Feminist Friday: A French Perspective on Sex Education and Birth Control

In the past years, I have learned a lot about sex education, birth control and abortion situations in other countries than mine, including the USA. Since I joined a group of bloggers discussing feminist topics, I have been exposed to even more information about this, and it led me to discuss my French point of view on these topics.

In France, sex education isn’t something commonly provided by schools. It is normally up to the family, or a doctor, to educate and answer questions. We have several mandatory medical examinations during our school years. I remember that the one in first year post high school, brought up many topics related to sex and birth control. I remember how the female doctor thought I wasn’t knowledgeable at all because I was virgin and had no problem admitting it. I shocked her by showing how much I knew about all of this, though I wished not to be sexually active.

When I hear people say that if you know much about sex, you’ll risk being promiscuous, I see red. By such backward standards, I would have had a harem since puberty! I have helped many friends who weren’t as educated on sexual matters since I was a teenager.

Information poster about different birth control methods (including official website to learn more). This poster is commonly displayed in GP's waiting rooms in France.

Information poster about different birth control methods (including official website to learn more). This poster is commonly displayed in GP’s waiting rooms in France.

My first exposure to any sort of scientifically based (which has been the information I have received) was when I was like 4 years old. My parents gave me a book for children with simple drawings to explain anatomy and conception.

The same way, I didn’t freak out when I got my period years later, because me being a curious child, I found out about it and my mother had a perfect explaination so I wasn’t concerned by sight of menstruation. She told me that ‘every month a woman makes a nest for a baby and that when there is no baby, the nest just goes away’. Up to this day, I remember the story!

The first time I heard of ‘abstinence only’ sex education, I didn’t understand how it could exist. I attended Catholic school, from last year of elementary to end of high school. We never heard a word against abortion (which was legalized in 1975 thanks to the amazing Simone Veil) or against birth control. Sex education didn’t really happen though, save for one class in first high school year. And even during this, it was in science, so all information was anatomically accurate.

When I see some description of sex education, patriachal expectations and even dress codes, I can’t help thinking that my Catholic school looks like a bunch of hippies in comparison. I loved my years spent there and it taught me a lot about compassion, hard work and tolerance. To me, there was a real spirit of charity and respecting Jesus’s message there.

I have nothing against abstinence as a personal choice, but it shouldn’t be something imposed on you. Everyone should be taught about sex to be able to make informed choices. Whether someone engages or not in sexual activity is their choice, and theirs alone. The same way, a woman who chooses to terminate a pregnancy should be the one in charge of her own body.

The more informed (with correct information) people are, the better they are prepared. This also counts for sexual matters.

Is France a perfect country? No, it isn’t. We have mysogynistic issues. There is domestic violence and sexual assault. Yet, I don’t feel threatened as a woman when it comes to my rights to access birth control or even abortion.

By now, I have been on birth control (of various kinds) for more than a decade. I have never been on birth control for contraceptive reasons, always health related ones. This proves once again that birth control’s name is problematic because of the vast panel of reasons women can choose to use it.

I have never been confronted to a pregnancy, so if I ever was to an unwanted one, I have no idea whether I would choose to terminate it. Yet, knowing that I have the legal right to get one is extremely important to me. This is why I have always been pro-choice. I also believe that birth control should easily be accessible and covered by health care. In France, many methods are covered by national health care, but not all. When I switched to the implant in 2012, I was surprised to find out it was 100% covered, while the patch wasn’t at all.

Investing in scientically accurate sex education (including about LGBTQIA+), accessible birth control, medically safe abortion procedures, is a wise societal choice. What about you? What do you think is important in terms of sex education?

26 thoughts on “Feminist Friday: A French Perspective on Sex Education and Birth Control

  1. Rose F

    I’m not sure I’m qualified to offer an opinion on this, because where I grew up, the students knew more than the teachers about the realities of STDs, abortion and birth control. Even so, we had a mandatory 3 semesters of sex ed that included many birth control options, male and female, STD risks, treatment protocols, numbers and information on free clinics, roleplay of how to handle unwanted sexual advances and basically “no means no” as a slogan over everything. So, I sometimes wonder if I grew up in a different America or what. The only thing I can suggest is that sex ed needs to start a lot younger because by the time we got it (ages 12-14) a lot of kids were already having sex, and those who weren’t having sex probably felt embarrassed to ask anything because they knew the other kids were more experience than they were.

