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Timeless Sex Education

Wilma Asrael is an 81-year-old Baltimore native. Though it’s now in vogue, she’s has been talking about effective sex education since the sixties. She worked as a sex educator for over twenty-five years, after training as an occupational therapist and receiving her master’s in Education. Though I had seen her many times at synagogue luncheons, Wilma and I had only met once before I interviewed her. In our first interaction, after having been introduced by my parents, we talked briefly about the importance of sex education. Wilma was thoughtful, knowledgeable, and comfortable talking about sex even with me–a near stranger, and a 16-year-old.

In third grade Wilma returned home with a note that had been passed around the playground; it simply said: “FUCK.” After that, her informal role as a sex-educator began, correcting her older brother when he told dirty jokes, saying: “you need to respect women!” She credits her parents with her ability to comfortably talk about sexuality because they taught her that “it’s a part of life” and “it’s necessary.” Wilma is no-fuss, and for her, sex education is necessary in creating a “congruent” life in which “mind, heart, [and] actions [are] on the same level.”

“Sex education is about being informed to gain knowledge and respect,” Wilma tells me. Good sex education requires discussion, parental involvement, and objective facts. Educators need to be open, ready to answer any question.

 Wilma stressed the role her own parents had in making sure she was sex-literate, and comfortable talking about sex. When educating her own children, she used those same principles: “We must have read [How Babies are Made] hundreds of times… and there was never a part of the body that didn’t have a name.” The sex education she gave her children was effective; when Wilma’s daughter, Michele, was in her second year of college she was told by the health clinic that she had to take some condoms with her, to which Michele responded: “I have no problem letting you know when I need them, but that is not now.” Wilma’s children reaped the benefits of her profession; Wilma jokes that family dinners were always lively, with Mom, the sex-educator and therapist and Dad, the urologist. “Our children’s friends always tried to get us to talk about sex,” Wilma recalls.

Though having taught in an era without Snapchat and Tinder, Wilma understands that sex education must develop alongside our society. Teenagers are now more connected to technology; sexual content is more accessible. “Porn is part of sexuality these days.” Again, she brings up the value of transparency, talking openly about porn and sexting. As someone who has written about the role that porn plays in teens’ lives today, I valued Wilma’s professional and thoughtful perspective. Her principals of sex-education are timeless and applicable in many aspects of life, even religion.

“I have found, as a therapist, [alignment between mind, heart and body] is more (sexually) satisfying for people than saying ‘I will be faithful for the rest of my life’ and then having an affair.” The idea of “congruence” between all aspects of being is a common religious trope. As religion often plays a huge role in abstinence-only education, I was also eager to hear Wilma’s thoughts on this. She explained: “People can choose to have sex be a spiritual experience, but [religion] can also be a contention.” Wilma and I discussed how criticizing teenagers for their sexual desires just doesn’t work, and can severely damage their self-acceptance. We agreed that even if one argues from the perspective that premarital sex is a sin, from a strategic perspective, teaching “just say no” is ineffective.

Having a frank and respectful conversation about sexuality and sex education is a rarity, especially when the conversation is intergenerational. Wilma demonstrated in our conversation the fundamentals of sex education-- be straightforward, be thoughtful and listen. She taught me through her character, experiences and advice the relationship between religion and sexuality, how to advocate for justice and how to educate about sex. After having listened to her for an only an hour, her temper, authenticity and mindfulness are impactful. I respect her tremendously and her narrative is one I am honored to share because everyone can be inspired by the work she has done, the intentions behind her work, and her general aura. 

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How to cite this page

Abusch-Magder, Aliza. "Timeless Sex Education ." 26 May 2017. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on August 17, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/timeless-sex-education>.

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