Talkin' bout my…education?

Cara at the Curvature recently wrote a very thought-provoking post about what she calls “real sex education.”  I’m not going to talk a lot about the post, because I think you should just read it – she makes some really interesting points – but I would like to share some thoughts about sex ed.  Cara’s real sex education involves teaching young people that sex is supposed to be consensual + pleasurable for both parties.  At first I looked at that statement and thought “hey, no brainer.”  Then I thought wait a minute, I may be progressive and all but I don’t want to be teaching kids about sex.  Then I thought, well, you know what, she has a real fucking point.

The big focus now for sex education is on teaching about how to prevent STDs and pregnancy.  There’s a big debate, I gather, between abstinence-only folks and comprehensive sex ed folks, but when they say comprehensive they still mean focusing on disease and pregnancy and how to prevent them.  It never really occurred to me what kind of a role sex ed could have had in my unfortunate early experiences, but now that I think of it, yeah, that’s a good way to start.

I’m not sure if my own sex education would be considered “abstinence only” or not.  In fifth grade, we took a course called “Human Growth and Development.”  It was a one-week part of the science curriculum that required parental permission, and of course everyone was very excited about it because of the sense of taboo that surrounded the course.  We essentially learned about anatomy – I dutifully labelled charts of male and female anatomy, though I know for a fact that a clitoris appeared nowhere on those charts (the focus being “the reproductive system”).  We had a quiz on the anatomy, then for the last class period we were huddled into a separate room from the boys and a female teacher told us briefly what a period is and what a sanitary pad is – my first introduction to the subject.  And that was that.

In eighth grade, we very briefly heard something about AIDS in health class, as part of a list of various diseases that we should be able to identify, but nothing about other STDs or how to prevent them.  In high school, there was a brief unit on the family in health class where we learned that a family is a married man, woman, and children, and though other families can and do exist they are technically dysfunctional.

And then out into the world I went!  

So when I thought about my nether regions, I mainly associated them with periods and reproduction.  My mother taught me that sex was appropriate in a loving relationship.  When I started college and did have a sexual relationship with a man, though, she was uncomfortable talking about oral sex and felt that it was something very intimate, something that while it was not necessarily to be saved for marriage, was only for special relationships and was not to be discussed.  It certainly wasn’t, as my friends had informed me, foreplay, something that you do before intercourse.

I never ended up having oral sex.  Oh, I was on the giving end plenty, as that was something he needed almost every time to have intercourse, but there was never any touching or anything like that for me.  It was very clothes off, let’s go.  I knew how to masturbate, but orgasms were something for alone time.  He asked if it was all right (the intercourse), but never offered to do something in addition.  I did finally get the courage to ask after about six months of sexual activity, and he said matter-of-factly that he “wasn’t interested in that.”  That’s fine.  Maybe he wasn’t.  But it was still disappointing. 

I don’t know that any of this is directly related to the lack of sex education in my life, but I can’t help but wonder if it might have helped.  I’m just now learning about safe sex for lesbians, and even there all the sources wildly conflict.  I think a few things could help.  1) Comprehensive safe sex information for gay and straight sex in high school.  2) Include the clitoris on the damned diagrams.  3) Teach the consent + pleasure model that Cara advocates.  4) Be realistic about sex.

I think that a huge problem with my education is that I masturbated from the age of eleven or so, but I always assumed that sexual intercourse would be this big things with fireworks and even more amazing orgasms.  When I learned that it’s kind of all right, and no orgasms whatsoever, I was disappointed.  I can’t imagine what it’s like for a woman who’s waited until marriage and then suddenly realises “fuck, I signed on for this?”  I also assumed that the actual process would be easy, tab A into slot B.  It was actually a little difficult, and clumsy, and took a lot of maintenance on my part to keep the guy ready to do his job.  This was a bit of a let down.  After sex with men, I started feeling that sex was pointless.  I mean, nothing can be better than the orgasms I give myself, so I should just give up.  Sex with women is basically going to be masturbation with someone nice to look at.  Then I started re-thinking it, and realising that it doesn’t have to all be orgasm driven.  A lot is about the touching someone, tasting someone, kissing someone, and loving someone.  I think the same could be true for heterosexual couples, especially if the woman doesn’t enjoy intercourse.  But you’d never know that from sex ed.  I think they should be frank.  Ladies, you deserve to enjoy sex.  You might not enjoy intercourse.  That’s okay.  You should search together for other ways to derive pleasure.  Etc, etc.  I think just re-framing the norms about sex that we all carry around with us would make for a much more enjoyable experience when the time comes.