    Liked by 4 people

    Reply
    1. Natacha Guyot Post author

      I agree that sex ed needs to start much younger than early teenage years. It is fairly easy to discuss with age appropriate content that develops as the children grow up. The bit of sex ed we had in school was in biology class and there was only one of the students I recall having zero idea of what was going on. Although in France, it’s common that sex ed is mostly left up to parents (and it’s common to send them to GP if they have question, whether during school mandatory medical check ups or privately), I think that expanding it in school would be important.

      I want to get up and clap my hands when I read how sex ed was where you grew up! We also have several free spaces that are for both minors and people of legal age to encourage access to birth control and medical check ups and even abortion (as a minor you can get abortion without parental consent in France, which I think is very important).

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
      1. Rose F

        It might be an economic thing where I grew up. “Poorer” areas are seen as having high risks for unwanted pregnancy and STDs, and there’s less influence by conservative political factions, who generally think the whole world is middle-class and white. So, the school or teachers or whatever made it a priority.

        Liked by 3 people

        Reply
        1. Natacha Guyot Post author

          That’s good that the school or teachers made it a priority. It should be the case everywhere. I remember being shocked by how a girl I knew was seeing a gyno who had totally forgotten to tell her certain basic things. The girl didn’t like when I volunteered the information (especially as I was supposedly this stuck up person who didn’t want to have sex with anyone). In the end, she thanked me for it.

          Liked by 2 people

          Reply
  2. Gretchen Kelly

    I read somewhere (and I wish I could remember where!) about sex ed that starts in Kindergarten and focuses on body parts and privacy and how no one should touch you inappropriately. (I think it was Norway). We are missing such a huge opportunity here in the US to help children understand sex abuse and how to stop it, to teach them from a young age about consent and respect.

    In the US the sex ed is dictated by the state and school district. Where I live, it is abysmal. It is basic anatomy and puberty lessons. That’s it.

    What is scary and appalling is the number of states here with abstinence only sex education. What is even scarier? The number of states where the information taught doesn’t have to be MEDICALLY ACCURATE. Seriously. These curriculums focus on scare tactics and literally lie to the students about how they can get pregnant and get STDs.

    I will say, I’m surprised to hear that France doesn’t have sex education classes in school. In the US we’re still very uptight about sex and talking about it. If it were left up to parents alone to educate their kids I’m afraid the situation would be even worse.

    Liked by 3 people

    Reply
    1. Natacha Guyot Post author

      I think it might have been in the Netherlands, but anyway, it was Northern Europe. I think that in France, we are overall more open about talking about sex, including sex health and education. It might be why it isn’t mandatory in school. Even before the era of the Internet, many people talked about it with their family or the family’s or school’s doctor, so we had access to medically accurate information. It was also common to have publications about it, whether in library or affordable ones. It’s not a perfect system, but overall we receive sex ed.

      When I discovered abstinence only curriculum like in certain US states, I was shocked. I still can’t wrap my mind around it. This is ridiculous and criminal!

      There are risky behaviours taking place, but at least when people have the information and don’t care about it, well, it was their choice. I have seen classmates be educated about STD and sexual health and just don’t care about protection. I don’t get this kind of “gambling”. But this is another story. Everyone should still receive medically accurate education about sex, so they are as well prepared as possible for when they engage in sexual activity (which should be in the circumstances and at the age THEY choose, without anyone else dictating it to them!)

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
  3. eclecticalli

    I’ve been fortunate to be part of a religion that has an amazing sexuality education program, with curricula available for Kindergarten through Adulthood. (Our Whole Lives, which is jointly produced by the Unitarian Universalists and the United Church of Christ). It can be run completely separated from any religious “messages,” and has given me a glimpse of what sexuality education can look like.
    I just wish the schools here taught something even close to that. I feel like the more education a person has on these issues the better decisions they’ll be able to make. Of course it has to be presented in a developmentally/age appropriate manner, but the lack of education or scare tactics that I see are frightening and detrimental. Kind of a “The More You Know” kind of matter — giving children, youth, and adults the information they need to make educated decisions about what they want to do with their bodies is going to result in people being able to live their lives how they want.
    It’s empowering and important, and I could probably ramble on forever and a day about this but I’ll cut myself off here 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    Reply
    1. Natacha Guyot Post author

