“We hear again and again and again that giving kids information about sex is going to give them license to have it. That has been studied extensively, and it really is not true. Studies have shown that abstinence-only sex education does not lower teen pregnancy or birth rates and in fact likely increases it.” — Julia VanRooyen
Dr. Julia Arnold VanRooyen [Dr. Julia] is a passionate advocate for women’s health and reproductive rights, including access to contraception and abortion care. She is a board-certified gynecologic surgeon with subspecialty training in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery. She is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and received her medical degrees and training from the University of Illinois College of Medicine, Northwestern, and Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Julia worked as a Fellow at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, directing a capacity building program for fistula repair in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and throughout her career has dedicated time and skills to multiple international humanitarian projects, including conducting research on the use of rape as a weapon of war. She has also enjoyed teaching high school biology and reproductive health. Her latest project is a film script, “Red Notice”, a medical-legal drama set in a future where abortion has been banned and the government tightly monitors all pregnancies from conception. Visit her at drjuliaarnold.com.
Asha Dahya 07:09
Welcome to our special mid-month rePROFilm podcast episode, I’m your host Asha Dahya, excited to share my interview with our expert this month. Our theme for October is sex education and hooo boy is this something we need to talk about BIG TIME in the United States! As you’ll hear with my chat with Dr. Julia VanRooyen, sex education across America is such a patchwork of curriculum ranging from, in a nutshell, “don’t have sex or you’ll get pregnant and die” (to quote Mean Girls), to virtually being non-existent. Each year the federal government spends over $100 million to fund a type of curriculum that has been proven to have negative consequences and does not equip youth with healthy or medically-accurate sex education. I’m talking, of course, about Abstinence Only. Only 29 states today mandate any sex ed teaching, and only 13 require the information to be medically-accurate. I don’t know what you’re teaching if it’s not medically accurate, but we’re about to find out because thankfully Dr. Julia is going to explain it all, given her background as a sex educator, as well as give us ways to channel our rage at all the above into positive action.
At rePROFilm, we believe in the importance of comprehensive, medically-accurate and inclusive sex education, and Julia and I talk about how conservative religious purity culture has played a major role in creating such a scattershot landscape where the type of education you get depends on the state you live in and which political party is in control. That makes me so sad because equipping youth with healthy information about their bodies and sexuality should be non-partisan. We also chat about why Sex Ed should be inclusive of LGBTQIA+ students, and how pop culture plays a role in, or can even reflect, the type of sex education that is taught. For better OR for worse. With all that being said, let’s dive into the world of sex education with Dr. Julia VanRooyen!
Asha Dahya 02:14
Dr. Julia VanRooyen, thank you for joining me today! Before we dive into the complex and frankly frustrating landscape of sex education, especially here in the US which is what we are focusing on today, I’d love for you to give our listeners a brief overview of your career, and how you found our way into the world of teaching sex ed.
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 02:35
Well, thank you very much for having me. First of all, it’s great to be here. I am an obstetrician gynecologist by training. I worked several years as a general OBGYN before deciding to go back and do a fellowship in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery. And during my fellowship, a lot of the research that I participated in was or involved anatomic studies with cadavers. So I’ve always been really interested in anatomy. And then when you’re in academic medicine, as I was, you’re always teaching there with medical students around residents around. And that was my favorite part of the job. I loved teaching. So I’ve always had the interest in anatomy and interest in teaching. You know, my entire career, after working for several years, I then worked for an organization called the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, where I was involved in a variety of humanitarian projects, including one in the Democratic Republic of Congo and another on the Sudanese Chad border with draw for refugees. But I wasn’t working clinically at that time.
