By Anna North
The long dominance of abstinence-only sex ed in this country has made any program that even mentions condoms look pretty damn good. But what if your teachers could have taught you what you really needed to know about sex? What would you have wanted them to say?
Helpful, truly comprehensive sex ed isn’t just a liberal pipe dream. In this weekend’s Times Magazine, Laurie Abraham profiles Sexuality and Society, a course taught by Al Vernacchio at the private Philadelphia high school Friends’ Central. Vernacchio doesn’t just teach kids about contraception and STDs. He also discusses something that’s become a taboo topic: pleasure. He’s taught his students that many women don’t orgasm through vaginal intercourse, encouraged them to think about ways sex could engage all five senses, and got them talking about the pros and cons of different types of relationships. Abraham quotes this representative lesson:
If you’re gonna have pizza with someone else, what do you have to do? You gotta talk about what you want. Even if you’re going to have the same pizza you always have, you say, ‘We getting the usual?’ Just a check in. And square, round, thick, thin, stuffed crust, pepperoni, stromboli, pineapple — none of those are wrong; variety in the pizza model doesn’t come with judgment. So ideally when the pizza arrives, it smells good, looks good, it’s mouthwatering. Wouldn’t it be great if we had that kind of anticipation before sexual activity, if it stimulated all our senses, not just our genitals but this whole-body experience. And what’s the goal of eating pizza? To be full, to be satisfied. That might be different for different people; it might be different for you on different occasions. Nobody’s like ‘You failed, you didn’t eat the whole pizza.’
Teaching that sex might actually be satisfying, and that it’s okay to think about what kind you might want as well as how to protect yourself from its consequences, is pretty uncommon. Abraham points out that the more popular approach is something some educators call “disaster prevention,” which takes as its central tenet that “abstinence is usually best, but if you must have sex, here are some ways to protect yourself from pregnancy and disease.” But treating sex like a disaster keeps teens in the dark about a lot of important things. As one sex educator tells Abraham, they don’t learn that they can experiment with different types of condoms to find a type that feels good to them (and that they’re more likely to consistently use). They don’t learn that they can say yes to types of sexual activity that they want, and no to types they don’t want, and that the answers can change depending on the partner or the situation. They don’t even learn how to think about what they want, because wanting has been taken out of the equation entirely.
It’s easy to view Vernacchio’s class as an anomaly, and to conclude that adults in general are always going to find teen sexuality disturbing and make every attempt to curb it. Sociologist Amy T. Schalet’s research in the Netherlands shows that isn’t the case everywhere. In a widely-cited interview with Salon, she describes a more open approach: “there’s been an attempt on the part of Dutch parents and the authorities to say, ‘This is happening, and we need to keep it from being secretive. We need to be able to keep control and be able to recommend that young people use contraception and see who they’re becoming involved with.'” She mentions one instance in which “a father tells his daughter that she should never do it unless she has the desire for it. He acknowledges that his daughter might actually want it, and that is a very difficult thing in the U.S. context for a lot of parents to do, especially for girls.”
Critics of Vernacchio’s class might argue that his lessons are okay for adults, but not for teenagers. But kids aren’t automatically issued an Adult Sexytimes Manual on their eighteenth birthdays. They enter adulthood with the lessons they learned in adolescence — and if all those lessons taught them was “don’t,” they’re going to have a lot of trouble. I know I wish I’d learned some strategies for talking about condoms and STI testing with real partners, not the unrealistic, one-dimensional meanies who populated many of our instructional videos (in the disaster models, those who want sex from you are often mean). I wish I’d learned that some women experience pain during sex and that there are ways to treat this. I wish I’d learned how to recognize pressure that’s more subtle than “if you loved me you’d have sex with me.” I wish I’d learned to advocate for my own sexual health, emotional and physical. Given that some abstinence-only curricula still tell kids premarital sex leads straight to death, it might take a long time for schools across the country to teach things like this. But if nobody asks, they never will.
Teaching Good Sex [NYT]
Image via Jiri Vaclavek/Shutterstock.
Originally published on Jezebel. Republished WITH PERMISSION MOTHERF*CKERS.
I’m in high school right now taking health class, and learning the just-say-no, don’t-have-sex-or-you-will-get-pregnant-and-die method. Of course, we only ever talk about hetero sex. Like I’ll ever need to know how to put a condom on a guy! I’m just glad I have the Internet to rely on and awesome sites like this for information I’ll need. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must’ve been to grow up ‘back in the day’ when you didn’t have any resources.
Have you checked out Scarleteen? It’s a really awesome sex-ed website for teens. I highly recommend it. :)
Ha I just recommended it below :)
Also, tell your heterosexual friends to check out Bedsider.org – it has a really great rundown on every birth control method in existence and the various pros and cons of them.
When my brother was in high school, his health class was very similar. When he and his girlfriend confronted the teacher about it, he said he was stymied by curriculum there, but dropped a hint that if a student asked about homosexuality, he could talk about it.
They took it upon themselves to relate everything in class back to gayness after that. :3
I took this class! I loved Friends’ Central (small Quaker school in PA) and loved Mr. V’s Sexuality and Society class. It definitely helped me come out earlier, and when I got to Vassar a few months after having taken the class, I felt much more knowledgeable than many of my peers. Highly recommend this type of open approach to sexuality education. It helped me a lot!
