To my mind, the most powerful reckoning we make in this lifetime is with our sexual selves. Rarely are we privileged to bear witness to this process in others, even our most intimate others. So, when a NY Times columnist has the courage to disclose how an act of childhood sexual abuse slowly evolved into a complex, yet healing journey to sexual identity, I am in awe. In part, because childhood sexual abuse is so widespread, yet remains cloaked in a silencing shame. It is hard to know whether it is the original event itself that damages so many lives so thoroughly or the fact that so many harbor this secret shame alone. I know that what we refuse to look at, what remains hidden inside of us, and what is beyond our ability to speak of and process, grows more malignant with each passing year.
The horrors of childhood prostitution, sexual slavery, and worse still, sexuality, used as a weapon in war zones across the world are all reflections of the deep and pervasive ignorance of what it means to be sexual. Sexual injuries are generational and many, if not most, sex offenders, especially of children were once sexually abused themselves. Nelson Mandela might not have been talking about sex when he said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” Yet, there may be no place in the human psyche that this is truer. Until we replace the burden of guilt and shame with the light of education, we will never be free from the darkness that distorts the truth and beauty of what it is to be a healthy sexual human.
This work of sexual education belongs to all of us. The primary questions that we ask about being sexual are the same throughout our lifetime. Questions like, “Am I normal?” “What is true?” and “Will it hurt me?” begin with our first inklings of our sexuality and evolve as we age. Giving ourselves and the children we know honest and developmentally appropriate answers to these questions with real vocabulary based on anatomical information is the beginning of a healthy relationship to one of the central aspects of our humanity. Education is the means by which we give children ownership of their own bodies, as well as the language to protect themselves against inappropriate sexual touch. Imagine a kid speaking up to a neighbor or distant relative saying, “What are you doing, you can’t touch me there…” or having the courage to report the abuse to someone who could help them. This is how education frees us and changes the trajectory of an entire life.
It is not just children who need and deserve evolving sexual education. Even under the best of circumstances in a consensual relationship between loving adults, the power and complexity of our sexual drive can overcome and confuse us. Our deepest passions expose us to what is most raw and uncensored within us. Even after all these years with my husband, I find myself sometimes covering my eyes, unable to look at him after where our sexual selves have journeyed. We are never too old to grow up sexually. As with any area of knowledge, our ability to understand our sexual selves. As with any area of knowledge, our ability to understand our sexual experience deepens and becomes real through listening to our curiosity and responding to it with meaningful education. There has never been a time that healthier sexual information is freely available than right now. As with most education, it is usually not for lack of information and resources that we don’t learn, but for want of an open and curious mind.