      It’s great that your sex ed program was available for such a large age span and was well done. Yes, the more people (of all ages) are informed (in accurate ways), the better they are able to form educated decisions and be in charge of their own life, including when it comes to sexuality and health. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
  4. Hannah G

    Now I’m jealous of all y’all! As I’ve mentioned in other discussions, I was homeschooled in a religious homeschool group. And I should say, for most topics, I feel this education was FAR better than what I would’ve gotten in Alabama public schools. But sex ed? Haha no. Did we have any number of classes about gender roles? Yes. Many many classes. Specifically about how to behave for our future husbands. But no sex ed. The one thing I remember, from one of those gender-role classes, was “Is it ever okay to dress in sexy clothes? Yes, after you’re married, that is the time. You can wear those clothes for your husband.”

    My mom told me some basics and gave me book about bodies. (I don’t remember the title, but it was for preteens and part of a very successful series about all kinds of stuff that preteen girls liked. There were books about being best friends, quiz books, stuff like that.) I read it a bunch of times and felt like I knew what was going on when things happened, so that’s good, but I don’t remember if/what kind of sex ed it might’ve contained. I also got “the talk” at some other point, which continues to amuse me because she used an anecdote from my favorite Star Trek novel to do it. I’m pretty sure the gist of it was “That’s called having sex, and you only do that after you’re married,” and that’s it. I already knew way more than she told me.

    I feel like almost all of my sex ed has been self-directed on the internet. I have no idea what the other people in my group got. Surely there’s some benefit to everyone in a class getting the same education and knowing that everyone else knows the same thing, though. Especially where consent is concerned.

    And I can’t believe that reasoning about “the more you know the more likely you are to have sex.” If anything, it’s the opposite!

    Liked by 3 people

    Reply
    1. Natacha Guyot Post author

      I didn’t think of Star Trek anecdotes being used for “the talk” but this amuses me! I can’t stand how some people say that if you are knowledgeable about sex, you’ll be promiscuous. This makes no sense to me and is a criminal approach to things. I never heard of anyone I was in class with in France ever be told that sex was something that only happened after you were married. This is something I discovered in American TV and movies! I mean, I eventually met friends of various countries who personally decided to stay virgin until marriage (which when a personal choice and not something dictated to you, is totally fine) but my first introduction to such ideas (in contemporary culture not in historical pieces) was through American media.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
  5. Sabina

    I think it’s important to ignore rhetoric that says that being pro-choice encourages irresponsible decisions. Nobody’s FIRST choice is using abortion as birth control, but having the ability to get an abortion if other forms of birth control fail or in cases of unexpected unprotected sex (including, but not limited to, rape/sexual assault) is important. It’s not “irresponsible” to be comforted by having choices. I’m not “anti-life” (as anti-choice propaganda likes to say); I hope to go my whole life without needing to fall back on abortion, and I will make choices that match that. But in the case of an unwanted pregnancy, I would absolutely want the choice.

    Liked by 5 people

    Reply
    1. Natacha Guyot Post author

      Exactly. I dislike so much propaganda against abortion, healthy sex education, birth control and so on. Women don’t use abortion like they get a new pair of shoes. It isn’t a first choice but caring for the persons having the unwanted pregnancy isn’t what certain societal groups are interested in.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  6. Gene'O

    I did not have sex-ed. I had “health” class which covered the very basics of the physical aspects of reproduction. No real education at all about sex as a thing that has emotional consequences. I wasn’t subjected to abstinence-only, but was basically told that I should abstain until I was married and got a lot of toxic religious ideas mixed in with it.

    By the time anyone in my family sat me down to have a discussion about sex, I knew everything they were prepared to tell me, but wasn’t mature enough to ask the questions I needed to ask to fill in the blanks. I was 11. At the end of that conversation, I was pretty much told that if I needed to talk about it, I should feel free to ask (like that was ever going to happen) and I never had another conversation about sex with a family authority figure again.

    I learned almost everything I know about sex from books and from experience. This way of learning about it warped many of my early romantic relationships and led me into some risky sexual behavior when I was in my late teens and my 20s. Between the ages of 17 and 28, I was promiscuous by any standard you care to use. Not because I was keeping score that way — because I was experiencing things for myself and learning that way. And I don’t fell any guilt or shame about it. I’d be a different person without all those experiences, and I value them. But I am glad I managed to avoid STDs and even more glad I didn’t end up with three children before I was 25.