And also right around then, one of the high school teachers in my hometown where my kids went to high school, asked if I would come in and teach her senior students parts of her anatomy and physiology course. She was interested in having me do the male and female reproductive anatomy units and pregnancy and childbirth, since that’s what I had done as a gynecologist. And I loved it. It was so fun working with these senior kids. And while I was there, one of the biology teachers was going to take a year of maternity leave, and I was offered her position and accepted it and ended up doing that two years in a row for two different teachers. And the biology students I had with Freshman, which was it was so interesting for me to have these freshman students who are 14 and then the seniors who were 17 and 18 and sort of see the difference in where they were in teaching them really the same thing because as a part of the whole biology course, there was only a little bit that was male and female anatomy, but it was really fun to teach them. And so that was sort of my you know, that piqued my interest in being interested in the general state of sex education in the United States.
Asha Dahya 04:46
Which state were you teaching? Because this is going to come into play later when we chat further. Where were you? Which state were you teaching in?
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 04:52
I was teaching in Massachusetts.
Asha Dahya 04:55
For people who are familiar with the sex education landscape where you are like depending on which state you’re in, that plays a huge role, which we’ll chat about in a minute. But for those who may not be familiar, can you tell us how sex education curriculum is decided in the U.S.? Is it a federal mandate? Does it go state by state? Like how do they kind of piece it out?
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 05:14
The first thing that, you know, anyone that looks into the matter will discover is it is a complete patchwork. It’s just a complete manual. Every state is different and within a state, community to community can be different as well. If there are no state mandates. But the funding for sex education programs is largely up to state and local governments, as is the decision whether to fund them at all. So some states don’t have any programing, which is interesting and frustrating to do, as you said. But the federal government does fund some sex education programs and which programs are funded sort of depends on which political party is in power. And it changes all the time. It can change when administrations change the amount of funding to one source or another will change. But the federal funding that we have today started in general around 1996, during the welfare reform years, and then it really ramped up during the Reagan administration years, and that was for abstinence only based education. It used to be called Abstinence Only Until Marriage. They since changed the name. It’s now called Sexual Risk Avoidance Education or S.R.A.E.
Asha Dahya 06:29
But it’s the same thing, right?
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 06:30
It is the same thing. Yeah, absolutely. Focus is on encouraging students to remain abstinent until marriage and no sex outside of marriage. All right. So within those programs, there are two sort of funding streams. And there’s a thing called the title five State Abstinence Education Fund. Now, Sexual Risk Avoidance Education Fund or program, it’s managed by the Department of Health and Human Services. It’s a grant funding program. So those Title 5 SRAE funds are granted for a period of years, two or three years programs last sometimes longer, and that is one source of SRAE programing funding. The second source. Is discretionary funds that are part of an appropriations bill that occur annually. So those are just renewed annually.
Once the states get those funds from the federal government, they’re able to parcel them out, to allocate them to individual organizations and programs however they like. That funding that I’m mentioning is all state based programing typically, you know student they don’t they it’s it’s all focused on getting students to wait to abstain and then there isn’t a lot of discussion even of contraception. Typically the only thing they cover is condom use and they focus on the failure rate of condoms and how they’re not appropriate, you know, not a great option. They’re not allowed to demonstrate how condoms are used. They’re not allowed to provide samples, certainly, and they’re not allowed to even talk about like where kids could get them. So they sort of mentioned them as like a bad thing that doesn’t work.
And then they don’t really talk about a lot of other contraception. And that’s the extent of the estimates. Only as early as 2005, it became evident that those programs aren’t really working and that actually it looks like states that focused on abstinence only programs actually had higher teen pregnancy and birth rates. So when the Obama administration came into place in about 2010, they started really focusing on they wanted to really look at results like really do evidence based, looking at do these programs work or not. So the Obama administration developed two new programs. There was one called the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, or TPPP. And then there was a second one called Personal Responsibility Education Program or PREP. And so those two went forward. They were partially funded by the Affordable Care Act.
And then some funding was pulled from those Title 5 grant and discretionary funds, which of course, was very controversial. And the only folks were not at all in favor of that. And then, in fact, in 2016, when administrations changed, the funding was taken back into the SRAE programs. And since 2016 and to this day, we spend the federal government allocates $110 million to those programs, but 75 million to the grant program and 35 million to the discretionary funding. But they’re all SRO programs.
