The Student Movement


Sex Education in the Adventist System

Zothile Sibanda

Photo by Public Domain

The “Birds and the Bees'' conversation was something I was told my parents were supposed to have with me. I probably heard the analogy on TV, and to this day, I don’t understand the connection the phrase has with sex education. Growing up in an Adventist and ethnic home, anything sexually related was never spoken about and wholly avoided. All of the “sex-ed” I got from my family was, “don’t have sex” and “stay away from boys.” Pretty straightforward, one would think, until I look back and realize how devoid of information it was. At my Adventist junior high school, when our teachers gave us “sex education,” they separated the girls and the boys while preaching abstinence without really getting into what sex was. During the following years, we were pretty much only shown the anatomical perspective of childbirth and the life cycle. The way that many church schools have tried to avoid having a straightforward conversation about it prompts me to wonder: if we didn’t get our sex-ed from our schools, where did we get it from? Friends? TV? Online? It worries me for the future, because there is no boundary between the internet and what a child can access. So, who will they turn to if their schools aren’t sufficiently educating them? The internet.

Something I have realized, especially in these recent years, is that although most Adventist schools may refrain from going “in-depth” about sex, they push the point that abstinence is the right way. This practice is what enforces purity culture and all of its arguably detrimental effects. The sole emphasis on abstinence is a harmful explanation of sex, because it doesn’t answer any questions a kid might have; it just shuts them down. Church schools seem to be so hesitant to be clear about the different ways to practice safe sex, and I feel the reason is that they feel that being clear with their students will prompt them to have sex, which isn’t the case at all. Becoming more knowledgeable on a subject does not necessarily guarantee that our youth will seek out first-hand experiences on it. Teaching the different practices for safe sex, like getting tested for STDs and learning about the different types of birth control, doesn’t have a direct correlation with teen pregnancy.

I interviewed two students of Andrews University, who will be kept anonymous. They attended public and private schools, and here are their responses:

“Having been in the Adventist education system for a good portion of my academic career and growing up in the church as a pastor’s daughter, I can confidently say that our education regarding sex is severely lacking. Oftentimes, our questions in health class were answered vaguely with flowery language and Bible verses rather than addressing the issue head-on. We were taught about menstrual cycles, the sanctification of marriage, and the importance of preserving our purity until we had a wedding ring on our fingers. Nothing else. It wasn’t until I  transferred to a public school during my 6th and 7th-grade years that I finally got real answers to my questions. Such as what sex exactly was, the hormonal changes that come with hitting puberty, and how to practice safe sex. While I was still a ways off from being the appropriate age to become sexually active, it was important for me to learn how to practice safe sex in advance. I believe that this open, honest, and safe communication that I received from my educators during those two years helped a lot more than my Adventist school or my parents’ “birds and the bees” talk (which consisted of nothing but various Scripture verses). While our faith holds many standards and beliefs when it comes to the subject of sex, we should not be afraid to discuss it openly. How can we expect our youth to understand and abide by the principles of our religion when we are too afraid to even explain these principles properly to them? Remaining silent on such matters does more harm than good in the long run and will continue to leave many Adventist youths lost and in the dark when it comes to such matters.”

The second student had some thoughts to share as well.

“I would say my experience was very informative. We were all required to take a health class and they would talk to us about puberty and sex health that was more of informing you rather than shaming you. We were taught different birth control methods, and how you should use at least two methods to prevent pregnancy and STDs. Essentially they acknowledged what we were exposed to and didn’t want us to get into a situation. They also explained the emotional health/damage that comes with hookup culture, so they weren’t just like, ‘here, have sex guys.’ It was like you should probably wait so you’re not emotionally traumatized—but if you do participate, don’t get pregnant or be unsafe.”

Moving forward, church schools should be able to communicate the realities of sex without feeling as if they are “encouraging” the behavior rather than educating their students. In our Adventist culture, it is normal just to let the teenagers figure it out themselves as they grow up, but having a guide from mentors in their lives could be most beneficial. It seems as though educators are shying away from the inevitable fact that adolescents are now constantly bombarded with sex in the media. It may be healthiest for the church to teach their youth about sex education, as opposed to the media the world. This could guide teenagers and push them away from misinformation that could hurt them rather than help them. 

The Student Movement is the official student newspaper of Andrews University. Opinions expressed in the Student Movement are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors, Andrews University or the Seventh-day Adventist church.