The Controversy Over ‘Vagina’

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Illustration by Christine Hipp.
Illustration by Christine Hipp.

A small group of parents in Idaho made complaints to the Idaho State Department of Education. They were about tenth-grade biology teacher Tim McDaniel’s use of the word “vagina” while teaching human anatomy. This is not a joke.

McDaniel was teaching sex education in biology because the school’s health teacher would not teach information on sexual health.

Statistics show that many states where sex education is not mandated have higher teenage pregnancy rates. While it may seem obvious, talking about vaginas is necessary in  education, as is talking about human anatomy, sexual intercourse, STIs, pregnancy and other important aspects of sexual health that teens need to be aware of to better understand the consequences of their potential decisions.

A teacher who is brave enough to stand in front of a group of judgmental high schoolers and use the word “vagina” — in the context of a lecture on sexual intercourse and human anatomy — deserves a huge pat on the back for providing these students with valuable resources and facts. He also displayed noteworthy sensitivity, giving students the option to opt out of the lectures on sex education if it made them uncomfortable.

Sex education and HIV education are both requirements a state can mandate for school districts. Idaho — among other states such as Arkansas, Arizona and Texas — does not require that schools offer sex education or HIV education. Oddly enough, these same states have some of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in the nation, which has its own consequences. Only about half of teen moms have a high school diploma, as opposed to the 90 percent of women who did not have a teen pregnancy.

How are high schoolers supposed to be aware of the possible choices one can make, including having sex, safe sex, safe sex when he or she feels at least a little ready for the interaction or abstaining from the sexual interaction altogether, if no one teaches them about it? Leaving high schoolers only with the vague and disappointing instruction to abstain from embarking on a new frontier, sex, intrigues them to engage in risky behavior.

We need educators who are willing to explain honestly and professionally how sexual intercourse works and how individuals can engage in it in a healthy way that does not damage bodily health or risk the individual’s future.

We are all constantly surrounded by technology and in today’s world high school students can easily go on their computers at home and look up information about sexual intercourse and human anatomy. They may not find information that will help them form a healthy and honest perspective of sex. Teachers like Tim McDaniel are resources who can help high school students form their own perspectives on sex and make informed decisions on how and if they will engage in sex.

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