Asha Dahya 09:33
It’s insane to think how many hundreds of millions of dollars goes toward abstinence only programs, federally, each year and there’s so much proof to show it doesn’t work. That’s kind of I just want everyone to sit with that fact for a second. I kind of like to sum up this is just a side note. As you were talking, I just thought of the way that the best I like to sum up abstinence only curriculum is that seen in Mean Girls where I think it’s like the coach says don’t have sex, you’re going to get pregnant and die. It’s like that’s essentially this is comical. It’s just not based in facts and reality. So that’s something that’s the reason why we’re talking about sex education, education today, because comprehensive sex education is really important. And you mentioned that it’s a patchwork landscape right now.
And I remember first reading about some of the shocking stats about sex ed where only 29 states today mandate any sex ed teaching, and something like 13 out of that require the information to be medically accurate. Is it absurd to ask, what the hell are you teaching if sex ed is not medically accurate? Especially because I’m asking a doctor right now.
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 10:54
Right. I mean, at a baseline, it seems like that’s where we should be starting. Like we’re tackling that are correct, but that isn’t always true. So it is a complete patchwork. And you’re correct that right now only 29 states plus the District of Columbia mandate any sex ed teaching and that there are also only 13 that require them to be medically accurate. What’s interesting to me is that of those 29 that require sex education, a different 38 states require HIV education, and they’re not necessarily the same. And I’m not sure how you teach about HIV without teaching about sex ed, but.
Asha Dahya 11:29
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 11:29
Some states do it. It’s really weird. Bizarre. It just does not make a lot of sense but there are 16 states that mandate abstinence only education. So 16 states in the country, that’s all that they’re going to get if they get anything at all. So it is really frustrating that we have this weird patchwork. So the other issue that you bring up, the medical accuracy issue coming from a place of medicine in academic medicine, we follow evidence based medicine. You don’t practice anecdotally just because you tried something once and it works, that doesn’t mean that it really works. You know, we study things, we do research, we do evidence based medicine. And I would assume when I read that about medical accuracy, that that same standard would apply here. But it doesn’t necessarily because some of the states that require medical accuracy allow state public health department officials to determine what’s accurate or not.
Asha Dahya 12:24
And that’s problematic right?
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 12:25
It may or may not be accurate because those are not elected officials, they’re political appointees. And, you know, we’ve seen over the last couple of decades this progressive politicization of scientific policymaking. We’ve seen it in an area of climate change. We’ve seen it certainly in abortion policy. We’ve seen, you know, so it might be fine to have your public health officials determining what’s medically accurate, and it might be actually, you know, they may be using evidence based standards, but they may not also.
So it is problematic. And like you said, depending on which state you’re in and what political leaning, it’s it’s yeah, it’s kind of sad that they have, you know, it’s a political party or a political appointee directing that what should be a scientific and medically, you know, important conversation, examples of things you would see in that misinformation that might crop up regarding sex education. You you might see misinformation about abortion, for example, about the risks of abortion. Actually, several states prohibit mentioning it at all. So it’s not something you can even talk about explicitly in several states. But for those that do, you might get a real emphasis on the risks and no comparison to how risky or safe abortion is compared to actually being pregnant and having a full term pregnancy and delivery. It’s much safer to have a legal, safe first trimester abortion than it is to actually just be pregnant.
I mean, I don’t know that people are as aware of the risks that can happen with just regular pregnancy. Either so, or you might also get misinformation about things like mechanism of action of contraception, like IUDs or plan B. There is a lot of teaching still that shows that kids are taught or people are taught that those are abortifacients, that that’s their mechanism of action is by causing an early, early abortion. And that’s just not scientifically correct. So those types of those are the types of information that might creep in. It’s really interesting to see the direct line between what’s taught and what’s not taught in schools and what we’re seeing from elected officials. I mean, we know that in a number of states, doctors are forced to read from a medically inaccurate script when talking to patients about abortion, such as abortion causes breast cancer and mental health issues, which is medically inaccurate and then proven to be medically inaccurate. And also I’ve seen elected officials talk about, like you said, plan B pills, not knowing what the hell they do.
