informed generation. It’s ridiculous to blame an individual for being misinformed in a system that does not inform. It’s ridiculous that our system, in many cases, does not allow (or require) educators to provide direct answers to direct questions. Only 19 of the 51 states in the US require that information provided in sex ed classes be medically, factually, or technically accurate. That’s less than 40%! And still, there are questions being asked and fingers being pointed as though teenagers have all the information they need to make informed choices. Is it a coincidence that nations with more comprehensive sex education programs tend to have lower teen pregnancy rates? I think not! Take a gander at the stats of our northern neighbors.
Sex education and teen pregnancy are not mutually exclusive (sorry, politicians). I’m not advocating for contraceptive education in schools—because that’s a battle for another day—but information about the male and female reproductive systems (which is vital for maintaining good bodily health) is not something that should be glossed over.