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Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2008

Getting Schooled

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   This week, I turn the tables by asking my readers some questions. Students have been back at school for a month now, and I talked with a few from local colleges and universities about what they wished their parents had told them about sex before they were all grown up.

  This topic is on my mind for a couple of reasons. The pregnancy of Sarah Palin's daughter, Bristol, has once again put the spotlight on the effectiveness of abstinence-only sex education and of parental messages about sexuality. In addition, I just kicked off a series of workshops for parents at the Tool Shed, the first of which focused on educating kids about sexuality. So, let's hear it from the source: What type of information would help people navigate those precarious late teens and early 20s?

  For some people, any talk on the topic would have been welcome. Eric, a 27-year-old graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, says, "I wish my parents would have told me anything at all. All of the information I received came from other sources, which ensured that it was completely inaccurate."

  Nicole, a 22-year-old senior at Cardinal Stritch University, says, "I felt I was greatly informed about sex, but after me, my parents forgot to relay the same information to my siblings."

  Some parents provided a little too much factual information. According to Erin, a 19-year-old UWM sophomore, "Fortunately (or unfortunately), my mom was a health educator who explained in detail, with pictures, the physical act of sex… I wish she had told me more about the emotional component [of] sex, because contrary to my mom's comments, sex doesn't just happen between 'two people who love each other.'"

  Kelly, a 20-year-old sophomore from Marquette University, agrees: "People spend so much time harping on how 'dangerous' sex is because of [sexually transmitted infections] and pregnancy. I wish someone had told me what a huge emotional burden it can become when the situation or circumstances are wrong for you."

  Several students commented that they wished their parents had told them that sex is a good thing. Lindsey, a 21-year-old senior from Marquette, wishes that she had heard "that sex is healthy-you look great and feel great after sex, especially if you love your partner. Sex is not always scary and dirty!"

  Lauren, a 21-year-old UWM senior, concurs, although she does also wish she had known "that the first time would suck a bit."

  I always tell parents that they are the primary sexuality educators of their children. Saying nothing is as strong a message as any other: It conveys that sex is something that can't be talked about.

  Since my previous two columns both answered reader questions about how to communicate with their partners about sex, it's clear to me that this message carries through to adulthood and continues to cause problems for people. Focusing on the mechanics of sexuality and reproductive health is a good start, but sex is far more than that.

  Post comments about what you wish your parents had told you at www.expressmilwaukee.com/sexpress.

Laura Anne Stuart owns the Tool Shed, a sex toy store in Milwaukee's Riverwest neighborhood. She has a master's degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. 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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