And it’s just really, really frustrating that, you know, that this information is not being talked about in the right way from the supposed people who are supposed to be the experts. So it is frustrating as a physician because you can imagine you see legislative bodies have experts in and and the experts say what the facts are and then they turn around and pass a law that is completely it’s as if they just decide. Well, I hear what you’re saying, and I know that you’re an expert, but I’m not. I don’t think that I’m going to think this way, vote this way. You know, the issue of ectopic pregnancies. And in Ohio, they’ve tried at least twice to have that mandate re implanting an ectopic pregnancy inside the uterus. That’s not a thing like that doesn’t exist. It’s not so it’s not medically possible. And then for them to hear testimony to that effect and then vote for it anyway. And again, it hasn’t passed. It was not ultimately.
Asha Dahya 15:47
Thankfully, yes. Fingers crossed. It never does. Because for all their testimony and then vote anyway.
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 15:53
Asha Dahya 15:55
Yeah, it’s just that’s really heartbreaking.
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 15:57
Asha Dahya 15:58
Yeah. Well, like you said, abstinence only is mandatory in a number of states, despite the fact there are numerous studies that show it has very negative outcomes in the lives of teens, high rates of teen pregnancy, high rates of stars. And of course, they don’t allow education around contraception and abortion. And many of those are in mostly Republican led states that are against comprehensive sex. Ed, were you familiar with this landscape when you went into teaching? Was it something you kind of learned about once you kind of got into the area?
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 16:30
I was not familiar with it. And again, teaching in Massachusetts, it was a little bit of a different political landscape. But there is a really frequently cited myth. Whenever things like contraceptive use or any type of sex education come up. There’s this myth frequently cited by social conservatives that providing kids with sex education will encourage them to have it, you know, to have it more earlier than they might have otherwise, and that it may promote promiscuity. And we hear that again and again and again, that by telling kids information about sex or by giving kids when they’re 11 and 12 years old, HPV vaccines, any kind of thing that’s remotely related to sex, we hear this that it’s going to encourage kids to have it or give them license to have it. And that has been studied extensively. And it really is not true.
It’s just not true. It’s not true that it causes them to initiate it earlier or that it causes them to have more amounts of sex or more partners or or anything. That’s just something that we hear all the time. That is incorrect. Studies have shown that abstinence only sex education does not lower teen pregnancy or birth rates and in fact, likely increases it. It does not lower or decrease the amount of HIV infection or other sexually transmitted infections that people get.
It does have a lot of negative impacts. However, right now, the most recent statistics we have show that about 50% of kids will have had sex before they graduate from high school. So over half, over half of kids are
Asha Dahya 18:03
That almost feels low.
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 18:05
It does but, you know, it’s the majority. And when you have the majority of kids receiving only abstinence, only based education, we are sending them out without information about contraception or how to prevent sexually transmitted infections or for ones that are not having comprehensive sex education and learning relationship skills, communication skills, we’re sending them out or they’re having these experiences without any you know, they’re flying blind. They don’t have any of that information that they need to make good decisions. So that is huge. But beyond that, abstinence only programs are all about they’re very judgy. They’re all about, you know, fear and guilt and shame around sex.
They frame pre-marital sexual activity and pregnancy as wrong or risky choices with negative outcomes. And they promote waiting until marriage to avoid all of those negative outcomes, as if you cannot have extramarital sex or sexually transmitted infections or unintended pregnancy within the context of marriage.
Asha Dahya 19:08
Of course you could.
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 19:09
So it doesn’t it doesn’t make sense.
Yeah. It’s that that kind of landscape of guilt and shame and fear is so common within the abstinence only curriculum. And something we briefly talked about in our phone call before this interview was how we both grew up in conservative religious households.
