When I was around twelve, my mother sat me down and said, “Sam, we have to talk.” Instantly, I knew it was coming: the incredibly awkward, I-had-only-heard-stories-as-of-yet sex talk that I so desperately didn’t want to have. She continued.

“I know you’re getting older, and you’re becoming more of an adult.” Oh good god. “I want you to know we trust you and we think you’re responsible, so I think we should talk about–”

Being certain I could take no more, as I was a preteen and desperately did not want to have such a remarkably uncomfortable discussion with my mother, I blurted out: “ARE WE GETTING A DOG?”

She stared at me for a few moments, confused and clearly trying to find the words to say.

“Sure… yeah, we–we’re getting a dog.”

The result of our talk.

And get a dog, we did! We never discussed sex again, not even a little bit, until I was in college, by which time I had been sexually active for years and knew the ins and outs of most sex-related topics relevant to a teenager. I knew about various types of birth control, as I had been on it since I was 13 anyway due to having appendicitis-like symptoms during my 2-week long periods.

But it wasn’t always like that. In fact, between the almost-talk and college, I had a considerable amount of very confused ideas on what sex was supposed to be like, as well as what it could result in.

Sex education is integral to developing a healthy, informed generation. Giving kids straight-forward lessons on how sex and their bodies actually works can prevent a whole slew of issues later on, including (but not limited to) pregnancy and STDs. We know this to be true because in areas where abstinence-only education is in place, there are higher teen pregnancy rates. I know this to be true because I was deeply confused about sex until I was in my mid-teens, but there are a lot of people who have stayed in the dark considerably longer and faced many more consequences.

When I was around 10 or so, I started masturbating. It wasn’t like I had one of those Rabbit vibrators or something; I just had a pillow and some thoughts about a few scenes in the latest James Bond movie. That was it. I didn’t have any idea what it was called, but I knew that it was (A) awesome (B) too awesome to be a good thing. I was ashamed of it, though, because I had heard in school through other kids that masturbation was something “very naughty” that would lead to you becoming pregnant.

So for years, I was literally petrified every time I masturbated. I would cry for hours afterward, feeling guilty, ashamed and confused about what I was doing. It would keep me up at night thinking about how angry my parents would be if suddenly, I were pregnant and they knew it was because I was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad daughter who couldn’t do anything right and actually (GASP) masturbated.

THE HORROR.

I actually didn’t even realize this wasn’t true until I was in my teen years and had switched schools to an independent high school that didn’t have to follow state curriculum. I logically knew it wasn’t true by then, but I still felt conflicted, guilty and didn’t entirely understand if there were actual consequences. My teacher explained that masturbation was completely natural and that nobody should feel bad about their bodies as long as they were safe.

I also believed–and was eventually informed otherwise–several other incorrect ideas about sex. In no particular order: if you do not shave, you will get herpes, and that razor burn and herpes are the same thing (yeah, this was a really confusing duo); swallowing semen will get you pregnant; wearing lingerie was the most appealing thing to anybody, ever, ever ever.

I also witnessed other people fall for lies or half-truths that other kids would spread, many of whom faced some difficult choices thereafter.

You know how people sometimes say that birth control makes you fat, but babies make you fatter? This is true.

When you’re in high school, though, being pretty is a high priority for many students. Not only does it feel like your social status–which, sadly, is incredibly important for people like myself who had low self-esteem all through high school–depends on it, it also feels like the end of the world when somebody calls you ugly or fat in front of other people (both of which happened to me after I went on birth control). Because some young people don’t realize the whole “babies make you fatter” aspect of the saying above, they listen to their friends who tell them to opt out of birth control, as it may make them gain weight.

I had a friend in high school who felt this way, and also used to inform me that no guy would ever have sex if he had to use a condom, so she exclusively used the pulling out method. As we all know, this isn’t exactly the most reliable means to avoid pregnancy. Unshockingly, she became pregnant as a result and wound up having one child when she was 16, and–because she continued using the same method–another when she was 18. From what I hear, she’s doing very well and I’m sure she loves her children and likely isn’t sad that it happened, but it’s still a struggle for a lot teen mothers to finish school, maintain a job and take care of kids all at the same time as growing up themselves.

These days, though, there are plenty of young people, including some of the kids I used to tutor who were ages 14-16, who got most of their information on sex through the Internet and television shows. One 15-year-old girl would tell me how her friends had decided to get pregnant in order to seek a reality television contract similar to that of the Teen Mom stars, all of whom have received considerable amounts of money for their participation in the show. This backfired (of course) because MTV does not hire every single teenage mother out there. Now, my student tells me, the girls actually resent their children; this is both sad and terrible.

Educating kids before television, movies and the Internet can isn’t easy, nor is it entirely feasible. However, combating misinformation and misjudgments can prevent these types of missteps.

Yes, my mother could’ve had a sex talk with me. But every time she was potentially beginning one, I stopped her. I would bring up something else or simply interrupt and say I had to do something for school/soccer/Hot Topic/whatever my pseudo-tortured self was doing at the time. Why? Because I didn’t want to listen. Listening to your parents talk about sex when you’re a preteen is incredibly unpleasant; it means you have to both acknowledge your parents have had sex (which is very ~*ew*~ when you’re twelve) as well as let them acknowledge that you might be.

Sex education is important because kids don’t want to talk to their parents about sex. Sure, there are some parents once in a while that are able to discuss the ins and outs (literally) of sex, but given the level of stigma surrounding healthy sex in our media–and, in turn, how much of our education on the world around us comes from the media–it’s pretty damn difficult to get an accurate point of view without formal education. Having to sit in a classroom sucks, but kids often do absorb it when it’s well-done. And isn’t it better than nothing or potentially incorrect information?

Sex will happen. It is instinctual, it’s how our species continues on and it feels pretty fantastic most of the time. Trying to deny that sex happens among teens is not only ridiculous, it’s dangerous. Yes, it’s up to parents to discuss certain aspects–particularly the emotional ones–with their children, but sex education in schools is integral for parents who have trouble communicating with their children, whether it’s due to simple personality differences, circumstantial difficulties like having a job where you don’t regularly see your kids, or even actual language barriers.

So, school folks and the politicians in charge of education laws: I beg of you, please maintain good sex ed programs in our schools. All future generations depend on it.

Pic credits: doyoubelieveindog and MTV.