Operation Sex-ucation: Activists talk about the birds and the bees

By Emily Alpert

Sex Education Activists (SEA), a student group, held its first major promotional event, “Operation Sex-ucation,” at Ida Noyes Hall Saturday evening. The event, which featured informational booths, free food, and live music, drew roughly 60 students, mostly women, who wanted to learn more about sex education.

Student groups such as Women and Youth Supporting Each Other (WYSE), Feminist Majority, Resources for Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP), and the campus chapter of the National Organization for Women, as well as outside groups such as the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, the Chicago Women’s Health Center, and the Lab School’s U-High Feminist Club distributed pamphlets and gathered signatures for petitions.

SEA addressed how federal funding for sex education programs in Illinois public schools is currently restricted to abstinence-only programs. Keynote speaker Jonathan Stacks of the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health argued that such programs fail to protect teens by not providing information about contraceptives and sexually transmitted diseases and infections. “We have to hold our legislators accountable for the health and well being of our youth,” Stacks said. “Even if they’re not sexually active until they’re 40, they’ll still need that information.”

Miranda Elliot, a junior at the Lab School and co-president of the U-High Feminist Club, expressed dismay with the abstinence-only program at the public school she attended in her freshman year. “They lied to us,” Elliot said. “They said condoms are 70 percent effective, and that HIV can slip through holes in condoms. I tried to call the teacher on it, but he wouldn’t listen.”

Stephen Raskauskas, a first-year in the College and active member of SEA, reported meeting Kenwood Academy students who thought paper towels could be used effectively as contraceptives. Without comprehensive sex education, he argued, “they end up using a loose code of urban myths to govern their practices.”

Citing such concerns, Stacks urged students to sign a petition supporting SB 457, the Responsible Sex Education Program. A group of 47 SEA members and Kenwood Academy students recently lobbied in Springfield for the passage of the bill, which would allow schools and community-based organizations to apply for state grants for comprehensive sex education programs. Mayce Mansour, a second-year and a member of WYSE, said that for the school in Little Village where she mentors sixth-grade girls, such funds could be crucial. “Little Village has a very high pregnancy rate,” she explained, “because they have very little knowledge of sex in general, especially birth control. Their school can’t pass up federal funding.”

The event combined sex education facts—”Highest rates of gonorrhea infection in the U.S. are among teens,” read one poster—and resources with playful, sex-positive fliers and games. The Condom Cucumber Challenge, sponsored by SEA, asked event-goers to demonstrate their skills in proper condom usage by rolling one onto a cucumber. An un-staffed table from the feminist sex shop “Early to Bed” featured informational sheets on vibrators and other sex toys. Arguing that sex education should include information on female pleasure, second-year in the College Anna Fielding Griggs of the Feminist Majority assembled two posters, one featuring a female anatomical drawing from her former high school’s sex-ed program, the second a hand-drawn depiction of the vulva. “When I look at that,” she said, gesturing to the first poster, “I don’t see my body. There’s no labia. There’s no clitoris. There are organs that aren’t there. That drawing says to students that women’s pleasure isn’t important.”

Jennifer Tamayo, fourth-year in the College and founder of SEA, said it was critical to build a broad coalition of groups, including domestic violence and rape prevention programs not immediately associated with the issue of comprehensive sex education.