The below essay was written by Montanna T., 18, from California. She was awarded First Prize in the Stay Teen Project Future Essay Contest.
“Don't have sex, because you will get pregnant and die! Don't have sex in the missionary position, don't have sex standing up, just don't do it. OK, promise?” Mean Girls (2004)
When I was in middle school, every student was required to take a health class. This semester-long course covered all sorts of common-sense topics, from eating right and exercising to avoiding drugs and alcohol. At the very end of the semester, we entered the dreaded Sex unit (with a capital “S”). My expectations were high: I assumed that my teacher would demonstrate rolling a condom onto a banana, pass out brochures for Planned Parenthood, and explain the difference between “safe sex” and the opposite. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that such comprehensive instruction seemed to exist only in teen comedies. We were quizzed on the reproductive anatomy of both sexes and shown a graphic documentary about pregnancy and birth, both of which terrified most of the 13-year-olds in the class. Instead of condoms, we were given cards to sign pledging our continued abstinence until marriage. And during the final Q and A, every question pertaining to a scenario (“What if we started kissing and took off our shirts?”) was met with an answer like “Don’t get into that situation.” It may be true that 13 is too young for such activities, but even in the high school equivalent of the same class, the most information we ever got about contraception was a PowerPoint slide with an animated cartoon of a dancing condom on it.
This dearth of education was infuriating; we were expected to avoid getting pregnant as teenagers, but not given the tools and resources to make that happen. How could we make informed decisions about our sexual activities if no one would inform us of anything? I had big dreams of becoming a software engineer for a major company and knew that I didn’t want children until I had a stable career, a spouse, and a house. But the education I received didn’t teach me how to achieve that. I realized quickly that I had to be responsible for my own sexual education, and I made a decision: I would wait to have sex until I was at least 18. Not because I signed a pledge that I was too young and ignorant to understand, but because I wanted to ensure that I could handle the consequences, whatever they may be. And in the meantime, I would seek out the information I needed on my own – not through school, but on the internet.
Our generation is fortunate to be in a unique position: we’re among the first people who can find the answer to any question imaginable with the push of a button. A simple Google search can bring a wealth of information, often more than you thought you needed. For example, I never knew there were so many things to consider when using condoms: if you buy the wrong size, apply it incorrectly, use it past its expiration date, or use the wrong type of lubricant, the condom could break. And it could still break or fail even if you’re as careful as possible. We never learned anything so practical in health class. Of course, the internet wasn’t the only resource that’s been useful: I’m immensely grateful to have a kind, sweet and understanding mother who I can talk to about anything. My mom has always been there to answer my questions about puberty, womanhood, and relationships, so when I came to her for help in my quest for sexual responsibility, she helped me find a gynecologist and get on The Pill. Some conversations, however, are a little more embarrassing to have with your mom, like how to prepare for your first time having intercourse or how to talk to your partner about what feels good and what doesn’t. Without the information available on the internet, I couldn’t have discovered so much about how to have a safe, responsible, and healthy sex life. Now that I’m in college with a steady boyfriend, all of that knowledge has been invaluable.
With resources online like Stay Teen, nearly everyone can get the information they need to make safe, smart decisions. And in a time when women are overwhelmingly choosing to pursue careers before motherhood, this information is essential. Since the 1950s, the median age for marriage has increased from 19 to 25, and since 1980, the number of women who wait to have children until their 40s has nearly quadrupled (Newman). Over the course of my four years in high school, however, at least three of my classmates became pregnant. Two received their diplomas, and many more went through pregnancy scares. If our school’s sexual education had focused more on using and acquiring contraceptives, could they have saved these girls from the fear and unimaginable stress of carrying, delivering, and raising a baby while still in high school? And perhaps more importantly, if these students and their boyfriends had sought out information online, would they have been able to save themselves? I believe they could have. Abstinence-based sex education will always be an oxymoron, but I hope that in time, more schools will realize how unrealistic the approach is. And in the meantime, I hope that teenagers will stay curious, stay smart, and stay teen.