    My problem with abstinence-only education is that it doesn’t work. The reason it doesn’t work is because it is based on unrealistic assumptions about human behavior. And I don’t buy that frequency of sex, number of partners, or marital status has anything to do with morality — that’s the biggest problem I have with the abstinence-only crowd. They tend to make it about morality, even if they lead with pseudo-scientific arguments and statistics taken out of context.

    To the extent that sex has moral content at all, it’s about how people treat their partners. About whether everyone goes into it with an honest understanding of what’s going on. Casual sex is just fine, as long as everyone understands it’s casual.

    I wish I’d been able to get to this on Friday, and thanks for sharing your experience.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Hannah G

      And the trouble with abstinence-only education not working is that the culture teaching it doesn’t actually care. If it doesn’t work, that’s the fault of the kids, not the teachers, according to their thought process. The kids who manage to remain abstinent — or at least convince their authorities that they have — are the successes, and anyone else has simply chosen not to listen to the education. Because as you say, they make it about morality, not about actual facts.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
    2. Natacha Guyot Post author

      I’m glad you could stop by, despite how crazy busy you’ve been! It is good that you avoided STDs and didn’t end up with three kids before age 25!

      I wholeheartedly agree that what matters in terms of morality is how people treat their partner(s). As long as everybody is on the same page and that health precautions are taken, I see no problem with whatever behavior consenting individuals choose to engage in.

      Like

      Reply
  7. kdrose1

    There is a bigger issue at stake as well (believe it or not). I wish I had the articles I’ve read before to cite, but basically reproductive rights or lack thereof are a very basic way to deny women control over *anything* and an easy way to subjugate the entire gender. There are countries to cite, research, etc, I am so sorry I don’t have more ( or more brain cells to remember more) but just throwing it out there. Food for thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Natacha Guyot Post author

      All these issues are definitely related. Denying reproductive rights is certainly a way to deny women control over matters. Lack of proper sex education and safe birth control/abortion access is often a bad sign of a society’s behavior towards women.

      Like

      Reply
  8. Pingback: Feminist Friday Summer Schedule | Just Gene'O

  9. loricarlson66

    Wonderful post, Natacha. When I first began high school, we had health classes that taught the very basics of anatomy and sex-ed. Sex-ed as a course didn’t enter our school until I was too old to attend the classes. It was for Freshmen and I was a Sophomore by then. Church taught abstinence of course, Parents told us a very little bit about the “birds and bees”, but we got most of our education from fellow students, television and movies.

    The abstinence education being taught now in some US school districts is fear-based and often incorrect information. The Bible Belt (most southern and some midwest states) teach this. That is where most of the Pro-Lifers are as well. There is a constant battle in the US over abortion. I have been Pro-Choice, which I do not see as Anti-Life, all of my life. I believe without choices, we cannot make correct decisions about our lives. I also believe in birth control because it keeps the population down and it helps with other issues besides preventing pregnancy.

    As long as there is the Far Right Anti-Progressive movement in the US, I fear a chunk of our society will continue to live in backwards thinking.

    Thanks again for this great post! I look forward to more of your opinions.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Natacha Guyot Post author

      Thank you for sharing your experience! I wholeheartedly agree with you about being Pro-Choice doesn’t mean being Anti-Life! Choices are so important and being able to educate people and have them able to form well-informed choices for their lives is crucial on all counts. The way birth control is called like it is makes it more difficult for some people to understand that we don’t just use it for actual birth control but to fix other health issues.

      I can’t even fathom as a French person how there could still be battles over abortion being legal and birth control and related matters. Things aren’t perfect for women in France, but I never had one argument about how abortion should remain legal in my country. Abortion isn’t something people do as going to buy a new shirt and being able to respect their decision and have them go through the procedure as safely as possible is important.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      1. loricarlson66

        When you hold something taboo, people either go one way or the other… they either run toward the taboo or towards it… that’s what they’ve done with issues like birth control, sex education and abortion in this country. It’s really sad and so backwards. I am glad you live in a much more progressive country. The US still has a long way to go.

        Liked by 1 person

        Reply
  10. Pingback: June Recap | Natacha Guyot

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s