It was the ridiculous anecdote heard ’round the Internet: on a (now deleted) episode of Ladies Like Us podcast, rapper T.I. discussed his practice of policing his daughter’s “virginity” by subjecting her to a “hymen check” at the gynecologist’s office.
Leaving aside the issue that the doctor actually agrees to this practice—after seeming to coerce T.I.’s daughter to sign a waiver allowing the doctor to share medical information with her father, adding another layer to an already traumatic experience—the entire process is based around the idea that a father is owed or entitled to his daughter’s sexuality. It also reveals a gendered double standard, one in which the rapper’s 18-year-old daughter gets hymen checks, but he has no qualms with his 15-year-old son being sexually active.
It’s also centered on a myth: T.I. believes that if his daughter’s hymen is intact, she has not had sex, and that you can “tell” if someone has had sex if their hymen is ripped or no longer there. That’s not true.
It sounds like T.I. needs some sex ed—and so do students in schools across the country.
T.I. told this story after some questions about whether he had sex talks at home with his kids, which was a great topic. We need to be better about normalizing conversations like that in the home. But while T.I. might be a celebrity, many other parents aren’t more well-informed, and many are similarly serving up a lot of shame during their dinner table discussions of sex.
Sex education can right these wrongs. Comprehensive sex ed includes much more than facts about birth control methods and sexually transmitted infections. The National Sexuality Education Standards, created by the Future of Sex Ed Initiative and which cover the minimum standards for an effective curriculum, recommend including age-appropriate instruction on different ways of communicating, creating healthy relationships of all kinds with peers, lessons about gender and identity, addressing social pressure and influence and learning the skills to negotiate both sexual and social situations that help them make the best decisions for their lives.
Under this guidance, a lesson on sexual assault would not happen in the midst of kindergarten coursework—it would take place in a high school classroom. But kindergarteners would still learn something, such as bodily autonomy, through lessons around, say, asking for consent for a hug.
Comprehensive sex ed curricula also has activities designed to include parents in the conversations—giving students homework, for example, where they interview their parents about their own learning and work together to discuss the facts and skilled learned at school, along with the values their family holds. Not all parents have the skills to be the best sexuality educators for their kids, often because they never had comprehensive sex ed themselves when they were growing up—but they can work with schools and within these programs to support their kids while also increasing their own skills to more fully continue safe and supportive conversations at home.
Research has found that kids who go through a comprehensive K-12 sex ed curriculum are not only better prepared for life’s complicated situations, but they also end up having more respectful views of women and girls in society—which will set them up to raise children without the burden of established gender norms, creating a more equitable society with lower rates of violence against women.
Some students don’t have parents or guardians at home that they can turn to—or, worse, have parents that shame them about sexuality or create an unsafe environment where they don’t feel comfortable asking for support. Providing complete, honest and accurate sex ed at school ensures that they are just as able as their peers to access life-saving and life-changing information.
Kids pick up messages about sexuality and gender from the age of four. Most of us grew up with messages about shame, violence and dread when it comes to sexuality, and that doesn’t just go away when we become parents. I began this with a personal story about someone I’ve never met, with a story of a forced “virginity exam”—which, let me be clear, is an act of violence, even if T.I. packaged it as an act of fatherly love. This is a perfect example of how stories of sexuality permeate our society, and they’re not always the sort of message we want to give our kids.
Ideally, there should be a national policy mandating comprehensive sex ed in all public schools from K-12. In the meantime, we can create change in our own communities that work towards creating a safer and more equitable place for all children. We can do this by advocating our local school boards to adopt comprehensive sex ed curriculum, so that at the very least, we do not have children growing up fearing their father’s policing of their bodies and their choices.