I’m in high school and the only thing I ever learned in sex ed is that Sex Is Bad If It’s Not For Babies and We Don’t Talk About Rape and Abortion Is Murder. Obviously going to a Catholic school never helped matters and I have spoken to my head teacher about sex ed at our school following an assembly where a woman came in and told us that the gender binary is fantastic, sex is bad and if you’re gay your sexuality is broken and you need to ask God to fix it – the head teacher promptly told me that he KNOWS what is taught is bollocks but we, as a Catholic school, have to learn what the Pope wants us to be taught.
I wish I’d have been taught more. I wish someone had told me that who I am isn’t wrong, but unfortunately when even the hetero teenagers are getting told that their desires are wrong and that abstinence is best, there’s barely any hope for the non-heteronormative teenagers. I relied completely on the internet for everything I learned about myself and my sexuality and desires. I’m still learning and still coming to terms with parts of my sexuality, simply because I was never told it was okay to not be heteronormative.
I love the idea of being taught that sex is good no matter what kind, as long as it’s safe and consentual. I just can’t envision a world where everyone gets to learn that, especially not in school.
When this Jezebel article was posted, I think I may have run around in my house like a crazy person yelling HALLELUJAH I AM NOT INSANE.
At times, I suffer from these headsplitting migraines when I come. It’s the pain of a kick in the balls/stomp in the cervix, but in ones head. The first time it happened to me, I thought I had a brain tumor or that something in my head had broken/exploded. I was scared like I’d never been before, and severely traumatized. Turns out, it’s a thing. It happens sometimes, to some people, and I am one of them.
So yes, I would have liked it for someone to inform me of the existence of this sex migraine. It would have saved me some premature grey hairs.
When I was in hs in FL, the only thing we learned that even approached the galaxy of sex-ed was if you had sex you would get pregnant and die and/or get AIDS and explode. We also had once a year abstinence pep rallies to ensure that we all knew the awesomeness that was not-sex. Meanwhile we had an incredibly high rate of teen pregnancy because not once were the words “condom” or “safe sex” ever mentioned, lest we interpret that as a go ahead to have sex.
I would have loved any class that dealt with sex in a realistic manner, and maybe even possibly included a reference to non-straight sex.
This article is awesome because it’s so true. Apparently, it’s uncommon but in my sex-ed class in Grade 9, girls learned how to make dental dams by cutting a male condom up the side. That is the *one* piece of sexual advice that was relevant to girl-on-girl sex. And it’s hilarious that my 14 year old mind stored that piece of information away until I figured out I was gay much, much later… #omgiwassogay
Also, everything everything mentioned about the lack of female pleasure needs to be highlighted. How not every girl can experience an orgasm the same way (if at all), how vaginas are not SCARY and that they should be explored without shame, how a girl can have urges too, how a girl can choose when and with whom to say “no”.
This just reminded me of my sex ed class in middle school and the sign that universe gave me that it knew I was trans way before I did. We were taking a test on male reproductive organs and I was the only person in the class given the sheet for female parts. I can remember sitting there and trying to match stuff and being f**kin’ confused because nothing went where it was suppose to.
Rosie, I totally get what you mean. Non-heterosexual relationships were never even mentioned at my school. If they’d mentioned that being gay is OK, I presume I wouldn’t have been so bloody miserable until I got to uni.
I grew up in a pretty liberal school system – I remember dental dams being mentioned (although I think it was on a true/false quiz-type thing along this lines of “T/F: Dental dams can prevent STDs” and no one actually told us what they were used for). I also remember my health teacher taking a condom and putting it over her whole hand and stretching it halfway down her arm to show us that any guy who told us that it was too small was lying. So I definitely didn’t get the abstinence-only that so many kids seem to get.
I do wish we had learned more about sex for pleasure and not just the focus on being safe. I remember in the STD lesson they showed us microscope slides of what all the different bacteria that cause STDs look like. Um, not very helpful. All bacteria kind of look the same to me.
And it’s not like you will be checking bacteria before sleeping with someone.
(“Jeeves! Fetch me my microscope, I am about to have intercourse!”)
For some reason Paloma I am imagining your cat is named Jeeves, which just makes for a really really hilarious mental picture.
I actually wanted to say “Fredrick!”. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pnwDzT34Do)
And no, my cat is not named Jeeves. Though, I’d love to. It’d make a good cat name.
That was hilarious. The upshot of it all is that now I want to name my future cat Jeeves-Frederick.
For some reason, I just got a massive craving for pizza.
Just say NO.
WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO DENY ME MY FAVORITE VEGETABLE?
And what constitutes “Pizza?” Can I have a pieorgi or a pizza bite? What about pizza pretzels? My friend tells me I can have deep dish because “It’s not real pizza.” Is personal pan okay? I’M SO CONFUSED!
The actual deal with Saran Wrap. I’ve heard so much conflicting shit about plastic wrap over the years, I just want an actual study with numbers and proven science.
What the vulva looks like… and NOT using minimalist line drawings. Artist’s renderings of ovaries + fallopian tubes + uterus are almost completely useless if you’re gonna so much as use a tampon, much less have sex.
