Episode 8: Sex Ed with Ms. Ashley Part 2

This episode brings you the second of the two-part interview with sex educator and activist Ms. Ashley about evidence-based, factual sex education.

In this far-ranging conversation, we talk about sexual health, being the person your kids feel safe talking to, myths about sex, how to handle questions about sex, and values-based vs. evidence-based education.

Ms. Ashley is a sex educator who teaches an adaptation of the Our Whole Lives curriculum. You can find her on Facebook herehere, and here, and on Instagram here.

Transcript of the episode below. You can find Ms. Ashley’s bio, a list of places to find her on the internet, and the studies she cites at the very end.

Franklin: Hello! Welcome back to Skeptical Perverts, the podcast where we examine human sexuality through an evidence-based, skeptical lens! I’m your host, part-time mad scientist, and token cishet guy, Franklin!

Joreth: Hi! I’m your co-host and Renaissance cat, Joreth! I’m kinky, sopo, ace, chicana, feminist, my gender identity is “tomboy”, and my pronouns are she/her but you may call me sir. 

Eunice: And I’m Eunice, your friendly neighbourhood queer, kinky, ace-spec, bisexual, solopoly British Chinese woman. In lieu of giving me a title, you may gift me tea instead. Loose leaf, of course, cos I’m predictable like that.

Franklin: Today’s episode brings you the second half of our chat with Ms. Ashley, a sex educator who does a lot of work with evidence-based sex ed.

Eunice: Yeah, when we listened back over the interview, it had so much good stuff in there we just didn’t want to miss any of it. If you haven’t heard the first part, please go back and listen to episode 7—you don’t want to miss it, trust me!

Franklin: A quick reminder – today’s episode is US-centered because so much about US-based sex ed is wrapped up in politics, so keep in mind we’re talking about US policies, politics, and attitudes. Of course, sex ed everywhere is political, but in the US it’s especially bad. Here we go!

Ms. Ashley: So currently in the US, roughly one third of high schools teach condom use. One third.

Joreth: One third.

Franklin: Wow, that’s disappointing. 

Ms. Ashley: It is. It is very disappointing, especially considering that is our front line of defence against all the STI’s, and I do not have this statistic right now, but the number of youth that experience an STI is rising, because they’re uninformed about what the warning signs are that they might have something, or that they might be carrying something. And so then they don’t know what their body is telling them in order to go seek medical advice.

So those that idea of “hey, a condom could have prevented this, had they known about it” or “how to use it” is something I would love for parents to be specifically asking within their their children’s sex ed programs. Like, “does this include condoms?” Because it’s really hard to find out this information.

I’m doing this right now with my own child program in their own school, and I had to talk to the director of the program to get this information. It wasn’t anywhere online.

So if that’s an another action item that families might want to go with, it’s just, can you get to the bottom of whether or not your high schools in your area include this very important information.

Joreth: And it sounds like it’s also really important to start including sex ed way before it comes to intercourse sex, and just start talking about what the body is. Because if you don’t know how to listen to your body, you won’t recognize these signs later that something is wrong, whether it’s sexually transmitted or not, whether it’s something else.

I have endometriosis and my mom had it also. Hers was bad enough that I don’t know how many miscarriages, maybe just one, but she had at least one and ended up having a full hysterectomy because of it. 

So I’m adopted. And I had no idea that what I was going through was not normal, that it was probably endo, until, I think, my 30s.

My mom had this and we did not have this conversation. When I had really bad cramps and had to go home from school, the talk was not, “I had a similar problem, let’s get you checked out,” the talk was, “you know you’ll never find a boss who will let you come home every month. You need to suck it up.’ 

This is this is from a mom who is not abusive. I love my mom. We have a very good relationship. But she was raised Catholic, so this is the level of discourse that we have about it.

And you know, we’re not even talking about intercourse here. We need to start these conversations way earlier, just about what does your body, both physical and emotions, what does your body do and what is it supposed to do?

Eunice: The thing about that as well  is that if you teach your kids that they just have to suck it up if something bad is happening or something painful is happening to them, that also means that they will suck it up when somebody is being abusive to them. 

Because they don’t know the difference. 

Joreth: And you can’t trust your body signals. It’s a form of gaslighting. You cannot trust what your own body is telling you, because you’ve learned to block it out your whole life when everybody says, suck it up. And this is one of the big problems that boys have, especially, ’cause they get this “suck it up” way earlier and way harder. 

Ms. Ashley: Absolutely, and this is another place where I can say adults should be answering children’s questions factually. If they don’t know the answer, they shouldn’t be faking it. If they don’t know the answer, they should look it up and research it, because kids don’t come with a guidebook. When you have a child, you don’t really know what you’re doing. And so they’re going to ask you questions that push you out of your comfort zone, and they’re going to ask you things you don’t know.

And it’s a great way for you to immediately start being a human with your child and saying where your shortcomings are and being willing to work together to find answers. Because them asking questions to you says “I trust you,” says “I’m curious,” says “you’re my person,” says “this is my safe place to ask these questions.”

It’s not any failure on your part if they’re asking lewd or quote unquote inappropriate questions or saying words you don’t want them to say. You’ve done nothing wrong as a parent if that happens. 

That means you’re doing it right, because you are the person they came to with that bad word, or that inappropriate question, or whatever it is. And they’re not seeking that advice and that information from unsafe sources. 

Joreth: That’s an excellent point.

Eunice: Yeah, much better to be the parent that they will go to if they think something’s wrong then to hide it because they’re afraid you punish them. 

Joreth: Exactly.

Ms. Ashley: Exactly so. That is what I have to share about what the research has shown me. It’s just one small article and it’s kind of streamlined and basic, which is start early, have very short conversations. Use all those opportunities for fact-based conversations, so that if you don’t know the answers you’re looking them up in good places. Keeping in mind that the more information that you share with your child more frequently, the more information they have in order to make better informed decisions. 

There is no evidence that says comprehensive sex ed makes them start doing anything earlier. 

Joreth: So I have a question. You teach the adults. Have you also taught the younger groups? You taught all ages, right? 

Ms. Ashley: I’m I am a facilitator for K through 12, so I have not used the curriculum beyond that. 

Joreth: OK, So what parts of the comprehensive sex ed do you see that most people find objectionable? Is it the sexual diversity part of it? Is it relationship orientation? What aspect of it do you see that people object to the most often?

Ms. Ashley: So within the curriculum we use the circles of sexuality as our primary resource, which is a six-circle Venn diagram which includes sexual health and reproduction, which is what most people think of when they think of sex ed. But our model, the circles of sexuality also includes sexualization and intimacy, sensuality, and identity. 

And then the values is the other one. Values touches all of them and helps us make choices for how we utilize the information in those circles.

The one that I see the most pushback for is definitely within identity. That’s where we have this idea that it’s a choice to be who you are, and that is not at all true, and that genders are binary, which is not at all true. 

And so within this circle is where I get a lot of pushback, because I am not willing to separate along the gender binary for my classes, and that is a very controversial subject where I am. And even when I say to people, your boy, may be someone husband some day and maybe with someone with a vulva and vagina. And they need to know what’s going on for this person, so they can be empathetic and supportive and loving. More information makes them a better partner. 

Even when I say that that’s still like, “no, we need to have mystery,” and “we need to have seduction,” and like and I’m just like, “no, that’s not how this works.” That just means that you have a dude who’s on board with the needs of the person, because they don’t understand what’s happening. 

So that’s where we get a lot of the pushback, within the identity, the identity bubble. 

Joreth: So what’s the wildest wrong thing myth maybe that you’ve heard in some of the courses you’ve taught? Like, has anybody come due with information that they’ve had before the class that you had to correct? 

Ms. Ashley: One kid said they were going to go blind if they masturbated. 

Franklin: People still believe that?

Ms. Ashley: I was like, “oh boy.” That one was I was just a shocker. 

They didn’t say it, though. We do this activity where they get to write things around the room. And so I didn’t know who it was, because there were different papers on the wall, and they were adding their ideas in different categories. 

