Growing up in a fairly conservative family in small-town Alaska one might make assumptions about the information and education I received about health, puberty, and sex. Luckily for me, those assumptions couldn’t be further from the truth. As I reflect on my own growing up experience I realize how incredibly lucky I was to have such supportive and understanding parents, friends, and teachers. I was in third or fourth grade when my mom sat me down for “the talk,” which of course made me turn bright red and assure her I had absolutely no questions. In school our formal health education began in fourth grade and we had programs in 4th, 5th, and 6th grade that started with separate sex classes about our own bodies and culminated in a co-ed class discussing how our bodies “worked together.”
Some might argue 10-11 years old is too young but luckily for me my parents and school district didn’t believe so. I started my period at 11 years old, only a few months into 4th grade. I was wearing white pants (something I wasn’t able to bring myself to do again until my early-20’s) and standing in line at a Wendy’s (fast-food burger joint) with my mom and older brother. MY mom noticed the creeping red stain on the back of my pants and rushed me to the bathroom. My mom let me sulk in the stall while she furiously scrubbed my pants and jerry-rigged a sweatshirt for me to wear to cover the stain. We went immediately to Fred Meyers and got all the necessary supplies and my mom had sneakily figured out a way to keep my brother in the car. All the secrecy was a mute-point - later that night at dinner my dad decided to announce that I had “become a woman” that day and everyone should congratulate me. Obviously, I angrily stomped downstairs to my bedroom. While absolutely mortifying as a pre-teen, this incident of incredible support and sweetness that my otherwise stoic father showed has stayed with me forever and if more men in the world supported women in this way we would live in a different world for sure.
In middle school we had two weeks each year that were dedicated to health and wellness and included everything from watching old episodes of Degrassi to having our history teacher answer all of our questions. One boy asked “what is an organism” (clearly referring to orgasm) and while the whole class snickered you could tell that even those laughing didn’t really understand. She used examples such as “soft cookie dough” (in reference to a penis at-ease) to give us simple examples and show us that talking about our bodies, puberty, and sexuality is something that could be fun and not just extremely embarrassing. That history teacher, while still completely shocking to us, became something of a legend in our class for her nonchalant and honest answers.
In high school we had an entire semester devoted to health and while each class’ experience was unique and varied there was an emphasis on providing us “complete and accurate” information. This means we learned about everything from condoms to IUDs, to healthy relationships to personal mental self-care. There were certainly aspects of the curriculum (especially the awful accompanying videos from the 90s) that could use updating, especially in terms of understanding that every kid has unique experiences related to their body, puberty, sexuality, and relationships. An especially glaring gap was the curriculums failure to discuss consent and bystander intervention – an absolute necessity given the horrifying stories coming out of college campuses across the US. All in all, the community that surrounded and supported me during my adolescence made an effort to ensure I was provided with the information and understanding I needed to feel safe, secure, and confident in my own body (even with crazy weight fluctuations, acne, and all the other fun stuff that puberty entailed). This is how every child should feel.
Aunna Wilson was born and raised in small-town Alaska and like any normal human went through a gloriously awkward phase during puberty. As the Executive Director of Pasand she loves talking with anyone who will listen (but especially adolescents) about menstruation, puberty, gender equality, and more. She is currently living in Bangalore and firmly believes that bangs are ALWAYS a bad decision.