Also, some people have hymens/coronas that actually DO hurt like hell if you try penetrating them and it’s not always your fault if it hurts. Microperforate, imperforate, and bifurcated hymens exist, and sometimes really are too thick to be worn down/penetrated without surgery. (Remember that scene in Kinsey, when his wife SHRIEKS in pain, and then they’re at the doctor’s office and it turns out she just needs some super minor surgery? Like that. Except I never got to go to a doctor, I just had to Wiki it until I found what was wrong with me.)
And also, the fact that not every girl has a hymen until her first PIV experience. I broke my hymen with a tampon when I was 12, and I’m really glad I did. If I hadn’t broken it by accident before my first sexual encounter, I probably would have done it on purpose – it was great not having to worry about pain the first time.
Agree x1000 about what a vulva looks like, or how they can all look very different from one another, and particularly from those seen in most mainstream porn. When I was an adolescent, I was examined by my doctor (I was having trouble inserting tampons and wanted the doctor to check it out). When she saw my vulva, she sort of remarked “wow, you have very prominent labia.” I was rather traumatized by that incident for a long time, and it wasn’t until much later that I realized that my vulva is perfectly fine.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again; I want to punch that gyno for saying that to you.
I knows, my love. <3
My first gyno said I have a nice easily visible cervix, and when I told my mom she said, “oh, yeah, that’s a family trait.”
The extent of my high school sex education was my creationist biology teacher putting a red condom over a banana to show us how it was done, while explaining that it should only be used by men and women in loving married relationships. And by married, she meant married in a church.
I also learned, in a speech given by a Christian ambulance worker and anti-drug campaigner, that it was normal for gay men to give each other AIDS through a combination of buttsex and needle sharing, and this is ok subject matter for lolz in a nurturing Christian educational environment.
So um, basically you could say there is a lot I wish I had learned in sex ed that I didn’t, like EVERYTHING. It’s sad and funny and kind of pathetic but I didn’t know what the clitoris was until age 19, when I moved away for university and promptly became the most feministy feminist that ever feministed.
Mayyybe something about masturbation! Something like if you are a girl and you do it you are smart:) ALSO would have been lovely/ saved me alot of time if the existance of gay sex has been mentioned. Would have probably prevented alot of very nice boys from getting blue balls.
I got sex ed in math class. Learning degrees of separation really helped create the L-word-esque chart of my entire friend group that exists right now on a sheet of paper in my backpack.
I had the odd situation in a health class where there was one girl in the class who a lot of the boys would jeer and call a slut and a drunk and the teacher would let it go, or tell the guys to stop but not enforce it. One day she finally asked what their problem was, and the girl explained that on new years eve she had ingested too much alcohol, had been roofied, and almost raped. She managed to get herself out of the situation but had to deal with their ridicule every. single. day. The teacher made the appropriate ‘I’m so sorry to hear that this happened to you and if you want to talk I’m around after class’ and told the boys she never wanted to hear it again.
At the time I thought that was all she should do but looking back on it? That could have turned into a HUGELY important conversation and learning point about things like saying no, or how to deal with rape, or dealing with being called a slut. nope. we went back to classifying STDs.
so, at my Unitarian Universalist Church I had really good sex ed in 9th grade. It was legit AWESOME. but at my school it sucks so I always have to correct the school nurse when she says something wrong/stupid…. which happens more often than not. :D
Hell yea OWL! The illustrated Kama Sutra, an entire month about gay people (positively, UUs love the gays), and condom art in 8th grade. i probably should have figured out I was gay when we watched But I’m a Cheerleader and I found it wonderful and loved Clea Duvall, but alas, it took me until I was 19. I’m a little slow. But yea, UUs kick ass.
aaaah yay I was going to mention OWL! Hurrah! :)
This is really awesome to hear…I’m currently working with some Christian friends of mine to put together a comprehensive sex ed curriculum that walks the line between being judgmental/false info and one that some churches might consider teaching. I am going to check out the UU churches in my area (since they are so awesome) and see if they already have sex ed programs or not, and if so, offer to do one! UUs are awesome!
“Abstinence is usually best, but if you must have sex, here are some ways to protect yourself from pregnancy and disease.”
This is the kind of sex ed I got and, yeah, I feel like I should be grateful that they mentioned condoms at all – and of course, I have the fortune of being bi so I might actually need that info sometimes. All we heard about gay people, though, was a part at the end about how we should accept everyone’s sexual orientations, blah blah blah, but nothing about how gay people have sex.
Our teacher told us that the sex ed curriculum at our school, which was a magnet school, was created through comparing the different programs at area school districts, looking at the most liberal ones and the most conservatives ones and “meeting in the middle.” I remember hearing about this and thinking “Really? You didn’t just emulate the most liberal ones because they’re probably the best?” Really, all I got out of my school sex ed program was a really good example of why the moderation fallacy is bad.
Oh, and we had a Q&A period and I asked about abortion, the little trouble-starter I was/am, and the teacher responded by showing me an article about fetal development. What is that supposed to mean? Like if you choose to have an abortion it’s because you don’t know what a fetus looks like? And the people waving signs of second-trimester miscarriages that read “Dead at 7 Weeks” do understand this? It made/makes me so angry!!!!
There was a great moment in the Q&A part, though, where one of the questions (they were anonymous) asked what “gerbilling” was. I can still remember what the teacher’s face looked like…
do I want to know what that is??
