My High School Sex Education – What I wish I’d learned…

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Jessica asked in an earlier post to share what we wished we’d learned in our sex education classes.  I started writing, & it grew from a comment to a blog post:


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 -BEEP -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.  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.

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