Asha Dahya 19:29
For myself personally, purity culture was a big deal for millennial coming of age conservative evangelicals with books like I Kissed Dating Goodbye, which ironically the author, Josh Harris, who wrote it when he was 20. And he just kind of got thrown into this conservative evangelical pop culture complex, and he was hailed as this big purity culture star . Today, he has completely disavowed the message from that book, which was a huge story in recent years. He’s been very open about his divorce and no longer being a Christian. And, you know, I guess the toxic messages in that book. And so my point being that movements that restrict freedom and curiosity and just a healthy, open learning environment when it comes to sexuality can become toxic in its messaging about reproductive freedom, bodily autonomy, gender identity and more. So can you tell us a little bit about how a movement like Purity Culture has played a role socially and politically in determining how abstinence only versus comprehensive sex ed is taught in various sites or just across America in general?
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 20:34
Well, I think purity culture in its extreme form was sort of a reaction to it came out of the in the late eighties and early nineties. It was developed as a program within the evangelical community to as a way to combat the HIV AIDS crisis and increasing rates of teen pregnancy. And, you know, we were already that had the highest teen pregnancy rate of any developed nation in the world. And so I think, you know, it makes sense that your community of people would try to figure out a way, I don’t mean you yours. I mean, people would try to figure out a way to combat this. Right. But there were such long lasting and traumatic implications from this culture in some people. And statistically, it just didn’t work. So young people who expressed intentions to wait until marriage to have sex have the same rates of premarital sex, the same rates of sexually transmitted infections as their peers, and they’re less likely to use contraception. Of course, they have greater risk of pregnancy because they’re not using contraception. And it just doesn’t work. And the burden falls largely on women. More girls, more than boys that yes, they got both boys and girls to pledge to remain abstinent until marriage.
Asha Dahya 21:49
But the overwhelming burden was on girls. And they you know, there were all kinds of analogies in these books, like comparing girls that have had sex to a piece of chewing gum, a used piece of fruit like dirty. Right. Who would ever want you a piece of gum after someone else would shoot at nobody? That’s appalling, right? So shameful. Yeah, just terrible. And then, you know, a lot of a lot of these of of abstinence only programs really encourage gender stereotypes, like it’s scientific fact that males are aggressive and they always want to have sex and female passive and they don’t want to have sex. And so this this kind of program has really been made it hard for a lot of people who went through it as teenagers and young adults to have normal, healthy sexual relationships with adult partners. It’s been really damaging. I’m glad you reiterated that, because I know it would just as you’re talking, it’s like, yep, I remember that. Yep, I felt that. Just the shame of, oh my gosh, my body is dirty and I’m going to cover it up and it’s my fault if a male acts in a certain way toward me. It’s just really, really bad. So I’m glad that these things are being talked about a lot through social media and in, you know, in films and things like that. So. Shifting gears a little bit, I’d love to talk about and related obviously I’d love to talk about the importance of sex ed being inclusive of the LGBTQIA plus community and students. Why is this important and what could potentially be the negative impact when they are excluded or explicitly discriminated against in curriculums?
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 23:24
It’s so important and abstinence only programs do not. They are not inclusive. They are typically heteronormative. So they’re talking about heteronormative relationships only. They frame LGBTQ students as deviants. This was one of the statistics that blew me away. There are six states in the country that explicitly require instruction that discriminate against LGBTQ students.
Asha Dahya 23:50
Oh, my God.
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 23:50
I can’t. I can’t even imagine that. It’s heartbreaking. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be an LGBTQ student and to sit in class and hear yourself, particularly, if you were out and your fellow classmates knew that you were so identified to then have your teacher, the authority figure, standing at the front of the classroom talking about your deviant behavior. I can’t… that’s it’s hard for me to imagine. It’s dehumanizing. It is humanizing. It is inhuman to do. Stigmatizing and discriminating against LGBTQ students really increases their risk. They’re much higher rates of HIV and other STI infection, substance use disorders, suicide, and really, really increases their risk to experience violence just either, you know, random violence or partner partner relationship violence as well. So it’s actually really important to include this part of the community in a comprehensive sexuality education program.