The only sex ed we got at my all girls Catholic school was being shown a video of a late term abortion and then being told not to have sex so I guess yours could’ve been worse. Thank christ I already knew about contraception when I thought having sex with my boyfriend would make me straight. Also, embarrassingly enough, I did not know dental dams were a thing until I started reading AS.
I would’ve really appreciated anything that touched on the elusiveness of the female orgasm, particularly during penetrative sex. Most of my sexual encounters all through high school left me feeling there must be something wrong, especially when I explained to partners that I generally didn’t orgasm in partner sex and was met with the reaction that they were either sorry for me or determined to be ‘the one’ to make it happen. What total bullshit!
When I took sex ed in the 8th grade our teacher would only refer to a vagina as a “front bum” when I put up my hand and said “can you stop saying front bum? You’re kinda ruining vaginas for me” I got sent to the office for cursing. So yeah sex ed for me would have been better if my teacher did not have the mentality of a 7 year old when it came to the subject.
Uggghhhhh. I just threw up in my mouth a little.
wow that’s pathetic.
That’s ridiculous. You’re supposed to laugh when little kids call them “front butts” (at least, my parents did when my sister called it that). You’re not supposed to perpetuate that thinking as a grown adult.
(My little sister also thought boobs were your lungs and would talk about girls having “big lungs.” True story.)
I think my sex ed was okay, I don’t really remember. They usually just gave us leaflets on contraception or showed videos I think.
But I do remember the teacher once making the entire class say ‘femidom’ together because it was his favourite word…
I wish more sex ed classes in school would teach about rape, sexual harassment and unwanted sexual advances. I know too many people, and way too many of my girl friends, who struggled with the question “was I raped?” Too many people still believe that “asking for it” by dressing provocatively or putting themselves in a dangerous situation means that they weren’t raped or that the incident was justified. I just wish these sex ed classes could cover exactly what rape is, exactly what is meant by “no means no” and focused on making sure people didn’t commit these acts, rather than reinforcing the belief that rape is the victims fault and that we need to learn how to not get raped.
I went to a school with a relatively comprehensive sex-ed program, at least as far as birth control options went. But as one of the only out queer people at my school – and not sexually active because, well, there was no one to have sex with – I was left in the dark.
I wish we had talked about how different kinds of sex (oral, anal, fingers, etc) are ALL sex. I remember my teacher asking the class “how many of you consider oral sex to be sex?” and I was the only one who raised my hand. We didn’t talk any more about it, but I think we should have. There are plenty of teens – straight and queer – who have every type of sex except PIV, and they deserve to have information that can help them.
I wish we talked about consent. Really talked about it. There is a whole grey area between clear-cut rape and perfectly consensual happy sex that needs to be addressed. There’s more to consent than simply not being a rapist – we can all learn more about honest communication. I think it’s critical for any sexually active person to know the basics about sexual trauma, because chances are good they will one day be involved with someone who has experienced trauma.
Also, I am sick of the politics & judgements surrounding virginity that just serve to make everyone feel shitty. I was a queer teen who would have liked to be sexually active, if I found a partner, but that opportunity didn’t present itself until college. According to abstinence-only education, I was morally unsound for wanting sex. But whenever I sought out my own information from sex-positive sources, I felt like there was something wrong with me for still being a virgin. All of the material I read seemed to assume every teen was either a) sexually active, or b) waiting until they were ready. It would have been nice to have some acknowledgement that maybe some teens want to have sex but just haven’t had an opportunity yet – maybe if they were taught to be comfortable with circumstantial (rather than moral) virginity, teens would feel less pressured to make unhealthy first-time sex decisions.
And I pretty much echo the rest of the comments. We had basically no mention of queer issues in my health class beyond learning about the rate of gay teen suicides, not exactly uplifting or useful information for a lesbian who plans to survive high school.
My dad was my high school sex education teacher when I was a freshman. I wish I learned nothing in sex ed.
Oh god, I just remember my middle school sex ed was even worse. Absolutely nothing about contraception or STD prevention. Instead, we had someone come in who worked “counseling pregnant teens” but preached abstinence – years later, I put two and two together and figured she probably came from a crisis pregnancy center. I also remember a really victim-blamey “risk assessment” game we had to play. We had scenarios like “Ashley goes with her boyfriend Bob back to his house, Bob’s parents aren’t home, and Bob wants them to go up to his room and ‘mess around'” and basically told us that this would end up with Ashley getting pregnant and having her life ruined and it was all Ashley’s fault for not assessing the “goal of this activity.”
Also everyone should check out http://www.scarleteen.com/
It is a really great site that helped make up for my lousy sex ed, and is very inclusive of queers and even poly relationships.
Our sex ed was divided into two segments. One at the end of elementary school, and one at the beginning of high school. The one at the end of elementary schooled focused 100% on anatomy…this is a penis…this is a vagina…this is why you have your period…how a baby is made. There was no talk about sex for pleasure, etc…made sense…we were fifth graders. Then, in high school, we watched videos about STDs and had to do reports/papers on various ones. I think there was one class where the teacher put a condom on a banana and talked about birth control for about 10 minutes. Never any mention of safe sex for queer folks…no talk about getting tested with partners (and in such a sex negative atmosphere, it’s likely talk about getting tested would have been interpreted by the audience as part of the overall “overreaction” to STDs…not as something normal/positive).
