In My Words: How peeing blood helped me realize my sex-ed sucked
Welcome to In My Words, Real Talk's very own opinion column, where we dive head-first into frustrations, hot takes, and soap-boxes surrounding conversations about sex. Let's be real, because we have a lot to say and we're not holding back.
When I was a sophomore in college, I woke up in the middle of the night, halfway through Penn’s “Spring Fling’ weekend, peeing blood. My friend drove me to the ER where I spent 12 hours getting poked and prodded (and notably not being allowed to drink any water) as doctors tried to find that source of what they assumed was internal bleeding. After over half a day, I walked out with a Cipro prescription in my hand. It turns out I was not internally bleeding: I had my first UTI.
I grew up in a liberal town in a liberal state with liberal parents. My mom had worked for Planned Parenthood in her 30s. Despite having every opportunity, nobody ever told me what a UTI was, let alone how to prevent them. I didn’t know to recognize the early symptoms that would ultimately land me in the hospital. If I, with every privilege afforded to me, was never taught a core way to take care of my vaginal health (peeing after sex!), what chance does that leave us to understand our bodies.
It’s not our fault. The US system of sex-ed has failed us at every turn. In the US - 33 states don’t require sex-ed to to be medically accurate, including my now-home-state of Pennsylvania. In fact, more states require sex education to stress abstinence than ensure medical accuracy. Are you imagining walking into your health class looking for the age-old image of a condom on a banana? You’re more likely to hear the Mean Girls line “Don't have sex, because you will get pregnant and die.”
It’s not just the states letting us down, most school districts don’t even require their health educators to have any training on sexual education topics – like HIV, STIs, pregnancy prevention, and more. Without a required medically-backed curriculum or training, our educators stand no chance.
Why should we all care about the abstinence-only sex-ed curriculum that’s being pushed in schools across America? Because in a country where half of pregnancies are unplanned, comprehensive sex ed reduces STIs and unwanted pregnancies. It reduces sexual violence and delays the start of sexual activity. It promotes healthy relationships and social emotion learning.
This isn’t a political issue, it's a public health one. We need our states to pass bills requiring and defining medical accuracy in sex-ed. We need our school districts to adopt training requirements for educators. We need federal funding to support these programs.
We deserve to be taught about our bodies, so we can take care of them. Without this, we’re left ignoring painful peeing, which literally could kill us.