It started out innocently enough, with a girls-only presentation about periods in the fifth grade. On a super-secretive slip of paper, I asked the presenters, why do some pads have wings? And I got the first and only answer to an actual question I had about sexuality in my entire schooling. My boyfriend was not as lucky — at age 21, his best friend confided that, after years of puzzlement over pad commercials, he had finally figured out what the wings were for.
During this time, I had information about discharge (mostly the abnormal kind!) drilled into my brain — completely ruining the texture of cottage cheese for me — but my boyfriend didn’t even know what it was until I told him. He thought “discharge” was another word for period blood.
And so, I was prepared for the messy and unwanted physicalities of growing up, but not for much else. I was never told about the foreign feelings of arousal that would eventually sneak up on me during math class, confusing the hell out of me. Clearly, some things were normal bodily functions — and some were not to be discussed.
After that, sex ed quickly became patronizing. It began in middle school with the Spice Girls’ “2 Become 1.” As we listened to the glittery song on a boombox, we were asked to pick out all the instances of romanticized sex. So, every line of the song? Do we really have to raise our hands for every line? We do? Okay then.1
I also vaguely remember some bullshit about how holding hands can lead to sex…
But the big guns came out in high school: the STD slides, blown up onto the screen like a movie. Unlike the horrific drunk-driving car crash slideshow — which really did make me paranoid as fuck about seatbelts — the STD pictures just seemed like a gratuitous and rather undignified attempt at shocking us into submission. Obviously, we were not going to understand the gravity of STDs unless we saw them in super size.
Actually, that wasn’t enough. We needed Oreos.
At the front of the class, a woman chewed an Oreo, then swished some water in her mouth. She spit the water into a cup, then proceeded to pour little bits of it into other water-filled cups, and those cups into other cups. This is how STDs are spread, apparently. If you happened to get an STD, you were about as worthwhile as disgusting Oreo water. Were there ways to treat these STDs before spreading them? Who knows. All I remember is doom and gloom.
The underlying implication was that we, the kids, were really stupid. We will see STDs and recoil in horror. We will see Oreo water and recoil in horror. We will listen to the Spice Girls… and recoil in horror. But we were not stupid, and we weren’t originally scared. Tricking us into feeling scared just made us feel duped — and silenced.
I never got answers to the questions I really wanted to ask. What are the plus sides to having sex? What does sex actually feel like? How much does an abortion cost? Is it safe to masturbate using water from the bathtub faucet? What does it mean if I like porn? What if I like girls? (Nevermind that one — my answer came when students wrote “dike” next to my name on the wall and harassed me via instant messaging.)
As a result, I knew nothing.
When I dry-humped my boyfriend, I needed the internet to reassure me that I couldn’t get pregnant.
When I woke up in my dorm with the devastating urge to pee and inability to sleep, I thought I was dying.
When I found my G-spot and taught myself to squirt — possibly one of my most important sexual developments — it was because of my sex toy reviewing and nothing else. I am almost certain that if I had not become involved in sex toy reviewing, I would have lived my entire life without having ever squirted.
Sure, I have mostly recovered from the lack of information I received about sex in school, but I’m still pissed about it. I’m pissed that similar scare tactics happen to kids every day. I’m pissed that kids aren’t trusted with information that may very well be vital to their sexual health. And I’m pissed that this trend continues in 20-fucking-10.
I hate to think of what “romanticized sex” song they’re playing for kids as we speak…
This post is a part of the Scarleteen Sex-Ed Blog Carnival.
- Convenient of them to ignore all the badass messages the Spice Girls put forth, like “if you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends.” Word.