The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three lifelong friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. Jillian will soon embark on the (exciting) task of teaching sex-ed to middle school students at her church. Even though she has a curriculum to follow and has received training for the course, it’s a heavy task. With Valentine’s Day approaching, the 3:30 Project reflects on our own experiences of sex-ed and offer what we think we might hope to convey to the younger generation about sex, love, relationships, and the amazing changing human body.
“My body’s nobody’s body but mine. You run your own body, let me run mine…”
Did anyone else learn that little ditty of self-possession in elementary school?
I don’t exactly remember when, but at some point, the school system decided it was appropriate to acknowledge that children have bodies. Bodies that change. Bodies that can do things. Bodies that have things done to them.
These bodies must be addressed!
(And dressed appropriately as per the school handbook.)
Oh, sex-ed. So complicated, since people have such vastly diverse relationships with their own bodies. Philosophers have exhausted the limits of language attempting to describe the experience of inhabiting the physical form, the connection of mind and body, and the intersection of the soul with these two aspects. I suppose this a funny topic for me to tackle, because I tend to take my body and its mechanisms for granted, dwelling more in my brain. Pain, illness, change- often these are things that call attention to the flesh, which is why teenagers in puberty are so hyper-aware of bodies in general.
In the face of this physical change (and necessarily mental and emotional change, as well!) I suppose what I would say to the growing human teenager is this: There is no such thing as “normal.”
Just trust me, it’s not a thing.
When it comes to how you feel about your own self, or about changes you notice in yourself, or how you feel about other people, or how you feel about the concept of sex, or how you think you should feel about any of these things…there is an entire spectrum of human experience- ALL of it valid. We like to define categories and we like to know what to expect, but honestly there will be aspects of yourself that you will not see reflected back at you from the wider world. Let me emphasize that no matter what you seem to be experiencing, even if it is dramatically different from what they mention in health class, no matter if it doesn’t appear in the corny low-budget puberty movie they make you watch, no matter what anecdotes you hear from your Mom or Dad or sisters or brothers or friends, no matter what you witness in movies or TV —you may be quite different.
But that doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you, or that you are weird or abnormal, or that you have any reason to feel ashamed. The song had it completely correct in that regard- your body is nobody’s body but yours. There is so much to learn about what that means to you, because having a body is a responsibility. You have decisions to make about what you do with that body, who to love with your body and how to love them.
But don’t expect your body or your experience in it to be “normal.” Because that’s not a thing.
You are you. Just as it should be.
I got a lot of really terrible relationship advice from Disney movies growing up. Don’t get me wrong, if I hear a song from The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast, I am going to sing along. But…don’t get your relationship advice from them. In a Disney movie, a relationship develops very quickly and you know right away that Beauty and the Beast are destined to be together (I mean, it’s in the title). In real life, there’s a lot more trial, error and uncertainty.
My high school boyfriend turned out to be “the one.” I got engaged my freshman year of college. We had a long distance relationship for 3 years, and we finally got married. That may sound like a Disney plot, but it was a lot more complicated than that. We broke up once or twice; we had to learn to work out our differences; we had to decide how to balance our different desires and goals for our lives. We both had to give up things that we thought were important because we decided our relationship and being together were more important. And when we made those decisions, we didn’t know how it would work out.
I’ll be honest, it felt weird to be engaged at 19. Not because of the person I chose to be with, but because I knew that, for a lot of people, marrying their high school sweetheart would be a big mistake. It was hard for me to accept that what might be a huge mistake for one person, may turn out great for me. As you embark on this journey of young adulthood, I think that’s a really valuable lesson to keep in mind. When you’re making decisions about your body and your relationships, you need to make the decision that is the best for you. Not the decision that is right for your best friend, your boyfriend, your mom, your favorite celebrity or whoever else is in your life.
I also think it’s important that you know a little bit about heartbreak. I mentioned that before we got engaged, we broke up. And it broke my heart. A broken heart hurts. It hurts when you really love someone and maybe you were stupid and bad at relationships, or maybe they were stupid and bad at relationships, or maybe your circumstances brought out some problems that you had to work out before you’re going to be able to be in a relationship with anyone, but for whatever reason you feel vulnerable and broken.
What I learned during that time was that the one person who I was definitely going to be spending the rest of my life with was me. For that relationship to work out, I needed to be someone I liked and, ultimately, loved. Self-love sounds selfish, but it’s important to know what you like about yourself, to do things that feed your soul, to be a person who makes you happy. And what’s really beautiful about that is that when you have given love to yourself, there’s more for the people in your life that you love. I know that sounds like a Disney movie, but in this case, it’s true.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
The program Jillian’s church uses was developed by the Unitarian Universalist Church and is called Our Whole Lives.
Description from OWL website: Honest, accurate information about sexuality changes lives. It dismantles stereotypes and assumptions, builds self-acceptance and self-esteem, fosters healthy relationships, improves decision making, and has the potential to save lives. For these reasons and more, we are proud to offer Our Whole Lives (OWL), a comprehensive, lifespan sexuality education curricula for use in both secular settings and faith communities.
Another useful resource for Parents who want to have accurate conversations with their kids is Amaze Parents. It provides factual and entertaining videos about puberty, relationships, safety, reproduction and more.