So one is like, “what’s a message that you’ve received from the media, what’s a message that you’ve received from your family, and what’s a message that you’ve received from your peers?” So those were the three categories, and then within that exercise of sexual messages, it came up from the media. I don’t know what show that was in, but that was one of the messages the media had taught them about sex.

Joreth: That that’s a great idea, having the papers they can write basically anonymous questions. 

Ms. Ashley: So within this curriculum we use the question box. At the end of every session, every person gets a blank notecard and a pencil, and every person has to put a card into the box. They all have to write on the card. So they can draw me a poop emoji or whatever they want to do, but they have to write on the card and they have to put it in the box so that it’s totally anonymous. 

And then I research all the questions and then the next class come back with all their answers.

There’s a lot of that anonymity that is worked into this curriculum, understanding that we have kids who are introverts and that this topic makes more kids introverted. It’s pretty great how it’s designed to make this content accessible. That’s fantastic.

Eunice: That’s what my school did when we had our sex ed stuff. We had the same question box. You put a question in, and and then the teacher would open up the box and just be answering all the questions. And I do know for certain that some of the kids, I’m pretty sure that they were the boys, would specifically try to find the most. 

Ms. Ashley: Like ostentatious?

Eunice: Yeah, out there question, because of course the teacher had to read the question out first, right? 

Joreth: Yes, let’s make the teacher uncomfortable. 

Eunice: Yep, which you know, kudos to the teacher. They just read it out and answer the question because that’s what you have to do to show that it’s not something to be ashamed of. 

Ms. Ashley: Absolutely. Within the facilitation training, we learned that there’s different kinds of questions that kids and youth ask. And it’s always kind of fun to share this little fact with parents, Especially that you can assess the question you’re asked your child asking according to these three categories.

The first category is is information seeking. Like, they really want to know how this works, and so they’re asking for the information. 

The second is connection seeking. This would be like some of the questions I get like, “well, what does fish sex sound like?” You know, they’re just being silly and they’re  being a clown. And instead of thinking of it as silly and clowning, we think of this as like, “I need connection. I want to be seen.” And so, just by taking that question seriously and saying, “probably bloop bloop!”, it validates that whatever that kid wrote down, I’m not going to be like, “well, this question is probably not worth my time.” No, that question is a child seeking connection.

And then the third version of questions is seeking validation for their normalcy. So if they’re saying something like, “why do my balls itch so much?” They’re trying to find out, is this a normal part of puberty? And for me to answer that question and say, “so, these are some of the other places that might itch also, as your hair grows in,” and expounding upon it, it allows them to see this is normal, and people are going to experience this in lots of places and in lots of ways for lots of time, because everyone experiences puberty at different times and in different lengths and in different places. 

So those are the three types of questions we usually see. “I need information,” “I need connection,” or “I need validation.”

Joreth: So we’ve established now that program that you work with goes through all these ages. What about physical or mental disabilities? Do you have anything special for that, or is it just integrated in the whole curricula?

Ms. Ashley: There is a workshop for each age level specifically about sexuality and disabilities, so it’s present in the curriculum. The participants are part of our group. I mean, I haven’t ever been asked to teach a specific group of kids with disabilities because that’s not the way our education system is here. Everyone mainstreamed in part of the community. 

And I’m a special ed teacher. That’s actually what I went to school for. And so I am trained to understand how we scaffold information, which is like how you break it down into smaller, digestible parts, how you consider lesson planning so that you’re allowing for movement and allowing for change and allowing for diverse attention spans and all that sort of stuff. So that’s sort of one of my, I guess, special strengths in all of this. Assuming neurodiversity in all of my groups, yeah?

Joreth: It’s fantastic. 

Franklin: That actually leads right into what I was going to ask, which is how did you get into this. 

Ms. Ashley: Well, obviously I already said that my growing up didn’t suit me well with purity culture not teaching you what I needed to know. And then I’m a Unitarian Universalist, which is a religion here in the United States that invites and welcomes all sorts of people and their beliefs. Within the UU church, the youth go through the Our Whole Life curriculum as part of their experience of church. 

And at the end of their senior year of high school, they have a coming of age ceremony where we pushed them out into the world. Most of them go away for college. So we celebrate them, and they each read a statement of belief or lack of belief. And within this statement they say, like, “this is, these are the things that I think resonate with me about mysticism,” and “these are the things that I don’t believe in.” And they spend a lot of time working on this statement. 

And absolutely every child…every, not child, every almost-adult said Our Whole Lives was the most transformative experience of church for them. 

Franklin: Nice.

Ms. Ashley: And I sat there as just a regular church member, like “What is this thing?” Like, the first kid talked about it, the second kid talked about it, the third kid talked about it. We’re on kid seven and they’re all like, “Our Whole Lives changed my life.”

So I was like, “I’m going to get trained. I don’t know what this is, but I’m going to find out!” So it was a three-day training opportunity where you go away and get to be fully immersed in the curriculum and the process, and how to be a facilitator, and how to assess your own bias and leave your bias out of it, and it was transformative for me. 

Ms. Ashley: So then I was like, “I’m gonna do this now with all the UU churches in my area.” And now I do it separately. I do it privately because the UU church has a lot of wonderful and correct opinions and perspectives about this curriculum, how they want it to be disseminated, but it’s not very accessible for the public.

I feel like there’s this amazing information that nobody could get to, so I’m trying to get it out there, even just to get the name of it out there so that people can talk to their church and say, ”I’ve heard about this thing. Can we look into it?” Talk to their preschool or you know, like any other parent group, their= friends, whatever it is. 

Because it’s supposed to be facilitated in completion. You’re supposed to do all of the workshops from one all the way to the end, and many people cannot commit to that kind of thing. They already have all their extracurriculars. They have work and school. And so I’m just like, “You know, the world would be a better place if they just took two workshops.” 

Ms. Ashley: Like, it would be okay if they didn’t do all twelve. And so I’m trying to adapt the curriculum to make it more accessible, just so that it’s available for the public. 

Joreth: Something is better than nothing. 

Ms. Ashley: That’s how I feel. 

Joreth: Yeah, but I would love to see more of those programs exist everywhere because my church had it set up. They had a youth group. They had a sex ed course available, just not as well designed as yours. 

Ms. Ashley: So this curriculum is entirely secular, but there is an add-on that you can purchase to add spirituality to it, and so there’s this whole book that can give you Bible passages that you can add to whatever workshop, and it goes together. There’s hymns you can sing that go along with the topics of whatever it is we’re discussing. So it can be entirely secular, or a church can add this spirituality piece to it, and it can be more than that. But it’s amazing and it is comprehensive. There’s no question about that. So I would just love it if more people were advocating for this comprehensive approach. 

Franklin: Would that add on appeal to evangelicals, for example?

Ms. Ashley: Probably not, because the base of the curriculum is affirming to all. The base of the curriculum is saying whatever your relationship style is, you are valid. Whatever your pronouns are, they are valid. Whatever your gender identity is, it is valid. You know, so that’s like the baseline is affirming to all. And you have to get on board with that before you can even use the curriculum. 

Joreth: So it would work in in my progressive Catholic upbringing, but probably not in a fundamentalist church.

Ms. Ashley: No.

Joreth: But still, I mean, people when they progressive Catholic background are still not getting the proper sex ed. So this would be a huge dent in that. 

Ms. Ashley: And I love the way that we encourage participants to think for themselves. So the only real information that we’re sharing in the curriculum is vocabulary and details about the information of STI’s and the usefulness of condoms, like how effective they are and that sort of thing. The rest of it is all thinking exercises, it’s all values questioning. 

It’s created so that they should know nothing about their facilitator when they are done with the whole curriculum. They should know tons about themselves and where they stand. So it’s taking out my own values, my own biases, and instead going through the activities specifically to ask the questions and facilitate whatever activity we’re doing for the participant to check themselves and consider for themselves. 

So it’s not a values based curriculum, which is really rare to find. 

Joreth: Yeah. That sounds amazing, and I hope every one of our listeners now goes to their local school board or their church group or, you know, their “mommy and me daycare” or whatever. 

