“Guess what?” I asked my mother as she stepped into the house.
“Huh?” she replied with little enthusiasm.
Jumping up and down on the couch, I told her I had started my period that day at school while on the playground. And I’ll never forget her first and only reaction to my exciting news: she stood there for a minute and proceeded to cry.
I was 10 when my body took the full plunge into puberty and decided that fifth-grade was the perfect time to start my menstrual cycle.
My teacher at the time, Ms. Cossey, quietly brought me to the teacher’s lounge and demonstrated, very awkwardly, how to properly use a pad.
Of course, I had known what was to come later in a girl’s life and had a vague idea on what a “period” consisted of, but what I wasn’t ready for was the amounts of blood, pain and the sort of resources that would be available for me.
Years later, I began to rethink my mother’s first reaction to her daughter’s initial transition into adulthood. Was she ashamed? Or sad at the thought I was slowly vanishing as her little girl? I was aware I had started my menstrual cycle a few years earlier than most of my friends, but I never thought more of it because it was never made to be a pressing issue.
In our current coeducational schooling, our system rarely does a superb job on informing children and teens on the subject of sex education.
Curriculum on sex education is viewed differently from — and holds little importance compared to — subjects such as Mathematics and Science. And more often than not, it’s a series of scare tactics instead of a source of empowerment and positive knowledge of the body and relationships.
In a utopian educational system, schools would be places of coed environments that allow children to adapt to and understand one another by providing space to those who feel more comfortable inside single-sex classes.
Single-sex classrooms could be the start of allowing space to hold conversations that I feel are neglected in current public coed schools — conversations about health, sex-ed and building confidence within an individual.
Single-sex classrooms have been prevalent in private schools since the 1800s and mainly in Europe, the U.K. especially. Over the past decades, the idea has been incorporated in American public schooling in the hopes of achieving less sex discrimination and stereotyping.
According to National Association for Single-Sex Public Education, approximately 500 public schools have offered some form of single-sex classrooms.
Some studies, including one from a team in Britain, will advocate heavily for the push toward single-sex classes, often for girls more than boys, with achieving higher confidence and participation within the classroom as their goal. Boys typically remain stagnant in their educational performance when separated.
On the other hand, studies by the American Council for Coeducational Schooling suggest that while single-sex classrooms hold more benefits for girls, they also reduce the opportunities for boys and girls to work cohesively together, and in the end, only reinforce sexual stereotypes.
Once gender becomes evident in a child’s life, we often see signs of separation solely based off of their given gender. They begin to treat others differently; following the roles of what’s taught to be “masculine” and “feminine.”
And with today’s access to social media being introduced earlier every year in an adolescent’s life, kids start to recognize and compare their appearances and self-worth based on how others view them.
With this in mind, girls and boys begin to grow self-aware and conscious about how they look, act and are perceived by the opposite sex, often times neglecting their education and focusing largely on how to look their very best.
Lynn Barclay, president and CEO of the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA), describes the horrendous state of sex education in the following statement: “We are doing such a poor job on so many subjects. We are not doing comprehensive sex-ed. We are not doing condom demonstrations. We are not teaching young people about consent …We are making them feel bad about their bodies.”
By opening up to the idea of single-sex classes within a coed environment, the public educational system could begin to find the missing puzzle piece in improving the sex education that’s currently available.
Furthermore, space could be reserved for individuals to feel comfortable and safe amongst the gender they most resonate with.
Single-sex classrooms would, hopefully, produce an environment for kids to feel confident and comfortable in learning and asking questions about their bodies, sexual desires and health.
Katie is a junior communication major.