Mostly, I wish I’d never had to put a condom on a banana.
Did you guys use real bananas? We had these plastic life-like penises that came in plastic sheaths that looked just like bananas. It was incredibly worrying – maybe that’s why bananas gross me out now!
I would have loved anything other than ‘pregnancy, diseases, contraception’, the holy trinity of my sex ed experience. Any mention of pleasure, non-hetero sex, sexual assault, consent would have been amazing. And less watching of birth videos (the teacher re-wound once and seeing birth in reverse was TRAUMATISING!)
We had this wooden apparatus that the teacher had named “Woody,” he thought it was hilarious (and we all did too because we were 15).
Omigod, we had Woody the Uncircumsized Dong too! That was its full title, too. We had people come in from the local youth centre, so they were more “savvy” and cool. Still didn’t talk about gaymos though…
The sex ed at my high school was abysmal too. It was your typical “If you have sex, you’ll get a diseas and die, you filthy whore” kind of thing. Our teacher for that class was the gym teacher/football coach and he was SO UNCOMFORTABLE even acknowledging the subject, it made everything 11 times more awkward for all of us.
We learned basic anatomy (except for the clitoris. That was literally erased from the drawings in our text books and handouts and was never mentioned in class discussions). We looked at these disgusting pictures of the worst cases of STDs that they could possibly find. Then we learned about the different stages fo fetal gestation and watched THE WORST BIRTH VIDEO IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD. I don’t know where they got this video, but I’ve seen slasher movies less bloody and traumatizing. The poor woman was screaming and crying and totally hysterical, and when it was all over she seemed really sad. It was bizarre.
The whole thing was a bullshit waste of time, so the next year I had my mom sign the opt out form they had for people who didn’t want their kids learning even that much, and I spent those class periods in the library reading good books.
I’d have loved classes covering a lot of what people mention here: homosexuality, consent, pleasure, role playing not just how to say no but how to say no to certain things but not others, getting reliable information on birth control and other safer sex methods and how to get them, and masturbation. However, I just do not see that happening in this country at all (except for a few shining exceptions like the one in the article). This country is so fucked up and negative when it comes to sex.
Your first paragraph reminds me of Mean Girls.
While I talked about my high school’s above, I completely forgot I had to go to mandatory sex-ed at my Catholic Church too. I literally blocked it out of my mind.
-Being told that condoms had a 50% failure rate.
-Being given this little booklet that talked about how masturbation was the devil / a link to the church’s website for people with same-sex attractions (which by the way is the most hilarious thing ever, it looks like it was made in the 90s)
-Being told that virginity is like duct tape.
-One person being “given” an STD and then we all had to shake hands and at the end we all had the STD. Because clearly every person who is having sex is haves 50 partners in the span of ten minutes. Sheltered naive me realized this was the most unrealistic statement ever.
-Being forced to watch an “informational” video on the spiritual effects of having sex which basically told us our lives would be over because we’d hate ourselves and take it out on God or something.
So um, yeah. I wish my Catholic Church sex ed had been a little different. Luckily almost all the parents in the church recognized that it wasn’t realistic/helpful and told us to just get through it so we could get confirmed.
Okay I’ve been trying to figure out how virginity is like duct tape and I just can’t! Any chance you haven’t completely blocked out that part and can enlighten (ha!) me?? Cause it’s driving me crazy trying to come up with what your church could possibly think the two have in common…
something like how if you stick tape to one thing, it stays stuck, but if you stick and peel and stick and peel to a bunch of different things it doesn’t stay as stuck? and then you replace ‘have sex with’ to ‘stick’ and a very tragically inaccurate explanation of oxcytocin and it all basically boils down to casual sex damaging ~your ability to love~.
it is very, very silly, and mostly tells you that the explainer has had a very unfortunate run of things, and then you feel awkward whenever you buy tape.
–brought to you by Drunk Explanations of Stupid Concepts(TM), all rights reserved
I was kind of worried it was something to do with the tape losing its stickiness :/ that’s reeaaalllyyyy too bad! Sometimes I wonder if someone *talented* could just spend a little one-on-one time with these educators if the quality of sex ed might improve….
Also now I will definitely feel awkward when buying/using/resticking tape…
Yep, that’s it. We got this knowledge in a skit we had to act out that definitely included giftwrapped duct tape
It has a light side, a dark side, and holds the universe together? Oh wait no, that’s the force.
We had sex ed mixed with science in year 7 and I can only remember this heat vision video of a naked man turning round to face the screen with a bright green penis whilst really dramatic music played…
My experience was:
“This is not a sex ed class, so you don’t need to throw yourselves out the window in joy or panic”
The remainder of the year was spent learning about more STIs than I ever cared to know about- what signs and symptoms males and females can exhibit for each one, what horrible consequences will result if left untreated (not just you will die, but you will become infertile, you will go crazy, you will get horrible disfiguring rashes, you will be in a lot of pain, and THEN you will die). All under the guise of “health class”.
Since this was way back in 8th grade, I don’t remember if there was any mention of how exactly these were getting transmitted from one person to another, or if they told us that they could be transmitted by both intercourse and oral sex (assumed of course to mean blow jobs).