Ms. Ashley: Yeah exactly. 

Joreth: And says hey, we need to get started on this right away. And don’t worry about whatever your beliefs are. This program will still work.

Ms. Ashley: Absolutely. 

Franklin: If you go on the Internets nowadays, one of the things you see just about everywhere, and it’s been popularized on Reddit, and it’s been popularized in school curricula that are sponsored by the Mormon Church in particular, is this idea of sex addiction and masturbation addiction and “you shouldn’t wank because you’ll get addicted to it.” And, you know, you look at the actual medical data and peer reviewed papers, and they don’t support the idea that—

Joreth: That’s not a thing!

Franklin: That these are even—yeah! That you can even get addicted to things like sex or porn or masturbation. But you see the Fight the New Drug curriculum, for example, which is, you know, pushing heavily into schools now, is actually distorting real research about sexuality and health, and pushing this idea of sex addiction and porn addiction. Is this an issue that the curriculum that you teach addresses at all? 

Ms. Ashley: The most updated version of the…mmm, is it middle school or high school? Does. But the others that are not most recently updated, no. So facilitators have been told to like pull information from the most updated version, if you’re going to add that information to your workshops.

I will say this idea of behaviorism is valid, where if you repeat a behavior enough times then your brain starts to myelinate those pathways in the mind to then have the same sort of reaction each time. And so if we’re just talking about behaviorism, then OK, we can have a bit of a conversation about, yYou know patterns of behavior.

but what’s happening with those curriculums, and with that push, is a values-based conversation. It’s not an evidence-based conversation. 

Franklin: But it’s masquerading as evidence-based, because it pretends to be scientific, and it even uses scientific language. And it claims to reference studies, which of course now neurobiologists are saying, “hey, you’re distorting what I said. I didn’t actually say that at all.” 

Ms. Ashley: Yes, so it’s good to give it that name and say, like, “this is values-based.” So then if a parent is trying to gain information about whatever is in their child’s school, they can ask, “is this a values based curriculum?” Because they would have to say, “yes.” They would have to say “yeah, no, I’m teaching what is morally right, which is a value.” 

Joreth: That’s good to know, so any parents who want to evaluate what their kids are doing? Here’s a list of keywords you should ask about or listen for. How are they describing the programs that your children are going through. 

Ms. Ashley: Absolutely. So is there any language surrounding “out of wedlock?” Because that is a values-based curriculum and there are lots of programs that that’s one of the key things. “Out of wedlock.”

Is there any discussion of the curriculum centering monogamous relationships, because that is a value-based search engine. Is there any mention that drug and alcohol use correlate with early sexual activity? Because that is not really a thing. Those are all three separate things that are studied really separately. 

So if we’re looking for anything surrounding a context of marriage, that is a values-based curriculum. And a values-based curriculum is going to tell participants what to do or not to do based on predetermined guidelines. 

Which is the opposite of what we want children and youth to do. We want them to be thinking for themselves and creating their own guidelines, because then they have ownership of those guidelines. And then when they reach those developmental milestones of pushing back against parents and rebelling and trying to find their own footing in this world, which is normal and they should be doing that, they’re more likely to do all the things you told them not to do ’cause they have no ownership in the guidelines. 

Joreth: Yeah, if the the stronger of a hold you have on who you are and the stronger your critical thinking skills are—because that’s really what it sounds like you’re teaching, critical thinking—if they face a situation that they haven’t been given a road map for, do they have the tools to evaluate it and take a healthy path for themselves? Or do they only have a list of instructions, and this situation is not covered, so what do you do? 

Ms. Ashley: Beautiful way to say it. 

Franklin: And that’s something that comes up too, if you have just a sort of a top down, “you have to follow all these rules” kind of approach to sex and sexuality. 

I don’t have the study in front of me right now. Maybe I should look it up and see if we can link through it when we put the show online. I do remember seeing a study that said that kids who were given abstinence only and rules-based approaches to sex education, when they broke the rules and had sex, were more likely to have risky sex, unprotected sex, less likely to use condoms, because, “hey, we’re already breaking the rules, so we’re already bad.”

Ms. Ashley: Yeah, go big or go home. 

Franklin: Well, we’ll break the rules about condoms too, because we’re we’re already bad. We’ve already done the bad thing. 

Ms. Ashley: And that’s so dangerous. I mean, like what parent wants that, right? Instead, get out of their way and help them think things through, and talk less but say more by listening and asking good questions. 

Eunice: Actually, I did have one additional question. I was actually wondering if you’ve seen, what sort of changes have you seen in sex ed over, say, the last decade? Because obviously in that time we’ve gone from  the Obama administration, which I know increased funding for comprehensive sex ed. And then we had the Trump administration, which obviously pulled all that funding and then went to abstinence-only. And then you know, now we’re moving into the Biden administration. Does that sort of signal return to kind of more evidence-based sex ed, do you think? Is that a hope that we can have? 

Ms. Ashley: I can’t answer this completely, but I can tell you what I found. Under the Obama administration, there was a notable shift in abstinence-education funding towards more evidence-based sex ed initiatives,The current landscape of federal sex ed programs is including newer programs such as the Personal Responsibility Education program, also known as PREP, and this is the first federal funding stream to provide grants to states in support of evidence-based sex ed that teach about both abstinence and contraception. So that is new.

Eunice: Nice!

Ms. Ashley: But the Trump administration, yeah, kind of undid it a little bit. 

OK, so honestly I don’t have a complete picture or a great answer for that. And I’ve only been doing this like 2 years privately, so I’m still kind of new. I can mostly just say like what are the challenges here for me in Indiana? Sorry I can’t answer that. 

Eunice: No problem.

Joreth: Well, you’ve certainly given us a lot to chew on and we’ve got some links to the studies that you were referencing that we’ll be able to share with our readers so that they can read what we’ve been talking about, too, for themselves. 

Joreth: So yeah, I think this has been a great conversation to have, and we’ve covered a lot of ground. 

Ms. Ashley: I appreciate sharing the action items with people. Because I just really feel like if more parents start saying “This is what we need we need. We need comprehensive sex ed. We need our youth to know about condoms and we need non-values-based options for our youth.” If more parents are speaking about it, it’s more likely that something will change. 

Thank you very much for sharing your platform with me. 

Eunice: If you could give three big take-away points that you want, even if they don’t remember any of the details, the three big take-away points you want them to remember and take away at the end, what would those be? 

Ms. Ashley: Number one: more information does not cause your child or youth to engage in earlier or more often sex. It’s not true. And so if there’s any bit of fear inside of you for educating your child, know that the research has said, that’s not going to happen.

Number two: be the safe space for your kid to ask questions. So do any of the self work that you need to do in order to be unashamed or unembarrassed as much as you possibly can, so that you can be a place where your kid can be safe and ask you questions.

And if you don’t have a kid, be the aunt or the uncle, or the babysitter, or the neighbor that isn’t going to be weirded out when the kid goes “do you have a penis or a vulva?” Be the person that that kid can notice is OK answering those questions. Because it is not wrong for them to ask those questions.

And three would be use simple language, because the more we talk at youth and children, the less they hear. So if we can simplify to a very quick message, and then know that there’s going to be another opportunity, and another opportunity, and another opportunity, and just capitalize on each of those opportunities in a simple way, your kid will want to come back to you. But if you do this big speech the first time and the second time, and the third time, it’s gonna be like, oh, if I ask this, it’s gonna be a big ordeal. So no, keep it simple. Use simple language with the kiddo. 

Eunice: Nice, those are fantastic take away points and especially the second two basically just fit all sorts of situations. 

Ms. Ashley: Yes, absolutely. And I mean, really, that’s what comprehensive sex ed is about. It’s like they’re a whole person, Yep. 

Franklin: So where can people find you? 

Ms. Ashley: Thank you for asking! I’m on Instagram as MsAshley Robertson. And I curate content for a group on Facebook called Let’s Talk About Sex Ed with Ms Ashley. And I try to share interesting things where people can think about this topic and learn about this topic about five times a week. 

Joreth: Cool awesome, this is amazing. So thank you very much for joining us. 