Asha Dahya 24:50
Agreed. Well, as we are very familiar, schools have become potentially the new political battleground with well, I should mention I knew it’s been throughout the, you know, this way throughout American history, but specifically now with debates over, for example, critical race theory, the legislative attacks on trans athletes, trans athletes, students, and, of course, the lack of sex ed being taught everywhere, which we can almost draw a direct line to the larger attacks on bodily autonomy with overturning Roe v Wade, fights over Medicaid and health care access. In your expert opinion, why are schools, especially public schools, such a battleground for issues like these?
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 25:29
That is the question. It’s…
Asha Dahya 25:30
A loaded question. I know.
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 25:32
I wish I had a better answer. It feels sometimes like we’re in the midst of a hostile takeover. You know, it seems that this low but very vocal minority has really somehow gained the upper hand in driving what books we’re going to read, what declarations we can put in our elementary school classrooms, what, you know, how we’re going to teach about sex ed. It’s just I think I think it’s largely fear based. I think parents are afraid sometimes. And I think it’s I think it’s fear of the other. You know, they don’t want their kids exposed to anything that’s different from what they know or what they’re familiar with. But I think the fact that these things are being legislated into policy, I think is evidence that our elected representatives are representing us right now in a lot of areas. I think they’re out of sync with the majority of American opinion on multiple issues, on common sense gun legislation.
Asha Dahya 26:32
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 26:33
A majority of Americans want that on, you know, the abortion issue. The majority of Americans believe that some or all abortion should be safe and legal.
Asha Dahya 26:43
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 26:44
And then certainly that’s true with sex education too. The majority of parents want their kids – Majority of high school parents want their kids to receive a comprehensive, broad based sex education program. So I think it’s just another area where we’re not not listening to what the majority wants.
Asha Dahya 27:02
Yeah, well, one of the areas where I know that people are fighting back and, you know, trying to disrupt the status quo in the political and educational landscape is through creativity. And I’ve recently become a fan of an artist named Sophia Wallace and her hashtag #CliteracyMovement and the art project coinciding with it, she educates people on what the clitoris is, where it is, what it does, and more. And I’ve learned so much from her work, and I consider myself someone who’s very plugged into this issue, especially how far behind we are and needing to break taboos and disrupt censorship laws that are so regressive when it comes to especially women’s bodies. I’d love to get your take on why projects and art and creativity can be an important way to disrupt and educate people in a way that perhaps schools and politics can’t.
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 27:52
Gosh, I think it’s so important. I think the media has tremendous power to educate and also to harm. Right. I mean, we are surrounded by media all the time TV, film, print, whatever that creates these unrealistic standards of beauty standards, what our bodies are supposed to look like. And it’s I think that can be very harmful, especially to developing teenagers who, you know, all teenagers think something’s wrong with them. This isn’t normal. Normal, you know, but but all of us do to some degree. I mean, from the media, we learn all the ways that there’s something wrong with us and that what we can do to, you know, to fix it, to make it better. And I have been, you know, appalled over the last, I would say, 15 to 20 years that they’ve even, you know, the beauty industry has even taken aim at female reproductive anatomy. Right?
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 28:43
So there’s this whole industry around vaginal rejuvenation and labiaplasty. Labiaplasty is a huge thing right now.
Asha Dahya 28:51
Aren’t they on the rise for some crazy statistic?
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 28:54
Yeah. And so they’re I became familiar with I don’t even know how she first came across my TikTok feed. But she did one thing to the woman that you were mentioning, the artist that you were mentioning. She’s not an artist. She is an educator but she also builds large lifesize models of the clitoris. And she’s done a ton of work with the actual innovation and how far the nerves go. And she makes things like YouTube and TikTok to educate people about the actual anatomy. And she really has also targeted medical books because inexcusably they don’t they haven’t included enough accurate information. It’s not that information doesn’t exist. That her whole thing. Her name is Jessica Pin. I should certainly say her name, but she her whole point is the information does exist. It’s just not in there. They’re not giving up the space in the book. So she’s actually had good success with medical textbooks, which will help juice and educate future generations of doctors, and people will begin to have more information.
