“Wait, I thought I need to have sex and get pregnant so I can get food stamps for my family.”
This is what an eleven year old girl told me during a sexual education session at a local middle school.
I was asked to speak to middle schoolers about the fundamentals of sex and sexual health. Now any current or former sex educator knows that to be invited to speak at a school, about sex, in Birmingham, AL is a honor in itself, so I did not hestitate. As I went over a crash course in sex and sexual health, I noticed the teachers begin to congregate in the corner, as most teachers do when I start to present. It’s the moment when the teachers realize that I wasn’t coming in there to scare their students and tell them they better not have sex (which is the normal strategy for parents and schools on this topic). Shortly after their brief huddle, a teacher came and whispered to me that I needed to be a little more PG and focus on abstinence and pregnancy. Furthermore, she elaborated that I needed to tell the girls to keep their legs closed, and tell the boys to wrap it up and not have sex with these fast ass girls. [I could write a whole article unpacking this statement, but for now, I will leave that here while I address the larger issue of sex education.]
After the awkward and ill informed conversation I had with the teacher, I ignored her insightful advice and started to talk about healthy relationships. I explained that all of the information I shared about sex is so they can be empowered to make informed decisions about their sexual health and have the knowledge to decide what’s right for them in any type of relationship. Lastly, I explained consent and the concept of yes meaning yes. Then, I opened the floor for questions. I got the usual questions, “Ms. Bowman so condoms are wet?”, “Ms. Bowman have you heard of those blue waffles?” But it wasn’t until the 11 year old girl tied together sex, babies, and income did I realize sex education wasn’t the key issue here. At that moment I recognized that informed decision making is not only directly related to knowledge, but also other factors including generational values, poverty, self-worth, racism, and sexism.
Standing there, staring at those 100 students I no longer wanted to talk about STDs, pregnancy, or healthy relationships. I wanted them to know they can set high expectations for themselves and that I believe in them. So to answer her question, I took a deep breath and said, “No! You don’t get pregnant for income or access to governmental programs. Parenthood can and should be a deep and loving bond, where you recognize that your responsibility is to give your best self to that baby. You do not have to follow the path that other people paint for you, you can paint your own road and follow your own directions.” As I finished my statement she gave me the biggest smile and said “Thank you”. I don’t know if my statement drastically changed her life path but I do know that at that moment I had a responsibility to empower that little black girl who could be me or anyone I love. It is for those reasons that as sex educators our sole purpose is not just fighting to get into schools to teach sex education, we are fighting to get into the hearts of the students and show them that they are worth knowing all the information and their life is worth planning and preparing to make the best decisions possible for their bodies and their future.
Sloane Bickerstaff is a wifey, mom, sexual health communicator and sex positive enthusiast with a passion for comedy, film, and twerking.