Flashback to sixth grade at Catholic school on the first day of “Operation Keepsake” aka sex ed. A pregnant lady waltzes into our classroom and hands everyone a rubber house. They were little houses made of rubber. Why? It’s a metaphor; in order to have sex you need to have the foundation of knowing each other, the walls of friendship, and the roof of marriage. Then and only then can you have the fireplace. I’ll let you stew in what the fireplace could possibly be.
Formal sexual education is an awkward experience. I remember being given a pad so thick it looked like a diaper and thinking, “ok, so how does swimming work with this thing because I have to do that after school on Tuesdays?” In a way sex ed unites us because kids across the country all have to go through this experience at one point or another. One afternoon at Wiggins some friends and I started fondly reminiscing about these fun times. For the first time, I started to grasp the variety of ways sex ed is taught. A girl from California had learned everything there was to know from detailed diagrams and videos. Most people had done the classic condom on a banana and basic chat about birth control. A few others had done some sort of abstinence only program. One hadn’t had any sex ed at all. And of course I had my rubber house.
Before Kenyon, students like me who went through abstinence only programs had never had true formal sexual education. Obviously there are other ways to find out about all of those fun things, but it’s different when it’s formally presented. First-years at Kenyon all go through the Beer and Sex program, which gives students the resources to make safe decisions pertaining to substances and, of course, sex. This program is totally awesome for two main reasons. Firstly, it exposes first-years to Kenyon’s culture. My Beer and Sex advisors gave us the stats on how many students drink, have sex and how many reported incidents of sexual misconduct occurred in the last year. I was surprised by how low all of those numbers were, which was incredibly comforting. Secondly, they gave us the resources to protect ourselves during sexual situations. This process included throwing condoms to us, letting us know where we could get other free condoms, and where we could turn to if we felt sexually violated or needed medical attention. One of my Beer and Sex advisors even invited us all on a field trip to the free STD clinic at the health center with him, which was strangely charming. The most important part of the whole program is the emphasis it puts on consent in sexual situations.
This approach to talking about sex was new to me and frankly it was a breath of fresh air. Although I’d never actually believed what had been taught in my sex ed class, there was something very comforting in being told that my sexuality wasn’t something dirty or strictly a “keepsake.” I don’t have a problem with people who believe sex should be saved for marriage, but I don’t think that approach is very realistic for a lot of people. I think it’s fine to encourage abstinence, but by skipping so many topics in sexuality everything becomes stigmatized. This system can create individuals who have no idea how to be self advocates in intimate situations.
At Deb Ball, after a night of dancing and debauchery, I found myself kissing a boy who I had lent my high school’s uniform skirt to earlier in the evening. The irony of the situation was not lost on me. My high school, in addition to their enlightening abstinence curriculum, had a strict policy against cross dressing. So being in Old K with a guy in drag is not something I ever thought of as I put my skirt on to go to school.
I’ve been reflecting on this moment ever since and I’ve come up with a few takeaways:
- There’s a stigma placed on sexual situations by abstinence only sex ed and that might not go away for me. Personally, it’s not a huge deal, but it might bar others from “following their bliss” in a safe and consensual way.
- Never lend boys your clothes. He returned it a week later, unwashed.
- Although at times it was annoying to make meetings, I would be worse off without the Beer and Sex program. At the time it seemed like overkill, but it served a purpose in driving home the facts: a. it’s ok to have sex, b. if you’re going to have sex do it safely, and c. consent is not sexy, it’s mandatory.
I recommend a new meaning for the house. First, you need the foundation of health both physically and mentally. Second you have the walls of mutual desire. Then you have the roof of consent. Lastly, you can have a sizzling fire in the fireplace.