Audrey Aton and Cortney Bouse both live in Columbia. Audrey is senior at the University of Missouri studying public health and is the founder and president of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Mizzou. Cortney is a grassroots organizer for Planned Parenthood Great Plains and teaches sex education at her church.
They first met when Audrey applied for an internship with Planned Parenthood, and over the last two years, they have worked side by side as advocates. They spoke about some of their efforts to make sure kids, teen and adults have access to basic sex education.
Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words. You can view more conversations at missourihealthtalks.org.
Audrey Aton: At one of our first education committee meetings we were talking about, you know, what are some things that we don't know? Because that can be probably generalized to the whole Mizzou population.
And a lot of what came up was sex ed questions. There's a lot of, you know, myths and, different information that people had on basic sex ed. So, we decided to start the sex ed series and call it "Better Late than Never."
Cortney Bouse: Missouri law has it right now that sex ed is opt-in at the district level. So, it's not surprising to me that lots of folks come to college and don't know a lot about sex ed, and I really like the title "Better late than Never,” and I think it's a, I mean, it's a result of deliberate policy choices that harm Missouri.
Audrey: Yeah, I'm actually, I work with the Institute of Public Policy on campus, and with my research I found that Missouri requires schools to teach HIV education, but they don't require sex ed. (Laughs)
So, there can be a lot of, you know, a religious spin on some information.
Cortney: Yes, that's what we have seen. Just, shameful around sex in general. Which, I think, is really harmful, to again, like, everyone.
Audrey: Yeah, so I grew up in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. And my sex ed was, kind of pretty similar to what I've heard happens in Missouri. I have a story of like the most shame-y part of it. (Laughs)
They split us up into two groups, and then, at one point, like after they had taught us sex ed, or their version of it, they had the girls go into the boys' room and they said, "Boys, raise your hand if you would want to marry a woman who wasn't a virgin?"
Cortney: How old were you?
Audrey: That was in middle school.
Cortney: Oh my god.
Audrey: That was like seventh grade. So, I was like, 12 or 13 years old.
Audrey: And I remember thinking that it was shame-y at that point. Like I saw through it.
Cortney: For me, when I'm teaching sex ed, it’s talking about consent and healthy communication and communicating your boundaries, and I think that's something that everyone can learn and little kids can like, massively benefit from because I think it sends a confusing message when we're telling kids, like, "Oh, it's so cute,” like you're five years old and “he hugged that girl that didn't really want to be hugged."
But I think it sends a confusing message where when they're five years old, that's cute, but when they're 15, we're like, “No, you have to ask." Well, should have been asking it at five too.
Audrey: That makes me think of like, people who tell little kids, “He's being mean to you because he likes you.”
Cortney: Oh, yeah.
Audrey: And sending very mixed signals and, you know, dangerous information, about –
Cortney: ...what love and romance actually looks like.
This piece was reported and produced by Isabel Lohman.