Ms. Ashley: Thank you for the opportunity. 

Eunice: Thank you for the time. 

Eunice: One of the things that I came across after we talked with Ashley was an article on Mashable discussing the way that social media platforms like TikTok seem to be removing any sex ed that includes medically or scientifically accurate information. That includes topics like pelvic health or pain when having intercourse or sex toy safety. We’ll link to the article in the show notes so you can check it out for yourself.

Franklin: The narrative on the American right is “waah, waah, social media censors conservatives,” but in fact social media companies tend to get weirdly sex-negative and prudish when you get right down to it.

Eunice: All of which makes the work of Ashley and others like her even more important. There’s a PubMed article, Sex Education on TikTok: A Content Analysis of Themes, that talks about how Tiktok “offers a novel opportunity to make up for shortcomings in sex education and convey sexual health information to adolescents.” and that’s absolutely true—assuming it’s correct information. And that’s the problem we’re looking at here, right? As the great Sir Terry Pratchett said, lies can run around the world before truth has even gotten its boots on.

Joreth: “Cancel culture” is, as always, only what the “other guys” are doing to “us”, right? Because a lot of them are getting “censored” by misuse of the “report” feature, where people who just don’t like queer people, sex workers, or sex educators just mass-report their TikToks, whether it violates any rules or not, and the ‘bots just take them down because that’s how it works. And it’s totes cool to take down sex workers, sex educators, and queers, but complain about actual lies on social media and it’s all “they’re taking mah freedumbs!”

Eunice: And it disproportionately affects LGBTQ+ youth, because somehow queer sexuality is automatically an adult and/or controversial topic. Which brings us onto another topic that came up at the end of February, as we were working on editing these last couple of episodes. One that every Disney-loving queer person will be incredibly disappointed by. Assuming you know nothing about the history of the Disney corporation or Florida that is.

Joreth:  Yeah, I don’t understand why people are so surprised at the conservatism here in Florida, but then I was raised near San Francisco, so to me, this entire state is just one very large small town with delusions of grandeur.  Anyway, so one of our state senators, Dennis Baxley, sponsored House Bill 1557 the “Parental Rights In Education” bill, which is being called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.  It’s fairly long and arduous, but the very very short version is that the bill prohibits educators from mentioning queer labels and topics in schools.  According to our local paper, the Orlando Sentinel, Disney has donated to literally every single one of the co-sponsors of the bill.

Eunice: I’m still amazed that anyone is surprised when Disney turns out to support profits above everything else. Insofar as a corporation as large as Disney can even have a single affiliation, it’s not liberal or conservative, it’s just capitalist, and that’s what capitalism is—political power through profit. 

Franklin: According to Disney News Today, “The Senate sponsor, Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley, has backed anti-gay legislation for years — including laws to prevent gay couples from adopting kids who otherwise wouldn’t have a family at all.” Baxley once compared kids who live with same-sex parents to kids raised by alcoholics and abusers and later said: “I’m not phobic, but I simply can’t affirm homosexuality.” The very next year Disney cut Baxley a campaign check. And another after that. And then another one last year. Shame on you, Disney.

Eunice: The thing I noted about the bill is that it doesn’t actually benefit kids’ education at all, it just prevents the kids learning about LGBTQ+ issues in any form of structured way in school. The language they use is so vague, it could be used to apply to any form of any mention of queerness at all. 

Franklin:  The article goes on to say, “The bill itself, House Bill 1557, is a trainwreck. Not just based on anyone’s personal values, but based on pure linguistics and legal flaws. It uses nebulous and subjective phrases like “reasonably prudent person” to set standards and bans classroom discussions on “sexual orientation or gender identity” in “certain grade levels” without clearly defining what those levels are.” 

Joreth:  It also uses the phrase “age appropriate” specifically and then fails to define what “age appropriate” is.

Eunice: I’m getting real vibes of the UK’s Section 28 all over again.

Joreth:  Yeah, in fact, to bring us back to something we discussed in the interview, we mentioned not understanding why it was so hard to get information on the content of the sex ed program, and I suggested that I could understand an educator being a bit cagey if what they’re used to is conservatives sticking their ignorant noses into the lesson plan … well, that’s exactly what this bill intends to do – give parents more control over what is and isn’t allowed to be “taught” in class (with no real definition on what the word “instruction” in the bill means).  Because what we really need is for people with no training on how education works to be mucking about and getting in the way of educators doing the job they’re trained for.

Eunice: Right. Anyway, let’s long story short this. Given the amount of editing that each of these episodes requires, our listeners can probably guess that this is coming at you all from the past. So with that caveat, as of the date that we’re recording this episode, what’s the current state of play with this bill, given it seems to be changing hourly?

Franklin:  Dismal. The current state of play is dismal. Disney put out a letter to their employees apologizing for funding the politicians responsible for this bill, which caused Governor Satan or DeathSentence or whatever the hell his name is to start yapping on Twitter about Disney staying in its lane, though I can’t help notice he hasn’t volunteered to give their money back. They may be pink but their money is green, hey, Darth Senseless?

Joreth:  This kind of spending, especially at the level of the Disney Corporation, is deliberate, if not intentional.  This isn’t like a marketing department releasing a commercial and not realizing they said something accidentally dirty or insensitive – like, every marketing department needs to have a woman of color, a trans person, and a 12 year old boy on it to make sure they don’t say something accidentally funny or inappropriate, right?  No, with the amount of money involved and the high profile of fucking *Disney*, several important and financially *trained* somebodies thought “y’know who we should fund and attach our name to?  These politicians, that’s who!”  Corporations this big don’t just hand out cash, they *choose* who and what to donate to.

Eunice: Yeah, seriously guys, this isn’t a situation of “whoops it was an accident I just fell on his bank account.” Please don’t treat us like we’re stupid, Disney. But moving on, to once again haul us back to the original point of this episode: we’re aware that listening to this interview over several weeks makes it pretty hard to remember all the great action points that Ashley laid out, so here’s the TLDR:

Ms. Ashley’s Action Items:

  1. Parents and non-parents to rally behind comprehensive sex ed
  2. Find out if your school’s program includes mentions of condoms
  3. Advocate against “values-based” education and for “evidence-based” education

Franklin:  We really recommend checking out the show notes for this episode. You’ll find a list there of the takeaway points, the links to the sites and articles she mentioned, and contact information for Ms. Ashley. I mean, we’d love you to check out the show notes regularly anyway, but if you generally don’t, this might be the episode where you start. 

Joreth: This was a fun interview and I’m so glad that Ms. Ashley agreed to talk with us about comprehensive sex-ed and shared some resources with us. I, for one, plan to mention to everyone I can, every time the subject comes up, that Ms. Ashley is doing private sex ed courses using this OWL curriculum so everyone can contact her about getting her or someone like her into your area. And, remember, this program covers all ages. 

Franklin: So that’s the interview! The Skeptical Pervert is copyrighted by Franklin Veaux, Eunice Hung, and Joreth Innkeeper. Editing is done by Joreth, show notes and transcription by Franklin. You can find a transcript at skepticalpervert.com. Comments or ideas? Email contact@skepticalpervert.com. If you like the show, review us on Apple Podcasts or Spotify or wherever you found us.

Eunice: And don’t forget to join our Patreon, which you’ll find linked on the website. We’ve got some additional anecdotes that got cut from the interview there, plus we’ll be adding lots of our background chat there so you can listen in as we work on these episodes.

Joreth:  And remember, if you don’t skeptically educate your children, they might grow up to be Republican politicians!

Eunice: The phrase “grow up” is doing a whole lot of heavy lifting right there, just sayin’.

Roundup of Ms Ashley’s useful information

Ms. Ashley’s Action Items:

  1. Parents and non-parents to rally behind comprehensive sex ed
  2. Find out if your school’s program includes mentions of condoms
  3. Advocate against “values-based” education and for “evidence-based” education

Ms. Ashley’s 3 Takeaway Points:

  1. More information does not cause your child or youth to engage in earlier or more often sex.
  2. Be the safe space for your kid to ask questions. And if you don’t have a kid, be the “aunt” or the “uncle” or the “babysitter” or the “neighbor” that isn’t going to be weirded out.
  3. Use simple language.

