Aiding the Passage Into the Sexual Self
In the beginning, the egg and mate met, becoming you.
No matter who you may be, this is a story shared by us all,
One in which sexuality is an integral and inseparable part.
Stepping into conscious acknowledgment of one’s Sexual Self is a significant threshold, and in fact a rite of passage. For sexual awareness yields an intrinsic change in how one relates to the world; as well as an enormous responsibility, which many of us are all too often, completely unaware of. It may seem obvious but it’s still important to say that this awakening of of the Sexual Self, has an incredibly strong influence over the lives of our young people, and thus of us all.
Who and What is the Sexual Self? The Sexual Self is a broad term, involving relationship with the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual selves through components such as the body, biological sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and behaviors, just to name a few. It encompasses both a relationship with self and others, and what is inwardly thought verses what we act upon. In a very gender conscious world, it is also how one relates to and in that world.
It is during the awakening of the Sexual Self that comprehensive sexual education, a potent medicine of empowerment and acceptance, is essential; so essential in fact, that it may even serve as a preventative medicine for sexual trauma. This education includes open dialogue and instruction of a range of subjects, allowing youth to more deeply understand their bodies and reproductive systems, explore their sexual identities and value systems, and become aware of the qualities needed for healthy relationships, such as clear communication, intimacy, consent, and love.
Who’s talking about it? The United States’ culture is inundated by sexual images and dialects, readily accessible and even difficult to avoid for anyone regardless of their age. Unfortunately, there is little comprehensive sexual education for its youth. Even in the case of parents and teachers, the main role modelers of cultural norms and taboos, they are not equipped to address the far-reaching issues of our Sexual Selves. In one survey, done by the Henry J. Kaiser Family, fifty-one percent of teens across the nation had a discussion with their parents of “how to know when you are ready to have sex;” that percentage decreased with subjects such as sexual health, contraceptives and pregnancy prevention¹. Only 23 states and the District of Columbia mandated sexual education in public schools; just 13 of those require the information to be medically accurate² and less than 10 states require inclusive, unbiased education regarding sexual orientation and culture. With such minimal information given to our youth, their peers and the media, specifically digital media tend to have the most influence on their understanding and development of the Sexual Self.
What are the consequences of a lack of sexual education? First and foremost, the most obvious consequence is that our youth fail to form healthy relationships with sexuality, both their own and that of their peers and partners. This manifests as unhealthy relationships with one’s own body, fear of and prejudice against the expression of one’s true gender identity, not having skills to address sexual advances, objectification, or practiced consent, and the lack of clear values around sexuality.
There are physical ramifications, as well, that are not commonly known. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 out of 2 sexually active people under the age of 25 will contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI)!³ Youth make up only one quarter of the sexually active population, but one half of the 20 million new STI cases a year.⁴ Although on a decline, the United States’ teenage STI, birth, and abortion rates are still higher than most other industrialized countries.⁵ As with many social injustices, negative sexual health outcomes affect hispanic and black youths in specific,⁶ and female youths in general at a higher rate.⁷ These statistics alone are heartbreaking, and even more so considering teen STI contraction and pregnancy are easily preventable.
So what can be done? We, as Rites of Passage facilitators, Youth Workers, and Advocates of youth empowerment, can begin the change. As we earn the love and trust of the youth we work with, we have a huge opportunity, and even the responsibility, to offer our youth holistic support around sexuality. Here are a few ways you can bring these topics into your own work:
- Revisit your own story of stepping into your Sexual Self, and take note of the support, or lack thereof, you received. This opens empathy and creates connection.
- Create a safe, judgment-free and confidential space to talk about the Sexual Self with the youth you work with. This can be done in a group, in Men, Women, and Queer Councils, or through one-on-one sessions. It is key to normalize fears and concerns experienced, and to promote the exploration of the youth’s own perceptions and values of sexuality.
- Talk about sexual safety and preventative measures: consent, contraceptives, healthy relationships, and healthy body image. Encourage love and acceptance for the Sexual Self.
- Offer yourself as a resource link. There are free, confidential reproductive health clinics for STI testing and contraceptives in many states, LGBTQ support groups, and free counseling services. There are also incredible and informative websites for clinicians, parents, teens and youth guides.
- Share the medicine with the community: parents, peer educators, teachers, counselors, and mentors. Encourage open, interactive and on-going dialogue supporting our youth.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Thank you for the powerful, important work you do in our world. If you wish for additional resources, I would be very happy to help. With all the differing webs we weave, together we create a stronghold for our youth to develop as whole, joyous persons. And let it be so!
General Information and Statistics:
For Parents and/or Mentors
Youth Passageways Partners that offer LGBTQ/Trans Specific resources/experiences
Non-Partner Resources for the same: