Stories are indisputably powerful: the success of the movie-factories of Hollywood and Bollywood, the mass-market paperback book industry, and the blogosphere all attest to the fact that stories in so many forms can reach, affect, and transform people’s lives.
Stories and storytelling also play an important role in sex education. This piece on how storytelling can lead to insights about teens’ sexual choices is a short but compelling argument for the necessity of including teens’ voices in the discourses about their sexuality. By telling the story of a straight-A student who became pregnant in high school–and letting her speak for herself about her fears, her confusion, her decision to keep the baby, and her activism in sex education–the piece makes a powerful statement about how the inclusion of storytelling in sex education is invaluable. The specific set of stories discussed has to do with pregnancy prevention among teenage populations, but the applications are far wider. New romantic or sexual partners engage in storytelling about their pasts while becoming intimate with one another, and stories about pleasant or reviled experiences can form the basis for communication about one’s sexual desires.
Stories about one’s life experiences–what we in folklore call “personal narratives”–are found in almost every culture, about every kind of experience imaginable. Being able to tell your own story gives you the power to interpret the random, chaotic events of life, and present a coherent identity and self-image. This is one of the reasons why storytelling is frequently used therapeutically; re-ordering one’s life through narrative can help people make sense of trauma or any other event that seemed like it was out of their control.
The idea that stories can help affect at-risk populations, such as teenagers who haven’t had reliable access to sex education, demonstrates the versatility of storytelling, and hopefully convinces sex educators as well as ordinary folks to pay more attention to the meanings of stories in their lives.