Sometime in this “health class” we also watched some movie that had a gorilla in it. 9 years later, I still don’t understand the relevance of the gorilla movie.
Oh, and because I was raised Catholic, at religious ed I got the Catholic Church spiel about how the best gift you can give your future husband is your virginity from Pam Stenzel (google her- it’s scary), got a multi-week presentation about if you ever have an abortion it will be the most awful thing you ever do in your life and you will regret it forever, and some guy came and talked about something, but the only part I remember was him telling us that the style of guys having saggy pants originated from prison culture and telling other prisoners that you were “available.”
The end. I can safely say I wish I had had sex ed of any kind.
My sex ed teacher (the one in 9th grade, not 7th or 5th) was super awesome, and talked about consent, kink, gay sex, disabled sex…she was great. She tried to dismantle the idea of a hierarchy of sex acts a little, but I don’t it really took. Once we had to line up a list of “intimate acts” each printed on a piece of paper and tape them to the wall in order of what was considered “least sex” to “most sex” and then we had little stickers we had to attach to where you lost your virginity. I think there was something like two stickers on “holding hands” (hahaha that’s so funny), 27 stickers of “penile/vaginal intercourse” and my sticker all by itself over on “mutual masturbation.” The rest of the lesson was about how effed up it is that people think only piv sex counts.
I had spent a lot of wondering if the sex I was having was ~actually~ sex, because what does ladysex even mean. Since I had already concluded that yes it was indeed sex, and it felt super awesome to have an authority on the subject back me up.
Anyways, I don’t think I could have asked for much more in a teacher, although I probably would have asked/learned more if I weren’t worried about outing myself as a big slutty gaywad to the entire school.
In high school I walked into homeroom to find a health specialist and a wooden penis at the front of the class. I asked my teacher wtf we were doing she said “the district sent this woman to teach about genital eating viruses and how not to be a teen mom”. So I started to leave and she stopped me and asked why I was leaving. I said “I’m gay and I’m gonna get some pizza.”
And she said “bring me some breadsticks” affirming that this health specialist wouldn’t have taught me anything non-hetero.
I kind of love this even though at its core I suppose it’s depressing. But if I let myself lighten up for a moment, LOL. She asked you to bring her breadsticks. Excellent.
I grew up in Washington State, which meant HIV education every year from the 5th grade. A lot of it focused on the horribleness of gay men having sex and how bisexual men are THE WORST because they passed AIDS to the poor innocent wimmins. (Or that might have just been my school’s take on it.)
I also remember an educational video that likened your immune system to a fence and cold and flu viruses could climb over the fence, but to get HIV, YOU HAD TO OPEN THE GAAAAATE! Also my sixth grade science teacher being asked what anal sex was and his response being “Uhhhh, ask your dad.”
Luckily I had very open parents who filled in the (sizable) gaps my sex education left. Including one very awkward conversation with my mom when I was 16 about the mechanics of female sexual pleasure. At the time I thought it was the most mortifying thing EVAR, but as a sexually active adult I’m pretty glad she had that conversation with me.
I grew up in Washington too, but I was home schooled and thus had no sex ed whatsoever. in any way. it was NEVER mentioned. Since I didn’t know I was gay and man-lady sex seemed icky, I didn’t really care. I didn’t even bother to look anything up.
Suffice to say I figured things out pretty quick when there was a pretty lady involved.
(…and I still don’t exactly know what man-lady sex is like, but I’ve got a good enough idea to fake it, so don’t tell anybody I said that.)
I went to Catholic school in the UK, and at about 14/15 we were given a sex ed slideshow as a yeargroup. Mostly they were pretty forward thinking as far as Catholic sex ed goes, in that they mentioned the rhythm method as the preferred “contraception” for married adults (and some beautifully crafted fucking bullshit of how it’s about “respecting women”) but if you’re a teenager having sex, it’s not feasible, and yeah use a condom.
Which is pretty decent, I mean mired in fucking insanity, but a little better than SEX WILL KILL YOU AND SEND YOU TO HELL.
Aaaand then the slide about the gays came up, and it said “If your friend thinks they are gay, tell them that being gay is wrong and it is probably just a phase.”
So yeah, fuck Catholic school.
I still have no idea what sex ed is like in the rest of England.
Jesus. Now I feel fucking lucky. We were given a fairly comprehensive talk on how you could get pregnant at any time, but it was pretty fucking reluctant. I think they’d been forced into it cause of the sheer massive number of teenage pregnancies at my school.
And tampons were never mentioned. Because tampons are for whores. *eye rollage*
Also naked elves > tampax adverts.
Things I remember from high school:
1) My straight-as-an-arrow friends had this thing called “the virginity pie chart”. It separated out various sex acts (hand job, blow job, piv) into their own percentages of the pie charts. Hence the phrase, “you guys, I’m still half a virgin”. Also I remember that anal had a lower percentage than piv, so maybe you were expected to do that first?
2) “Condom Day” in health class was a big fucking deal.
3) Female masturbation and ladies receiving oral sex were both practically unheard of. There was absolutely no culture of female pleasure surrounding sex.
4) Gonorrhea of the throat is a thing.
5) Absolutely no queers, ever.