Ms. Ashley Recommends:

Ms. Ashley’s Citations:

How To Find Ms. Ashley Robertson:

Episode 7: Sex Ed with Ms. Ashley Part 1

Today we bring you the first part of a two-part interview with sex educator and sex-positive activist Ms. Ashley, as we talk about the value of evidence-based, scientifically accurate sexual education.

Ms. Ashley is a sex educator who teaches an adaptation of the Our Whole Lives curriculum. In part 1 of our interview, we discuss the various types of sex education, what the evidence shows about the effects of fact-based sex ed, and how continuing sex education can help not just students but everyone.

You can find Ms. Ashley on Facebook here, here, and here, and on Instagram here.

Transcript of the episode below.

Franklin: Hello! Welcome to a new episode of Skeptical Perverts, the podcast where we examine human sexuality through an evidence-based, skeptical lens! I’m your host, part-time mad scientist, and token cishet dude, Franklin!

Joreth: Hi! I’m your co-host and Renaissance cat, Joreth! I’m kinky, sopo, on the ace spectrum, chicana, feminist, my gender identity is “tomboy”, and my pronouns are she/her but I use masculine titles.

Eunice: And I’m Eunice, your friendly neighbourhood queer, kinky, ace-spec, bisexual, solopoly British Chinese woman, bringing my usual touch of genteel filth and depravity.

Franklin: Today we’re chatting with Ms. Ashley, a sex educator who does a lot of work with evidence-based sex ed. A quick note – today’s episode is US-centered because a lot of sex ed is wrapped up in politics and policies, so keep in mind we’re talking about US policies, politics, and attitudes.

Eunice: Well, mostly – I can’t help being British, folks!

Franklin: Wait, you’re British? Why wasn’t I informed?

Eunice: I know, shocking how I kept all the tea related paraphernalia hidden so well over, lo, these many years. How long have we known each other now, Franklin?

Franklin: We met at an orgy in 2010, so…about twelve years?

Eunice: Clearly I’m an amazing actor. (Note for the listeners, I am not an amazing actor.)

Joreth: So, back to the episode … We came across this amazing advocate for evidence-based sex ed that we really wanted to bring on the show. And we wanted to do something a little bit different than a standard interview. We thought it would be fun to invite her to talk about whatever she felt most passionate about, which was the struggle between abstinence only sexual education vs. what she called “comprehensive sex ed”.

Eunice: Yeah, one thing to notice is that there is no version of sex ed that doesn’t include abstinance-based sex ed, only versions which don’t include evidence-based sex ed. Which I think is an interesting…decision, let’s call it a decision, hmm?

Franklin: The United States still has a strongly Puritan attitude toward sex. The Puritans came to this continent a long time ago and didn’t stick around for all that long, but their ideas, especially about morality, have left a lasting mark on the American social fabric. Our weird, toxic ideas about sex trace directly back to Puritanism, which shows you just how stubbornly cultural values can persist. So it’s not really that surprising that all US sex ed includes abstinence.

Eunice: More than includes abstinence, Franklin, it requires abstinence. In contrast, when I was having a look at the UK National Curriculum for Relationships and Sex education for comparision, I only realised after we talked that as far as I can tell, abstinence-based education isn’t included as a requirement. I don’t think it’s even mentioned. Those Puritans really took some wild ideas with them when they abandoned British shores in a huff because they couldn’t persecute others, and I for one can only be grateful they didn’t stick around, honestly.

Joreth: I’ve been trying to finish uploading my pictures from my road trip to New England last summer, and just did a section of Puritan gravestones, which had some interesting rules on what could be put on a gravestone and what couldn’t because of their morality and some of that stuff persists to graves today, so it’s really fascinating to me how long-lasting the Puritans’ mark on our culture really is. (We will have a lot more to say about Puritanism in our Patreon out-takes, so sign up on Patreon to hear that conversation!)

Eunice: We’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent here, let’s haul ourselves back to topic. I’m aware that this is a losing battle, but let’s at least try to focus! We had a fantastic chat that we’re really excited to share with you, so Joreth, do you want to introduce the wonderful Ms Ashley to kick us off?

Joreth: Ashley Robertson identifies as a feminine, ethically non-monogamous, doll. With over a decade of experience in the BDSM scene, she isn’t shy of perverse topics. She is a liberated educator who wishes to share with others the freedom of sexuality without shame. With three teaching degrees, she’s fed up with the idea that learning comes from a constrictive set of standards. She facilitates adaptations of the Our Whole Lives curriculum adapting the workshops to fit diverse audiences. This non-coercive, comprehensive approach to sex ed is what we all wished we had in high school.

Franklin: Ms. Ashley had quite a lot to say, so let’s jump right into the interview. We had a few technical issues with our recording, so just a heads up that the quality might not be as good as usual.

Joreth: So this is going to be fairly standard. We’ll have a bunch of questions to ask you. Mainly we wanted to have a conversation where you had the opportunity to talk about what you wanted to talk about.

You know, I’ve done my share as a podcast guest myself, and it’s usually the podcast has an agenda. They have a story they want to tell and you sort of fit into it. So then they ask the guest to talk about whatever the podcast wants to hear

But we wanted to give you an opportunity to talk about what you wanted as a researcher.

Joreth: So, science based, especially evidence based, sex ed…we are all so behind that.

Ms. Ashley: It’s very generous of you to share your platform, thank you. I appreciate that.

Eunice: We’re also just really excited to hear what you’re going to say.

Ms. Ashley: I have a couple of articles I’d love to share, and I have like some personal anecdotes about how this work goes, that kind of goes along with these articles. So I thought that was the content I’d like to share with you and your listeners today.

A little back story about me. I wasn’t planning to be a sex educator. That wasn’t what I went to school for. I’m learning this as an in the field researcher and in the field doing it.

I was trained to facilitate one particular curriculum called the our Whole Lives Curriculum. And what I found here in Indiana is that it’s hard to find opportunities for this kind of work, because the curriculum that I learned about, and that I am able to facilitate, is comprehensive. It’s not as much of a friendly place for that kind of learning here in Indiana.

I guess the main story I’d love to share is for all of your listeners to be advocates and allies for comprehensive sex education opportunities. I feel like if there’s any action item I could ask for for people with kids and without kids, it’s to rally behind this idea that more information earlier and often is better than the alternative.

Some of the research that I have to share this evening comes specifically from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Because I feel like, hey, that’s a reliable source. These are the people that we turn to when we are parents and trying to understand best practice and safest ways to do things. And so I was like, hey, I think this is a good. Source and also not that much of a controversial source, right?

Like if I was pulling from Planned Parenthood, or, you know, any other faith-based source, there could be conversation about like oh, this is very biased. But I felt like this is a real, rooted-in-science resource, so I wanted to start with that.

And I guess I’m curious from all of you, if you know what the two types of sex ed are that are available in the United States?

Joreth: Well, I’m assuming that one is going to be abstinence-based, which is probably rooted in in religion and faith, whether it says so upfront or not.

And then the other, I’m hoping is a more evidence based curriculum.That that’s what I would guess are the two main ones.

Franklin: Yeah, well, definitely abstinence-only sex education is all over the news pretty much all of the time. Which is a little scary when you look at the data and see just how much it doesn’t work. I would hope that the other one would be evidence based, but you know, considering the times we live in right now, I am not going to make that bet.

I mean, you know you say that pediatricians are an evidence based source that nobody would ever question, and, you know, obviously completely neutral, but we live in a world where people think that the Centers for Disease Control are part of some kind of conspiracy, so I’m not sure that’s necessarily true.

Eunice: I mean, I’ll be honest abstinence-only, at least I understand what that is. It is interesting, in the sense of how much it doesn’t include.

But when it comes to evidence based, I don’t know where the evidence comes from. I don’t know what evidence they pick to refer to when they talk about evidence-based. So that’s something that I’m interested in. What do they mean by evidence based? I mean, I’m assuming that there’s not one single source that all of the curricula that use evidence based sex ed will be looking to.

