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Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012

Yes, Virginia, There Is Comprehensive Sex Ed in Missouri

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Last Friday, four members of the Ladydrawers, a collective that creates comics about race, class, gender and sexuality, embarked on a road trip to Saint Louis. Their goal: to deliver a copy of the latest edition of the fundamental women's health text Our Bodies, Ourselves to U.S. Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), whose recent remarks about "legitimate rape" and pregnancy caused many to question his grasp of reproductive biology.

Coincidentally, I was in Saint Louis that same day leading a training for volunteer sexuality educators interested in using the "Our Whole Lives" sex ed curriculum in their communities. "Our Whole Lives" is a comprehensive curriculum that does, in fact, teach accurate information about reproduction and conception, that proclaims that rape is a social justice issue that all of us (not just women) are responsible for eradicating, and that states that abortion is a complex topic about which everyone must be free to make their own choices.

When I heard that the Ladydrawers were heading to Saint Louis and that they were looking for groups and organizations to visit while they were there, I invited them to our training, which was being hosted by a local church. We were the first stop on their tour of the city, and they donated a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves to our host congregation, gave comics about reproductive rights to all members of our group, and interviewed two of us about the moment that we became aware that public policy affected our bodies.

It was important to me to be a part of the Akin Road Trip, as they were calling it, for several reasons. First, I wanted to help raise up the people of Missouri who do not think like Todd Akin. It's not fair for us to stereotype an entire state based on the statements of one politician. In Missouri and every other state of our nation, there are reproductive rights activists fighting to make sure that women and men have control of their own bodies. The people who had taken time out of their lives to volunteer to attend this training and teach comprehensive sexuality education in their communities came from Missouri and all over the Midwest.

Second, people often assume that anyone who is "religious" automatically holds views that are similar to Akin's. Not so. Members of many different religious backgrounds believe in access to contraception and abortion and consider it their responsibility, as people of faith, to advocate for this right as a matter of social justice. I would guess that many of the attendees of my training who consider themselves religious see their work as sexuality educators as a form of ministry, supporting and making the lives of others better.

Third, people often assume that older folks are more conservative. Akin's remarks might cause us to say that he is "old" and "out of touch" and needs to step aside. In my sex ed training, I estimate that there was only one person who was younger than me. The rest of them were my elders, people of all genders and sexual orientations who broke the path for women's rights, LGBT rights, abortion rights and reproductive rights. Some are from the generation who wrote the original Our Bodies, Ourselves in 1970. We had incredible intergenerational dialogue during this two-day training. I am honored that they would consider me their teacher, and in return I acknowledge that nothing I do now would be possible without their activism.

Todd Akin voiced views that are, indeed, held by many people when he made his now-infamous remarks. But there are many others from the South and Midwest, from different religious traditions, and from his generation who do not share these views. Check out the photos, drawings and musings from the Ladydrawers road trip for proof.

Laura Anne Stuart owns the
Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee's East Side. She has a master's degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than 15 years. Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.
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