It was all very sad, really…
I learned absolutely nothing in my public school, government-funded, ABSTINENCE OR YOU’LL DIE “sex ed” class. All I remember about it is worksheets: fill-in the name of the horrible STD you WILL catch if you have premarital sex next to its symptoms, match the body part to the stylized diagram of a “male” and “female” reproductive system, and the worksheets where anything about contraception was BLACKED OUT. Like a movie depiction of “classified information”, y’all.
I let the pothead sitting next to me in that class cheat off of me, went off to liberal-arts college, and promptly learned more in a single 2-hour freshman orientation event about safe sex, condom use, and consent than I’d learned in about 6 weeks of sex ed in high school.
My main memory of sex ed at hs is the incredible sound of my classmate’s head hitting the solid wooden bench surface as she passed out at the sight of all the blood in the birth video. I can’t remember if we did the condom/banana thing; I’m pretty sure we did nothing on non-hetero sex. It was an all-girls, non-church school, with sex ed classes given by the (all-female) biology staff, so it was more “science” than “death and destruction”. One of my biology teachers was rumoured to have eaten the placenta of her last child, which generated most of the out-of-class discussion.
I already knew the biological basics, thanks to my dad having had “the talk” with me at the botanical gardens several years before. Not in a hothouse teeming with exotic blooms, but in the cool, dry cactus house, populated with giant, spiky phalluses. I should ask him whether he was trying to send a subliminal message, although he does have a cracking sense of humour, my dad :D
For myself, I credit Jerry Hall with my introduction to exploration of my sexuality. I read an interview with her in my mum’s magazine (something very respectable like Good Housekeeping), where Jerry said she’d given herself her first orgasm at the age of 12 or something. I, being 13 or 14, immediately felt “behind” and promptly got to work making up for lost time. Cheers for that, Jerry!
Anyone else have a real live person with HIV come to talk to their health class? I applaud the one who came to our high school
On the other end of the spectrum, a family friend’s youngest boy (who is 8 or 9, I’m not sure) was taught what a butt-plug is in sex ed last month. I’m all for sex ed in the UK being more comprehensive, but am I the only one who thinks that’s unnecessary?? (at that age, at least.)
I was raised so Catholic I had not actually socialized with a non-Catholic until I was 14. I had no idea that pubic hair existed, that the clitoris was an effective orgasm thingy, that sex felt good and not painful or guilty! For a while I didn’t know that gay was an option, so I figured in order to NOT have to have sex with a man I would have to become a nun. I had never seen a condom. I had seen a video where a woman talks about how happy she is that her mom didn’t abort her even though her mother was raped and homeless, so she died giving birth in an alleyway.
I came out at 17, then I got a summer job that year working with intellectually disabled queer youth. My supervisors told me to present a safe-and-consensual sex presentation for our clients and I TOLD them I had no idea what to do and I had gone to Catholic school my whole life, but they thought I was joking. They hand me a purple dildo and a basket of condoms and dental dams and send me on my way.
“Hey guys…so uhm, we’re going to be learning about safe sex.” I handed out some condoms and opened mine, “ewww what the- why is it STICKY?”
“That’s the lube.”
“What’s lube for?” My clients stared at me for a second and then happily explained.
I go to put the condom on the dildo and it won’t roll down and they say, “It’s upside down!”
So I turn the dildo upside down, turn my head to look at it and go, “The penis? Are those round things at the bottom the balls? Are they really attached like that? ”
Needless to say, I was never asked to teach sex ed again. In fact, my supervisors sent me home with a pile of sex books not so I could improve, but for my own health.
something other than the ‘you will get chlamydia and die’ curriculum my school had.
I had a sex talk with my mom last night. For the first time in my life. It started with her suggesting i see a gyno to check out boob things (breast cancer hardcore runs in my family), and moved to:
Mom: “And then you can also talk about things like birth control… i mean… i don’t know… diseases… *completely clueless look* I don’t know what girls do? … ”
Me: “um… google it. birth control obvs not getting pregnant, there are things called dental dams but people really don’t use it… (clueless look)… google it. it’s just get tested. um, i’ve been tested, she’s been tested, we’re good. Dear god, I’m glad I got sex ed from UU church.”
Mom: “… what’s sex ed?? (clueless look) I mean… I just learned I guess from looking at Penthouse magazines from one of my babysitting clients…”
So yea. Gave my mom the sex talk. She’s not going to Google anything because she’s clearly too repressed for that. I am scarred for life.
Sex ed started for me in grade school (I think it was fifth grade) with explanations about periods and what happens when you go through puberty. The girls were given brochures that were basically Tampax/Kotex ads. And freshman year of high school in “health” class we were presented with information about STIs and assault(I think it touched on rape briefly) and harassment. What I remember most about 9th grade health class is that we played sex ed bingo and when the clue was “condoms” one of the guys in the class announced that he “could used that last time.” half the class laughed their butts off and the rest of them just sat there. 11th grade included more details about STIs and rape/assault and AIDS.
I remember when I was younger being fascinated and wanting to know as much as possible about childbirth.
During the discussion on HIV/AIDS in 11th grade a friend of the teacher’s came and talked about his experience being HIV-positive. That was the only mention of anything than heterosexual sex. There was also a huge deal made about how the conservative guy in the class would handle the discussion.
