Quotes From a Sex Ed Classroom

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I recently had the privilege of watching Megara Bell and Kim Comatas each teach anatomy lessons to a group of eager eighth graders. I had been in class the week before and was amazed at the children’s responses to the lessons on healthy relationships and consent. I couldn’t wait to see how they reacted to large anatomically correct diagrams and words like “public hair” and “menstruation.” We were sure to get some giggles and some really genuine questions. As the lessons went on, I started to jot down some of what the children had to say…

“How common is the instinct to masturbate?”

Full disclosure, this was a written question, not a verbal comment. However, it was great when Megara pointed out the word “instinct” because it IS instinctual. While maybe somewhere data exists to give a specific answer to the question, the real value of the question lies in the normalization of basic human instincts. Masturbation is okay. The majority of children their age have the “instinct” to masturbate.

“like the guess and check method?”

I laughed out loud at this side comment made by a student sitting near me when Megara was talking about STI contraction and testing. Specifically, Megara was explaining to the students that you can’t always tell by looking if a person has an STI and that the only way to really know is to be tested. She suggested couples go be tested together and protect themselves using barrier methods when they feel ready to have sex. However, I know many adults that do really use the “guess and check method” to ensure their sexual health. I couldn’t help but interject to warn the children about the stress of waiting for a test result after making an unnecessarily risky choice. Hopefully, they took away that the best way to feel confident that you are taking care of your body is to be tested with your partner before having sex and to use readily available methods to protect against STIs.

“when a girl gets pregnant” “because a girl got pregnant”

I had never really thought about these types of phrases before listening to them come out of the mouth of eighth graders. It interesting that becoming pregnant is some that HAPPENS to a girl. It is not something that is done by a boy. While we all know it takes two, it is interesting that the generally accepted language puts the responsibility on the woman.

“how did STI’s start, if you can only get them from other people?”

There is one particular student in Megara’s section that asks the most amazing questions and this was among them. Now, I’m sure it has something to do with humans mating outside of their species or some type of gene mutation along the line, but this question truly represents how intelligent children can be. He went beyond the surface of the lesson because he was so curious about the topic. Now I’m just excited to see what this young man has to say next week when we really get into contraception, or the week after when we talk about gender roles and gender identity.

While I was listening to Megara and Kim dispel myths about STIs and the menstrual cycle, I found myself wondering what I wish I had been taught in sex ed. You know, those things that suddenly came to you far into adulthood. For example, Kim gave a succinct lesson about the menstrual cycle and both the boys and the girls were equally involved. I’m sure a lot my male friends in college would have felt much more comfortable with menstruation had they been in the room for that lesson a decade or so earlier.

So that leads me to ask you, what do you wish you had been told?

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My sex ed in school was somewhere between limited and destructive. I vividly remember a film strip (the kind where you had to advance the frame when the recording went ) about a teenager who got drunk and hooked up with someone at a party “because everyone else was doing it.” Of course he got an STD; there was no discussion of safe or unsafe sex, nothing about condoms, no possibility for a teen to have positive, healthy, enjoyable sex. Disease was presented as one possible, even likely consequence of sex. Only the first few frames of the ‘strip were about the incident < > the last three quarters of the filmstrip showed our hero dealing with the crushing shame of having to tell his parents and his doctor – all of whom tsk-tsked appropriately – about what was clearly his moral failure.

Oh where to begin? Yes, the inexorable march from sex to disease to shame was cemented in my mind through the miracle of celluloid. There was no way to make sex safer – no condoms, no way of decreasing risk. Our hero overcomes his crushing shame and asks for help, only to be further shamed by everyone he turns to. And the anonymous person he hooked up with? She was mentioned only as the source for the disease – the dirty other. He did not make any attempt to find her, to tell her that she, too, should get help for this disease which for him was so bad that he overcame his shame to deal with it.

My next experience of high-school sex education was the hilarious class where my biology teacher first warned us that today she was going to deal with a “sensitive subject” – and then breathlessly speed-talked through a very clinical description of “arousal cycle and intercourse.” When she got nervous she dropped the articles to works – never “the arousal cycle” – as though if you left out words, you could get through describing the awful business faster. This lead to ridiculously abrupt descriptions like “turgid penis enters vagina, releases sperm, swim up vaginal canal through cervix, fertilize egg.” Er… turgid?

What I did not learn in the context of sex education: anything to do with consent, respect, or safety (what I’ve come to think of as the three cornerstones of our sex ed programs). I learned nothing about communication, about what health and unhealthy relationships look like. In my mind, if a relationship did not involve physical abuse, it could not be an “abusive relationship.” There was no positive discussion of gay or lesbian sex, certainly no role models for healthy gay relationships. So many things missing from my sex education, and so many bad impressions left from what was taught.


What little sex ed I had in high school wavered between inadequate and damaging. What I wish I’d learned: sexual anatomy, contraceptive methods (as I entered high-school, condoms were shrouded in mystery, still kept behind the counter – it took a herculean effort even to ask for them), something to de-terrorize STDs. Anything about consent-respect-safety, what I see now as the cornerstones of sex education. What I wish I HADN’T learned: I wish I was not told of an inexorable connection between sex, disease and shame. I wish sex had not been portrayed as dirty and dangerous – and I wish that the message was not that women were the purveyors of sex, dirty and dangerous. So much – it’ll be it’s own blog post soon. Others?

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