Why is it that American Girl was our only sex-ed?
CREDIT: American Girl / Katie Martin / The Atlantic
The year is 2012. I’m looking through my family’s bookshelf and my eye catches something that’s never been there before: The Care and Keeping of You. I’m intrigued by the friendly girls on the cover and the American Girl logo, so I took a look and what followed can only be described as revelatory. This book contained secrets of growing up I’d only heard whispered; it was there to hold my hand and not let go until my younger sisters needed it next.
I admit that the tampon tutorial genuinely scarred me. It hit me that all of a sudden I was growing up, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I remember thinking I had to hide the book; no one could know I was reading it. It’s funny looking back and feeling like I couldn't even discuss the content with my mom even though she was the one who bought it and strategically placed it between Harry Potter and The Sisters Grimm.
Did all young girls feel that way too? All confused, weirded-out, and slightly alarmed. It is comforting as I get older to talk with friends and realize how much of our experiences are universal. We all were terrified to buy a bra for the first time. We all borrowed our mom’s razor to shave our legs for the first time without telling her. We all thought we were dying when we got our first period. This book was it, maybe our sole guide for growing up.
While The Care and Keeping of You was an unbiased and approachable resource for our younger selves, when our only sex-ed came from a book we can’t ask questions, there is a problem. Growing up in a more conservative and religious area, I received no comprehensive sex education from my public schools. It has been shown that abstinence-only programs continue to not only deprive but harm students. Leslie Kantor, assistant professor of Population and Family Health at Columbia University says, “Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs leave all young people unprepared and are particularly harmful to young people who are sexually active, who are LGBTQ, or have experienced sexual abuse.” Even ignoring puberty and the way our bodies change can create shame within kids that they are unable to identify. Kids need guidance and sincerity as they learn about puberty and eventually sexual health. Whether it’s parents or educators, cute euphemisms and tip-toeing around topics do not serve anyone but stigma.
In a social atmosphere where candor is increasingly more prioritized, there is hope for future generations. For example, it is promising to see shows like Sex Education rewriting the rules of what the media can do for young people. To see a show about young people that approaches sex sincerely, honestly, and inclusively is so important for young people. Being more open about taboo topics can encourage more people to embrace who they are. By increasing the conversation, we make room for more questions being asked, more self-exploration and a more open-minded society.
Growing up is hard, especially when it looks different on everyone. Kids need to feel seen as they transition into adulthood. We all wanted those older than us to acknowledge what was going on but never make us feel weird for it. I needed to know I could pick up a tampon in the school nurse’s office without her telling my entire fifth grade class about her period nightmare stories. The biggest source of comfort for me didn’t come from the Care and Keeping of You, but from knowing there were other people out there that had the same fears, emotions and most importantly, awkward experiences.
Alex Mowrey is an Online Writer at Rowdy Magazine. She’s a big fan of rice krispies treats, Ikea, and complex female characters! You can reach her (maybe) via @a.mow on Instagram or (definitely) at firstname.lastname@example.org