I’m assuming that different sources will potentially come up, and I’d be interested to know what’s the difference between them.

Ms. Ashley: I will do my best to answer some of those questions. I don’t know if I have all the answers. The two main types of curriculum available in the United States are abstinence only, which is known as a “sexual risk avoidance program. This means that they teach that abstinence from sex is the only morally acceptable option for you.

Or the second option, which is comprehensive. Comprehensive sex ed means it’s medically accurate, evidence based information about both contraception and abstinence. So the abstinence only curriculums will not talk about contraception.

Franklin: That’s really scary.

Eunice: Oh, right, Yikes, exactly.

Ms. Ashley: So then, within comprehensive there’s actually two other branches. Within comprehensive programs there’s an abstinence plus program, which means they are still teaching that sex abstinence is the only morally acceptable option for youth, but the plus means that they share about condoms.

And then with the full, expansive, comprehensive programs, this includes all conversations about medically accurate, evidence based information, contraception, abstinence being the safest form of risk avoidance, including also conversations about safer sex in lots of different varieties of sex, and healthy relationships. So that’s the whole shebang. This is an interpersonal conversation. This is not just about our bodies and our reproductive organs.

So there’s kind of 2 main branches of sex ed programs and then off of the comprehensive there’s two main branches. One is more palatable for a lot of school systems because it’s still abstinence based, but it adds this idea of condoms. And then our full shebang is the one I’m advocating for as a sexual educator.

So one of the coolest things I found as I was going through this information from the American Academy of Pediatrics is that they identify comprehensive sex education as preventative health care. I love this idea. No one talks about this and there’s so much validity in this idea of preventative health care when children are young and even for adulthood because it reduces the burden on our society fnancially, if we’re being preventative with our bodies. And so that just made me so happy. It’s like the pediatricians of our country are saying comprehensive sex ed is preventative health care.

Joreth: I mean, it makes sense, right? It is! Everything about sex ed is preventing bad stuff from happening.

Ms. Ashley: Yes, and they also made a very clear point to say sexuality education can be disseminated through three separate learning domains: cognitive, which is about teaching information; affective, which is about teaching about feelings, values and attitudes; and behavioral, which is about communication, decision making and other skills. So I loved this idea that our pediatricians are saying to the whole country, “when you talk about sex, with any age, with any kids, it should be all three parts. It should be, what information do they need to know, how can we identify their social emotional skills, and how can we empower them to make decisions with their bodies and communicate with others for healthy relationships?””

So yay! Instead of it just being this like weird and awkward, shame-based conversation about genitals, it’s supposed to be the whole thing that creates an awareness of a person’s whole self.

So I’m curious from you all. Since this is the podcast that people want to hear stories: of those three domains, cognitive, affective, and behavioral, what was your experience of sex ed growing up?

Franklin: Oh God. My experience of sex ed growing up was basically a 5 minute conversation in high school health class and a “don’t do it.” That was pretty much it.

But then I went to high school in Florida, which is not exactly a shining beacon for fact and evidence based progressive ideas about science and reality. And they certainly would not be swayed by any kind of approach that said, “look, we’re trying to do harm reduction or risk management,” because, I’ll be honest, what Florida is all about is, “well, if you break the rules you should suffer.”

Eunice: Uh, the interesting thing is that I’m based in the UK and the UK has a national curriculum that legally has to have evidence based relationships and sex education, right? So in primary school, that’s up to about the age of ten or eleven, it is mandatory to have relationships education. And in secondary school, which is up to 16 or 18 depending on the school, it is mandatory to have relationships and sex education. And this is just what is it.

And it should cover relationships. But also contraception and intimate relationships. Healthy relationships of all types, you know.

Looking at the National curriculum now for the sorts of sex ed that is expected in the UK, it is based on evidence. Whether or not the actual schools are any good at teaching it is a slightly different matter, but legally it is expected that you have evidence based teaching in a range of topics.

However, when I was growing up, I grew up under the auspices of Section 28, which specified that it was illegal to teach that homosexual relationships were acceptable, so I grew up in that era. And I think that law was only repealed in 2003 as I remember.

Joreth: That’s pretty recent.

Eunice: So yeah, yeah, that was like 80 something to 2003 I believe is when that law went into effect. God bless Maggie Thatcher.

And that meant that it was illegal to teach kids about homosexuality in a way that suggested that it was healthy or reasonable or normal or acceptable, And therefore they just basically didn’t teach anything that wasn’t heterosexual monogomous relationships.

So yeah, there’s two parts to this, right? They’re kind of contradictory, because I came out as bisexual when I was in my teens in high school.

Joreth: Right in the middle of that?

Eunice: Yeah, like that was that was smack bang in the middle of it. I did not get any sex ed that related to anything other than heterosexual monogamous relationships.

Ms. Ashley: I hear that a lot and I’m sorry for that, because it invalidates you as who you are or you become invisible. And that’s not how it should be. You are absolutely wonderful and valid, exactly as you are.

Eunice: I’m so glad that is no longer in place, and that they specifically require you to teach about LGBTQ issues now in the national curriculum.

Ms. Ashley: Yeah, in the UK that is not happening in the US

Eunice Yes, in the UK.

Franklin: I don’t see that happening in the US anytime soon. To be honest, I mean the US is still struggling with the idea that anybody who is not a cishet white dude is actually a person.

Joreth: Yeah, we we have a terrible track record with evidence based anything, really.

Now, my experience is contradictory in a lot of ways, because I went to public school up through age 12/13, which is junior high, and I went to a private Catholic school for high school. The contradictory part is that I had an amazing sex ed through high school, but only for the medical stuff.

We covered a little bit of the relationship, only so much as I had a a marriage section in one of my classes, where we had the we had to plan our wedding. We had to have a household budget. We had to carry around the flower sack baby. So it’s all very heteronormative, but it wasn’t a whole lot of of a relationship communication work. It was just, “eventually you’re going to get married and have kids. So this is how you do a budget and this is what it’s like to walk around, carrying five pounds on your arm every day.””

Franklin: Seriously, wow.

Joreth: Oh yeah, I should show you pictures. My flower baby was named Jacob.

Franklin: Oh man. That’s a good biblical name.

Eunice: There was actually a book I read about this, like a fiction book. I read fiction books about this thing and I didn’t realize it was a real thing that happened.

Joreth: Yes, it’s a real thing. And part of my project was I had to have pictures, so I walked around town as a teenager, pushing a baby carriage.

Franklin: Good Lord.

Joreth: And people thought I was a teenage mother. So that one of the things that I was reporting on, the societal response to me as what they thought was a teenage mother. My teacher was not expecting that as part of my report.

But for the biology part of it, I had fantastic sex ed. We had some form of sex ed every single year in my 4 years of high school, although one of the semesters was not so much sex ed as it was a self defense course because we were an all girls school.

So our priest, our schools priest, was a black belt in some martial art. One of our health classes, the entire semester was all self defense. So I learned how to flip people over my shoulder and break grips.

Franklin: Oh my God.

Joreth: Explains a few things about me! But then, I was also a sociology major. We didn’t really have majors like in college, but we could get started early on college prep courses. So in high school I was already planning to go from my marriage and family counseling degree and I had planned to specialize in problem teenagers.

So through my psychology courses, I got a lot of the relationship and the communication stuff through that, all through my private Catholic school.

So I had a really strange, contradictory sort of experience with sex ed growing up.

Ms. Ashley: Quite a variety of experiences represented here in this in this group. Mine was very much the sexual risk avoidance model. I was part of the evangelical purity culture.

Franklin: Oh God.

Ms. Ashley: We got most of our sex head through through church, and there was this big ceremony of, like, professing that you will wait until marriage, and your parent came up and gave you a purity ring and put it on your wedding ring finger and like this whole thing.

Franklin: Oh my God. You actually did the purity ring thing.

Ms. Ashley: I did! That was very serious. And my personal experience led me to find out later that having some autonomy of your body and ownership of your body and experience of some kind actually helps you find a better mate or understand your needs to communicate what you desire and how you act.

