High school sex-ed in a rural Michigan town in the 90s, well, it wasn’t like at Moordale, the high school in the edgy Netflix series Sex Education. We didn’t have a sex therapy clinic, let’s just say that.
No, unfortunately the teacher told us untruths and had one agenda: to preach abstinence. We were told we could get pregnant any time during our cycle (this is a lie, females can only conceive: A. if they ovulate or release an egg, and B. if the egg is fertilized within 24 hours of ovulation.) We were shown screaming women in cliche Hollywood birth scenes to scare us… I’m pretty sure the teachers drew straws to decide who taught it.
Perhaps most disappointing, there was no talk of anatomy, fertility, menstrual cycles, consent, protection, sexual preferences, non-binary gender, or anything empowering. If anything it was insulting, shaming and demeaning.
The student body sex-culture was passed down by the most lewd and mouthy, and so we learned through gossip and sloppy experimentation. There was a lot of pressure – to be sexual, but not too sexual. As a young woman, I felt incredibly ill equipped, and looking back now, I realize I was in highly activated nervous system states that bordered on trauma, most of the time.
Basically what I learned, at the same time I was learning about myself sexually, was that I was not allowed to explore it or express it authentically. I coupled the shame and pressure with the pleasure. It’s taken me quite some time to get to the bottom of all that negative imprinting. I won’t go into all the stories of how that went, but let’s just say it was messy and I’m grateful the internet didn’t exist back then.
So, obviously the abstinence+fear route doesn’t work. Lying to teens doesn’t work. Teens are still going to have sex. And as their elders, parents, aunties, and teachers, we’re failing them. We are still not being real with them, treating them like autonomous humans capable of reason, or championing their capacity to make good choices for themselves. We are not giving them the tools and a proper education to become sexually responsible and healthy adults.
This topic hits home for me on a personal level, as I share above, but it also hits on a professional level.
As a doula, I have helped many women through big experiences, perhaps the most transformative experience of their lives. I’ve seen many beautiful births, and am amazed at the capacity of the female body to defy the imagination – birthing women are endurance athletes of the most badass variety. I’ve had the absolute honor and pleasure to witness my high school sex-ed teacher being proven WRONG about birth.
I’ve also witnessed absolutely horrifying trauma to women during labor, and the cascade of medical interventions that catapult/cause disempowering births. For a long time I fought against the system that doesn’t value the sacred, objectifies, and pathologizes most women in most hospitals. Then I had to also look at how the women I was supporting had been systematically trained to let that happen to them.
And I had to look at this fact: most women have had to endure trauma to their living pelvis, their sacred sexuality, and their wondrous wombs – at some point in their lives, and for many, repeatedly. Often, disassociation and desensitization was all there was available to them. Fawn and freeze.
I saw that women who hadn’t dealt with their trauma commonly had trouble opening, and sadly, those births were often difficult. I kept asking to see my pregnant clients sooner and sooner in their pregnancies, so that we could work through some of this charge before they got to their birthing day, the day where they would have to face it and feel through it. Birth is the all system opener, after all. It cracks a woman wide open psycho-spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
It is a portal, a threshold, and some women can handle that much charge moving through their nervous system. Some cannot, and they unconsciously fight back against the enormity of that flow, and the initiation is interrupted. What distinguishes this capacity is another essay all together, but it can be learned through somatic healing work.
Sometimes interventions are necessary to save their lives and the lives of their babies, to be sure. However, I believe women are sadly underprepared to enter this portal, that we as a culture have failed them, since their very first sexual initiations.
That’s why my passion is now turning to teens, to the very first sexual imprints, to the very first conversations.
Information is everything. If teens are informed about the inner workings of their bodies, and each other’s bodies, and the processes of fertility and reproduction, in a stigma-free environment, they can make educated choices. These choices can shape the trajectory of their entire lives, and can inform the way they face the many thresholds to come.
This is only possible if we stop vilifying their bodily impulses, and invite them to fully occupy their bodies, and teach them to do so safely.
They can learn to advocate for themselves in their very first interactions with gynecologists and the medical system.
They can feel empowered to rise above the unhealthy sexual culture of their schools and towns.
They can learn the magic of their menstrual cycle, and see the wisdom of the way it operates, which gives them feedback about their diet, training regimen, sleep cycles, stress levels, sexual activity and so much more.
They can learn how their bodies and nervous systems respond to stress and trespass, and to learn how to regulate themselves with body-based practices.
They can avoid negative sexual outcomes, like unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and even make smarter choices about who/what/where they experiment, which I think could even lower incidences of sexual trespass.
… But only if we care enough to be real with them.
One thing I loved about Sex Education was how inclusive the show was. Laurie Nunn, the writer, explored a wild variety of topics through storytelling about teen sexuality that I believe gave teens watching a whole lot of permission. Perhaps it’s the best sex education they have received to date.
What if we were more intentional about this, in our very own communities?
What if we taught teens how their bodies really worked, how sex and reproduction works, how menstruation works?
What if we educated them on stress and trauma reduction, on building resilient nervous systems, on releasing charge from the body?
What if we taught about the anatomy of arousal, about how erectile tissue for males and females is similar, and different?
What if we taught them that sex doesn’t have to hurt, that in fact it shouldn’t, and how to make sure that doesn’t happen.
What if we taught them that menstruation doesn’t have to hurt either, and if it does, there’s a good reason for that, and it can be (most likely) resolved naturally?
What if we taught them inclusiveness about gender identity, sexual preference, and normalized that there is no normal.
My first imprints of sex are still very tangible in my nervous system, I work with them daily, as they inform a very pivotal part of my expression as a consciously sensual woman. I wonder what would be possible for the generation of people coming up, were they not to receive such damning and offensive miseducation?
I imagine the world would be a more tolerant, accepting, and pleasurable place.
Just my 2 cents.
Sarah Louisignau is an advocate and educator on women’s pelvic health including: pelvic floor pre/rehab, prenatal/postnatal support, sexual wellness and trauma healing, menstrual cycle and blood rites, and the sacred feminine. She works one-on-one with mothers and teens, both virtually and in person in her practice The Living Pelvis in Traverse City Michigan.