For a really good book about this I would check out Risky Lessons: Sex Education and Social Inequality by Jessica Fields. Its a fantastic critique on both abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education.
I bring it up in particular because it described another Quaker school’s method of dealing with sex education that emphasized pleasure and autonomy in a very sex-positive way, meaning that of my sample of 2 100% of Quaker schools are sex-positive, haha. It also provided great commentary about how sex education in our schools is racialized, an idea I don’t think most people in the sex education debate encounter or even acknowledge.
OK, so since basically all my feeling on this subject have been said already. However, I have a question that I need some help with! I’m in health right now, and we got a worksheet (due next week), and one of the questions is “What would the 4 most important issues be if you and your partner were considering birth control?” I need a snarky answer that reiterates my lady-loving status while also not getting me sent to the principal’s office.
Are the cramps that either one of us experience really worth taking hormones for?
Is your bisexual girlfriend with whom you’re in an open relationship going to be having sex with males? If so, she might want to consider her birth control options.
Will the sex you be having with your trans-lady include piv? If so, perhaps birth control options might want to be discussed.
Are we really both gay? Yes? Birth control figured out.
Are we really in need of birth control when neither of us have the ability to impregnant the other?
Are finger babies a real thing? If so we may want to consider this option. *prob could get you in trouble but I heard someone reply all snarky to a rude ass guy who asked if she was pregnant (she was throwing up) that she totally was with finger babies..
I honestly really love Christian’s tho! Those are pure gold and almost make me wish I was in high school again… but I decided to fast track life and graduate two years early so woahh! no sex ed except learning about penis’ and vaginas in middle school and the period shit in elementry…
I just wish i’d had the internet (in its current form) and the Savage Love podcast.
In my Catholic high school, we had a program called Not Me, Not Now. Its approach is that we were too EMPOWERED and INTELLIGENT to have premarital sex.
As far as approaches to abstinance-only education go, there are worse ones.
Little 16-year-old Rie is in class, taught by a parent volunteer. She asks us for good reasons not to have premarital sex.
I raise my hand.
“Only 30% of women have vaginal orgasms via penetrative sex.”*
She never called on me again. I can’t imagine why.
*this was the statistic I’d heard at the time, YMMV
THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER
I love that guys approach to sex-ed. When I was in high school, we didn’t really HAVE sex-ed. There was a “Marriage and Family” class that kind of taught us about sex (after marriage.) Then, midway through that class in my Junior year, I got pregnant. Yeah.
So, after having my daughter, I spoke to the teacher in that class about possibly going in and speaking to the kids about “teenage parenting.” Over two years I spoke to 6 different classes, the day before sending home a liability letter informing parents of the basic topics of my visit. When I showed up, I kicked the teacher out and had a real conversation with the students. What it’s like to have sex, how to keep yourself safe, how to have fun, how to COMMUNICATE. Also, what it’s like to be a young single parent, how your life changes and will forever be different, what it’s like to have to tell your parents that you’re pregnant. What it was like to have to tell all your friends, your boyfriend, your girlfriend. Basically everything.
My little city was once number 1 on the teenage pregnancy scale. For the two years that I spoke at my old high school, the teenage pregnancy rate dropped dramatically. These kids saw me as one of them (I mean, I was only about a year older than most of them anyway), they listened and told their friends. They had sex, and were safe about it.
I really think that if someone had come and talked to me in that way, that I probably wouldn’t have had a child at such a young age. Now, though, I’m trying to convince the new teacher of that class to schedule me as a speaker every year.
My sex ed classes went fairly well dispite the fact grade nine girls get the giggles when seeing a diagram of a penis because:
1. In Canada we discuss protection, STI’s, and safe sex. Hooray for Canada!
2. My sex ed teacher was a lesbian.
But it was realy confusing for my sheltered grade nine mind most of the time because I was a dolt back then and didn’t know that sex could be anything other than penis in vagina. My teacher started talking about anal sex and I was like O.O eeeeewwwwww…. I didn’t know ppl could do that! Needless to say, I was mentally scarred for the rest of the year.
things I wish I had learned in sex ed
1. THAT PEOPLE EXIST WHO DO NOT HAVE PENETRATIVE INTERCOURSE. We
didn’t talk about it ever.
2. also how to deal with all the feeeeelings.
I wish they had taught that trans people exist, and can transition and be happy, and aren’t just jokes on Jerry Springer. That would’ve been _huge_ for me. I didn’t find that out until I was 20.
I went to public school in Utah. The sex portion of our health classes was short and regrettably uninformed. teachers in Utah can’t even say the word “condom” without facing repercussions. My Sophomore Health teacher once stated to the class “I cannot teach you how to use one of these (pointed to word “condom” on whiteboard) unless you specifically ask” Of course I was the one that blurted out “So how do you use a condom?” My class full of Mormon kids got to watch our adorably dykish-presenting teacher put a condom on a cucumber :)
I think the most important thing that could be addressed in a sex ed class would be rape. Not just the stereotypes they show on television that are clearly rape, where some guy broke in and held a knife to her throat and forced her, but also the grayer areas. Women need to be taught that if they say no but don’t physically fight, it is still rape. Men need to be taught that if a woman says no, that’s final – not an invitation to keep trying until she gives in. Both sexes need a better understanding of rape to help prevent it.