Asha Dahya 29:52
I think it’s so important. I think kids with smartphones, kids have universal access to all to the whole Internet and in all of its all of the things on it. And I think that films, you know, can be obviously can be good. It can really be used to educate people. But, you know, I think there’s a potential for bad stuff out there, too, or certainly inaccurate information is on it as well.
Well, this month we are featuring the short film heroines in the periodical. I’d love to get your opinion. I mean, you talked about a little bit about how entertainment films, especially scripted films, because sometimes, like you said, they can be good and bad. Why is a project like this so important?
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 30:33
I would say that one reason that sex education and comprehensive sex education in schools is so important is that we want to be sure kids are getting correct information and that all kids have access to that information so that it’s right. So they’re not just asking their friends, which I think is still by far the number one source of they turn to. If they want to know something, they turn to their friends that may or may not be accurate. So it’s super important to have these comprehensive programs in school because kids are curious. They don’t know and they are curious. Like I when I was teaching, I had one of my freshman students. We were preparing for a test.
I was helping them study. And there were a lot of parts to learn, you know, to memorize. And she was struggling with memorizing all the parts. And she got to the clitoris and she said she raised her hand and asked out loud, Do we really need to know what this is like? She was struggling with the word, and at that point, I need to know if you’re going to want to know that one. So, you know, I don’t hold it against a 14 year old for not knowing. But it’s not limited to kids, right?
I mean, I always tell this story to my kids in class. When Sally Ride in 1983 was about to go into space, she’s going to be the first woman in space. It was a week-long trip during which she may or may not have had her period, but they were concerned about that possibility. They were trying to… All these NASA scientists were trying to figure out how many tampons did they need to send on the spaceship to make sure she would be “just in case.” And they they finally contacted her and they said, “Okay, so just to be safe, we’re thinking 100, is that right?” And she was like…
Asha Dahya 32:08
Oh, my God.
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 32:09
“No. That’s too….” You know, these are not just scientists that don’t know anything about periods and they’re just guessing in the dark.
The other thing that happened to me personally that was very surprising. When I was in medical school, I was a first year student. We were doing anatomy and physiology, the dissection in the anatomy lab. So we are all in this lab bent over our cadavers doing the dissection. And we were at the part of the year where we were doing the female perineum, and one of my male colleagues said out loud, loud enough that, you know, the whole lab heard, but he was genuinely amazed. He said, “What?t! There are three holes there?”
Asha Dahya 32:50
Oh my god.
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 32:51
Not that you said this. There is like a 24 or 25 year old guy who did not know that the urethra and vagina were separate places. And that’s actually not an uncommon misperception. They’ve done funny, you know, surveys where they ask men, you know, with and a lot of them don’t know that there’s been something going around Twitter just this week about some a male colleague asking his female, “How do you wear tampon? How do you urinate when you or where did you find?” She was like, you know, so and then the last thing I guess I will say, Jimmy Kimmel, if you want to watch something funny in January of this year, did a hilarious like Man on the Street where he walked up and they had a big easel and a diagrams like a side view, a cut view of the female pelvis. And they would just identify anything that you recognize, just point to something and say what anything. And it was. It was unbelievable. So my point is, it is not just for two year old kids that don’t know what things are.
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 33:51
I think that a lot of us could do with, you know, better sex education so that we we don’t you know, we’re not sitting around a table trying to figure out how many tampons. Might be needed for a week long trip. Yeah, we are. It’s really important.
