Let’s talk about sex: The disparity

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Let’s talk about sex: The disparity

Renee Pu

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Illustration by Renee Pu

I walked out of a pharmacy with a completed worksheet in my hand. The worksheet, recording the prices and functions of various sex protection products, was from my Biology class. I remembered how difficult looking at these products used to be for me and appreciated that I could receive sex ed and still be comfortable.

In seventh grade, before I moved to Cupertino from Shanghai, page 84 in our new science textbook riveted the entire class. In front of me, my classmate, smiling with anticipation, excitedly flipped through the book to show me the anatomy of the human reproductive system.

I looked away.

This was the first, and last, sex ed from the school.

On that day, everyone held their breath as the science teacher walked in. Each book was open to page 84, and we just couldn’t keep the sly smiles off our anticipative faces.

Without speaking, the teacher pulled out a DVD and clicked “play.” For the next 40 minutes, we watched a video about the reproductive system. It was the first time that we were able to sit with people of similar age and learn about the structures and functions of reproductive organs, and much to our delight, how a girl could swim with the help of a tampon. As we gasped in excitement over the unfamiliar terms, the teacher sat beside his computer with an indifferent gaze.

The next day we moved on to the next unit. Although we hadn’t learned anything from the teacher, the video still felt like an adventure. But there was something missing in it. We still had no idea how to apply what we had learned to life. What about sexually transmitted infections? What about consent? What about protecting ourselves in different situations? The video had content, but it wasn’t enough. We needed sex ed that was carried out by real people, from whom we could learn the appropriate attitude, who we could relate to, and who we could ask those questions that we pondered. And when the teacher was not comfortable teaching the topic, there was no way for us to understand how to deal with issues about sex properly.

So it was up to us students to decide what to say or what not to say, how to respond or how to not respond. Often, some people in my school in China would come up with risque jokes, and many would giggle and secretly spread them around. Others would look away and feel nauseous and try hard to keep the disturbing images off the mind. I had no appetite for days, especially when eating a hot dog.

I started at MVHS as a junior and took freshman Biology, which provided me a second chance to learn sex ed. I was very shocked by the terms that came up in class and the straightforward assignments, like asking pharmacists about sex protection products. And most of all, how we comfortably discussed our questions and related what we learned to our lives.

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 7.12.21 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-03 at 7.12.35 PMI discovered that it is okay to talk about sex because it’s not shameful. The reproductive system is part of a person’s body just as the circulatory system is, and sex can be an important part of a romantic relationship. Being able to understand sex and to discuss it is an essential aspect of protecting ourselves and learning to make the right decisions for our lives.

In my old school, we were kept away from the topic to protect innocent children from the adult world, but students are eventually going to grow up and experience society. They’ll even go through the very obstacles that adults are unwilling to talk about. Understandably, sexuality may be an uncomfortable topic for people from more traditional cultures, but sometimes taking one step out of the parents’ and educators’ comfort zone is what they need to do for the benefit of the children in the long run.

And by talking about sex, we’ll understand it more. We’ll understand how to take care of ourselves and be responsible for our behaviors, so that we can stay away from the dangers that concern the people who care about us. So that we are actually protected.

I feel grateful that I now understand what we should learn from sex education. But, I still have to work on being comfortable about talking about sex. When we were given a fill-in-the-blank question in Literature with the correct answer “penis,” I could only secretly suspect the answer and write down an alternative answer, “the brain?”, instead. I didn’t even think about writing down the word “penis.” What if I thought wrong? What if it was inappropriate? When the teacher showed us the correct answer, I eventually realized that it was time to move on from the conservative culture of my past.

For me, talking about sex takes time and a lot of courage, but I appreciate the chance to discuss it and be educated. And writing about it, as I found out, is just as hard, and as helpful, as talking.