Joreth: Imagine that. Surprise!

Ms. Ashley: So it didn’t serve me either. And interestingly, in 2012 there was a national campaign to prevent teen and unplanned pregnancy, where they surveyed 1200 high school seniors. Many of them were girls, some of them were boys and they had mixed feelings about their first time that they had had sex. Also called “sexual debut.” That’s one of the nice ways of saying that.

Joreth: Oh, I have feelings about that.

Ms. Ashley: Yeah, “sexual debut.”” More than 3/4 responded that they would change the way that their first sexual experience occurred. So there we have it, more than 3/4 of them said “I would have liked this to go differently,” and I feel like the only way that that could go differently is with more information, right?

That’s how we don’t drop our children into the deep end of a pool having never had any swimming lessons.

Franklin: Well, some people do…

Ms. Ashley: Yep, without an instructor there?

Franklin: Yes, Yep.

Ms. Ashley: Wait! Okay, I’m gonna need this story.

Franklin: That’s a thing! That’s a thing that happens. You know, it’s the whole sink or swim right? That’s literally what that means.

Joreth: I was just talking with with a friend. It’s certain areas more than others, but I was just talking with a friend who that was how she learned. Her father just dropped her in the water and said, you know, learn to swim, make it to shore.

Ms. Ashley: I feel like that’s probably not the recommended practice, right? The same thing with a knife. Most people wouldn’t give their children a knife at the age of 16, having never had any experience with a knife before.

Eunice: Well…

I remember coming home once and just like making sandwiches and cooking, turning around with a knife in my hand and my friend who’d come back to my place afterwards looking down and was like, “your parents let you use those knives?” And I just looked down, like “yes. My family is Chinese. I see my parents regularly holding bigger knives than this. This is a bread knife. I am not going to be able to stab anyone with this.”

Ms. Ashley: So, there! You had more information than your peer, because your parents had exposed you to information. Your peer probably didn’t even know there was a name, “bread knife” as opposed to “steak knife” as opposed to “chef’s knife.”

Joreth: You know, you’re probably less likely to stab someone unintentionally than your friend.

Ms. Ashley: Yeah, because you’d already had some experience with the knife, and so that’s a good explanation for exactly what we are talking about here, which is giving youth and children more information earlier on, in a comprehensive way.

One thing that the American Academy of Pediatrics also highlights is this idea that families and primary caregivers are the main source of potential information for their children and the children in their care. What they find is that conversations that a pediatrician can have with a family early on can help any parents that potentially feel awkward or discomfort or shame or embarrassment surrounding some of these topics.

And so they’re also advocating for parent education and caregiver education, which is saying things like, “it’s absolutely normal for children and youth to desire self stimulation and safe touch. This is part of them being sexual being,s and it allows them to later explore them their own bodies in safer ways.

So teaching parents that like it’s normal for your 2 year old to masturbate, you don’t need to pathologize that. That’s absolutely part of natural curiosity and the way that our bodies work.

So any parent who’s listening who feels like squicked out or a little uncomfortable or unable to access doing this with their child in a way that’s useful and calm and cool and collected, there are lots and lots of resources out there for you to use as a parent to educate yourself and to feel more informed and more capable of having these conversations.

One of the resources that I love to share is sexetc.org. There you can find crazy vocabulary lists for things in case like your teenager comes home and says a word and you don’t know what it is, organized by alphabet. So sexetc.org.

Weknowship.org is an organization out of Maine. They do virtual workshops three to four times a year. Some of them are specifically for parents. They have presenters that come in. So weknowship.org. It’s all sorts of things. It’s like, how has the pandemic affected my child and what can I do to reverse some of its effects? Or pornography and my teenager, or shame-free potty training. You know, there’s like all sorts of things like that.

I also like to recommend amaze.org, which is a site full of videos, and these videos are organized by topic so you can look one up and watch it before you share it with your child. It gives you some of the words to say to your child, like a like a script. So if a topic comes up, you can research and see if there’s a video there that could help you navigate the words yourself.

There’s also Sex Positive Parenting, which is full of blog posts and resources.

But the American Academy of Pediatrics is absolutely saying the parents and caregivers are the best place for this information to come from, not necessarily schools, so don’t rely on your child’s school for this information. Take every opportunity that you have for it to layer upon itself and build, so that your child has access to a more complete understanding of these topics.

Franklin: All of that kind of assumes that you have parents who are active and involved and engaged with their kids, and who want their kids to have factual information, and who are not themselves surrounding sex with layers of shame and guilt. I’ll be honest, in the US, that kind of seems like a big ask.

Ms. Ashley: I feel that way too and so if we can get this conversation out more to more people and one parent says to another parent, you know, even if they’re like, out having drinks or if they’re texting about a situation they’re dealing with with their kid., if one parent says to another parent, “I heard that being sex positive and body positive is probably a better way, instead of like punishing your child for pooping in their pants again.” Even just that one little thing from one parent to another could spark that curiosity in that parent to say, “wait, what is this ‘sex positive?’ Does that mean I want my kid to have sex?” And then that other person who was like, “Well, I don’t really know a whole lot about it, but from what I understand, it means I’m saying there’s nothing wrong with their body because they have genitals.” It’s not dirty, it’s not gross. It’s just like a nose or an ear. It just happens to be an area that we say is private.

If one parent can say a tiny thing that they learn to another parent, which sparks curiosity, and then if there’s pushback, then that parent that said the thing might go back and do a little more research, and then it sort of snowballs. I would love for that to be more of a thing.

Joreth: It sounds like we also could use a strong curriculum for sex ed for adults.

Ms. Ashley: Which is exactly what the one I teach is. The Our Whole Lives curriculum spans the lifespan of a human, which is really amazing. It starts in kindergarten and there’s a curriculum for the younger elementaries. Then there’s a curriculum for the mid elementaries. Then there’s a curriculum for the middle school, which is very puberty heavy content. There’s a high school curriculum. There’s a younger adults curriculum. There’s an adult curriculum and an older adults curriculum.

It actually grows with people, and so we’re not ignoring this idea of menopause. And we’re not ignoring this idea of death of spouses and having to redefine our lives independently once we’re older. It grows with us, which is one of the reasons why if anyone can get access to an Our Whole Lives facilitator, get ’em. Do it. It’s great stuff.

Eunice: Yeah, I love that idea of the older adults, because I practically never see any sort of relationship or sex ed that’s directed at somebody who, you know, maybe they’ve been married before. They’re starting to approach menopause, or their their post0menopause or whatever. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that out there.

Joreth: I’ve been talking lately that we basically have The Golden Girls and Grace and Frankie and that is pretty much all of the information. Both educational and in media, we have those two sources for anybody who is in the menopausal or after range. While it’s entertaining, and while I’m glad to see this in popular media, that cannot be the only exposure we have to what it’s like for seniors to have sex.

Franklin: Oh man.

Eunice: How old are the Sex and the City actors now? Like, Sex and the City is getting older, and I guess they just carry on going.

Joreth: Yeah, they’re in their 50s now, ’cause they’ve got the new show out. That’s right, that just came out. And because now it’s the comparison that the actors from Sex and the City are now the same age as the characters from The Golden Girls. So what is that? That’s the 50s.

Yeah, three shows now that even broach the subject of what sex is like for people who are a little bit older. And we need so many more avenues to discuss those topics, because if all the fortunes are in our favor, we are all going to be in that position someday. So this is a subject we need to have more information on.

Ms. Ashley: I have a question. Have you ever seen a condom used in either of those shows, or discussion of a condom used in either of those shows?

Joreth: Yes, Sex in the City definitely covers condom use. They have several episodes about it.

Ms. Ashley: Oh, I meant Golden Girls or Grace and Frankie.

Joreth: Grace and Frankie. I want to say that they did discuss it, that they did mention it.

Ms. Ashley: My only remembering about that, was that they were trying to develop and market easy-open condoms for arthritic hands.