Asha Dahya 34:07
It really is. I mean, it just kind of reiterates the point why? Films such as this month’s film that were featuring on report periodical heroines where a woman is sitting around a table trying to talk about the birds and the bees, quote unquote, to her, to a teenage girl, is, you know , when you see depictions like that, it’s like, yeah, that’s kind of what happens. And we need, you know, something that’s more accurate, more comprehensive, and that really gives us the tools to live healthy lives and own our bodies and sexuality in a way that’s healthy. So yeah, be sure to check out the film heroines if you haven’t seen it yet. So now that we have an idea of what’s at stake for use across the country and how vital comprehensive sex ed is, is there an organization or organizations working to mobilize voters and educate them on what’s happening in their state? If listeners want to go and check it out after they listen to this interview,
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 34:58
Yes, there are a couple of really good ones. So there is an organization called Siecus. Siecus is an organization that advances sex education through advocacy policy, coalition building. They’ve actually been around since 1964. Oh, no way. Yes, a long time. They have moved more. Initially, they were just sex education focused, but now they really do a lot of advocacy work as well and help make policy. But they they have an awesome website and they have a lot of graphs and charts are easy to read they and you can they have a very nice breakdown of state by state sex education information. So if you just want to know what the deal is in my state and how does it work in my state ? They have great information. You can go right to yours and read all the way down. So sex is a really good one.
There’s a sex education collaborative made of 23 different national, regional and state based organizations that have experience training educators to deliver better sex education. So for anyone who wants to be a sex educator or does sex education, they have an awesome hub, training hub where you can sign up for all kinds of different teaching instruction and units where you can learn. They also have a toolkit online that has a lot of material. If you want to advocate, if you want to publicize, you know, if you want to try to promote better sex education, they have an awesome free toolkit that you can use, including suggested posts and timelines of when you can roll all this out. Anyway, that’s an interesting site.
I think the best site where I get data all the time is the Guttmacher Institute site. They’re a research and policy organization committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health rights in the U.S. They have invaluable data about everything and they break it down. You know, they have the full, really complex studies, but then they’ll often have a box at the top where they like too long, don’t/can’t/read it all the bullet points at the top, which is actually really nice. So those are three really good sources for sex education information.
Asha Dahya 37:03
Yeah, we’ll share the link to those so people can check them out if they haven’t already. Where can people find out more about your work and keep in touch and perhaps ask you questions?
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 37:17
Sure, they can find me on Twitter and Instagram @DrJuliaArnold and that’s my maiden name.
They can also visit my new website at DrJulieArnold.com. It’s been such a pleasure talking to you today. And I’ve been so enlightened and I hope this will really kind of light a fire in the bellies of parents, educators, students and anyone interested in equipping youth across America with healthy information.
Asha Dahya 37:46
So thank you so much, Dr. Julia VanRooyen for joining me today.
Dr. Julia VanRooyen 37:52
Thank you so much for having me. Really. Thank you so much.
Asha Dahya 37:56
Be sure to get in touch with Dr. Julia on social media if you have any questions. She is a great resource who will definitely be featuring again in future episodes of the rePROFilm Podcast. Hit her up on Twitter and Instagram @drjuliaarnold and DrJuliaArnold.com. As she mentioned in the interview, she uses her maiden name on social media, so don’t get confused. She is a great resource, who we will definitely be featuring again in future episodes of the rePROFilm podcast.
In the show notes you can find links for the websites she mentioned: siecus.org, guttmacher.org, and sexeducationcollaborative.org
Great resources all around, which I highly encourage you to share with parents, students, educators, and beyond.
You still have time to watch our featured film this month, ‘Heroines’ from director Katia Badalian, and subscribe to the rePROFilm Periodical at reprofilm.org to get all our repro goodies straight to your inbox every month!
The rePROFilm podcast is executive produced by mamafilm
Hosted and produced by me, Asha Dahya,
Edited by Kylie Brown,
With original music by ParisJane and Marrice Anthony.
The periodical is programmed by Neha Aziz and written by Emily Christensen
Alex Sgambati is our Social Media Manager and
Rebecca Sosa is our Distribution & Impact Strategist.
You can find us on social media @reprofilm on Instagram and Facebook, and @reprofilmfest on Twitter. I look forward to bringing you our next conversation. Bye for now!