Joreth: That might have been the context that I saw them. ’Cause most of what it is, you know, two senior women who are trying to enjoy pleasure and, you know, being physically hampered by it. So that’s why they create the female masturbation device for older women with arthritic hands, which I think is a fabulous idea.

Ms. Ashley: I don’t feel like there’s a whole lot of discussion there, and that’s one of the demographics where we’re having the higher rates of STI’s because there’s no real discussion, and that wasn’t part of how they grew up in negotiating sex.

Joreth: Yeah, I mean wasn’t that entire generation basically married during the AIDS crisis, so why would they? They wouldn’t have needed to have known that.

Eunice: Right, I was actually quite bemused when I realized that old people homes are apparently the location for the fastest transmission of STI’s.

Joreth: Yes, in fact The Villages here in Florida is particularly notorious for that. And it’s also in a red area. They’re highly conservative. They’re all Trump voters, and among the senior living facilities, they have one of the highest rates.

Ms. Ashley: So this is furthering this idea that comprehensive education with more information about how to communicate your desire for someone to wear a barrier and use a barrier is going to be healthier.

Yes, one of the things this article says is that if comprehensive sex ed programs are offered in schools, positive outcomes can occur, including delay in the initiation and reduction in the frequency of sexual intercourse. A reduction in the number of sexual partners and an increase in condom use.

So wow, those are like 3 massive things we would love to have for all of our children and youth: reducing how many partners they have, increasing their use of condoms ’cause hey they know how to use them, and waiting.

So that’s one of the biggest things that I hear from people is, like, well, if you want to do comprehensive sex ed and if you want to be advocating for this idea of sex positivity and family cultures, all you’re doing is giving kids permission to do it earlier. I hear that so, so much and I just want to be very clear that is not the case.

Joreth: Yeah, I like to laugh every time that comes up. I’m like, how long has it been since you were a teenager? Because I remember being a teenager. Like, not having a lot knowledge didn’t stop anyone. My cohort was all about having sex at the time. So you know they don’t need to have this information to have sex, but having the information having that information is going to make it safer.

That’s a huge argument that Florida had, though, when the HPV vaccine came out and Florida actually tried to prevent people from getting it because they’re like, “o”h yeah, this is the vaccine.””

Joreth: Oh yes.

Franklin: What did they call it? There was an editorial in the paper that I read. They called it the “slut vaccine,” because, you know, you give people this vaccine and now all of a sudden they’re going to run around and be promiscuous because there’s no penalties. This comes from a mindset that says the way you prevent people from doing things that we consider bad is to punish them if they do.

Franklin: And STI prevention and harm reduction, they actually act against that philosophy.

Joreth: That’s the punishment.

Franklin: If you can prevent people from getting sick, if you can prevent people from having babies, you make them more immoral. That’s the mindset. And I don’t know how you counter that mindset.

Eunice: I don’t know. The guidance in the UK for the national curriculum specifically states outright that effective relationship and sex education does not encourage early sexual experimentation. They put it out there in those words and they’re just like moving on. Let’s just, let’s just ignore it, just moving on.

Ms. Ashley: I literally have this highlighted in this in this article. It says we know that abstinence is 100% effective at preventing pregnancy and STI’s, right? However, research has conclusively demonstrated that programs promoting abstinence only until heterosexual marriage occurs are ineffective. It doesn’t work.

Joreth: Like I said if that’s what I always tell, ’cause I work with so many conservative people ’cause I live in Florida. And every time this comes up, well, you know it’s just giving them permission. If there aren’t any punishments attached, then it’s just giving you permission. Like honey, you were a kid too and it didn’t stop you. So we know that not having the information does not stop them. We know this. We don’t need the studies. I’m glad we have them, but we don’t need them. We all know that not having the information doesn’t stop it.

Franklin: But I think that the fact that it doesn’t work is actually OK with a lot of people, particularly religious people who oppose sex ed, because they’re like, “we would rather see 20 wrongdoers punished ththan 18 wrongdoers not suffer harm for what they’re doing wrong. Like the fact that it does not prevent people from having sex or having kids or whatever, that’s fine. Because where they’re coming from is: yes, people will do this anyway. They need to suffer. They need to be punished.

Joreth: Right, but the point is that with the education they won’t be doing the wrongdoing.

Franklin: You can’t get them to believe that though. This is a fundamental identity sort of belief, and my mother always used to say when I was growing up, “information by itself almost never changes attitudes.” If you believe that sex ed gives people permission to have sex and that sex ed will cause promiscuity, no study, no table, no chart is going to change that, because that’s fundamentally a belief that comes from religious identity, not from fact.

Joreth: You can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into.

Franklin: Yes.

Eunice: And original sin. You’re already a Sinner. Is it such a surprise if you then go and sin?

Ms. Ashley: So none of that is rooted in evidence.

Franklin: Nope.

Ms. Ashley: It’s all rooted in myth. They are very preciously held myths from stories that people have chosen to put on a pedestal, and, you know, believe as fact. And so it’s important for us to say like that’s not real, that didn’t actually happen, but they’re great stories. If they’re important to you, I’m happy to respect that they’re important to you.

But what we actually know is that considerable evidence shows that sexual education programs can be effective in delaying sexual initiation among teens and increasing their use of contraception, especially condoms.

One study in 2007 found that there was no difference in the mean age of a first sexual encounter or the number of sexual partners between two groups when they looked at one group that had abstinence only education and another group that had abstinence plus education, meaning they had they learned about contraception as well.

So no effect. There was nothing positive in the abstinence only group. There was no difference in mean age of starting. So giving them more information about contraception did not make them go out and be crazy right?

Currently in the US, roughly 1/3 of high schools teach condom use. 1/3.

Joreth: 1/3

Franklin: Wow, that’s disappointing.

Ms. Ashley: It is. It is very disappointing, especially considering that is our front line of defense against all the STI’s. And I do not have this statistic right now, but the number of youth that experience an STI is rising, because they’re like uninformed about what the warning signs are that they might have something, or that they might be carrying something. And so then they don’t know what their body is telling them in order to go seek medical advice. So those that idea of like, hey, a condom could have prevented this had they have known about it or how to use it, is something I would love for parents to be specifically asking within their their children’s sex ed programs. Like, “Does this include condoms?”

Because it’s really hard to find out this information. I’m doing this right now with my own child program in their own school, and I had to like talk to the director of the program to get this information. It wasn’t anywhere online.

So if that’s another action item that families might want to go with, is just can you get to the bottom of whether or not your high schools in your area include this very important information?

Franklin: We had a lot to say, way more than we could fit in this episode, so we’ll be back next month with part 2 of this interview. And does it bother anyone but me that it takes so much work to find out what’s in the high school sex ed courses your kids might be taking?

Eunice: Yeah, it’s such a great point that she makes, and I don’t understand why there isn’t a clearly laid out curriculum for people to be able to look at? I mean, so many parents are getting so het up about what their kids are learning in sex ed, and it turns out most of them don’t even know?

Joreth: I can kinda understand if you think of it from the point of view that most of the super nosy busybodies wanting to check up on their kid’s sex-ed course are the conservatives who might get pissy at any accurate information included, that I could see a sex-ed provider being a little bit cagey about what’s in their course.

Eunice: Oh yeah, that’s a fair point.

Joreth: But that’s why we really need a robust, national, standard sex ed curriculum – so it can be transparent but also not subject to pressures from non-evidence-based, values-laden complaints, which we’ll also get to in the second half of the interview.

Franklin: So that’s this month’s episode! As before, you can find show notes and a transcript on skepticalpervert.com. Next month, we’ll also include all the links Ms. Ashley referenced during the interview in the show notes. Comments or ideas? Drop an email to contact@skepticalpervert.com. If you like the show, give us a review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify or wherever you found us. And don’t forget to join our patreon, which is linked on the website.

Eunice: And remember: be skeptical about your abstinence, not absent with your skepticism!

Joreth: I can’t turn that into a dirty joke or a way to torture Franklin, it’s just kind of an important message.

Franklin: That doesn’t sound like you.

Eunice: Don’t get used to it!

Joreth: We have plenty of other ways to torture you.