About Avory

Avory Faucette is a queer feminist activist, writer, and public speaker. Zie graduated from the University of Iowa with a JD in 2009, focusing on international human rights and gender/sexuality issues in the law. Hir current work focuses on queer identity, policy, and marginalized identities under the queer umbrella. As a genderqueer person, zie comments frequently on non-binary identity, transgender and genderqueer issues, and media coverage of these populations. Zie also speaks at colleges, universities, and events on transgender and queer issues and conducts trainings on related topics.

Posted on May 31, 2008, in education, sex, sexuality and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I had a fantastic sex education. And the more I learn about everybody else’s, the more I realise how utterly fantastic mine was. Which is even more impressive when you consider that it took place in more than one school, in more than one country.

    Somewhere fairly early on- maybe grade 5?- we learned about the reproductive system. It was very matter-of-fact. They split us up, boys in one room, girls in the other. That way we “wouldn’t feel pressured to ask embarrassing questions”. We covered the basics of menstruation, the anatomy (for both sexes), the basic idea of what sex was (I think we still had a few kids in the class who thought babies came from storks!) and from that a few heavy topics: what STDs are, what abortions are, what rape is. If we didn’t feel comfortable asking a question in front of others, the teachers had placed a “question jar” in the room that we could write a note on and place in the jar at any time during the week. I recall writing at least three or four of them myself (though now I can’t remember what they possibly were). OH, and we learned what a condom was! Though it was just “This is a condom. It’s used to prevent pregnancy. And now you know.” type of statement.

    A few years later — this time, I believe, it was grade 8 — we had an entire SEX UNIT in our health class! Amazing! Once again we were split up by sex, so nobody would feel awkward. The teacher I had then instructed us not just on the reproductive stuff (though we did cover that again, in more detail) but also the SEX stuff. I learned what labia and a clitoris are, she even told us about the “G-Spot”! We learned what masturbation meant. The most memorable part of the class was the day she walked into the classroom with an entire shopping cart full of bananas. …. Can you guess? Yep, the first time in my life I ever held a condom was in health class and it was putting it over a banana. HA ha ha ha! We also had to learn how to take it off. This is the same teacher who gave each of us girls a sample pack of tampons and pads… I think quite a few of the girls had never tried a tampon and were scared of the idea. And there was an interesting discussion that came up when a girl brought up the question “Soooo…. does that mean a tampon is the same thing as a condom?”

    This is also the school that had condoms available in every bathroom, the nurses office, the counselor’s offices, etc. We didn’t have to pay for them and we didn’t have to ask. They were brightly coloured packages with smiley faces on them… and I know quite a few friends who expressed a surprise after graduating that “Wow, condoms cost money!” Still, I recall being told that after introducing the condoms into the school, the pregnancy rate dropped dramatically.

    This presents me with one of the funniest stories I have of my primary school career. It’s on-topic and I think you will LAUGH. It was one of the first days of the sex unit in health class, which was in the first semester. I was new to the school, but it was really big so I didn’t stick out or anything. Blended, stealthily! Until..

    The teacher was explaining the vital importance of condoms and birth control in general when she asked for a volunteer. For that ever-fateful banana demonstration. I was chosen.

    Teacher: So you open the package like this… *opens*
    Me: *watches, opens*
    Teacher: And put it on….. *demonstrates*
    Me: *fumbles, manages to successfully put a condom on the banana.*
    Teacher: Good job! You are now being responsible in preventing pregnancy.
    Me: Well, ok.
    Teacher: Well, you wouldn’t want to find out in four or five weeks that you’re pregnant would you?
    Me: Actually, I don’t think I need to worry about it.
    Teacher: You have no idea how many students I’ve had tell me they don’t believe they’ll ever get pregnant! And how many babies have been conceived when they “only had sex that one time”.
    Me: That’s not what I meant.
    Teacher: What did you mean? You want to have a baby now?! That’s a lot of responsibilities to take on at once.
    Me: No, I meant, I’m sterile.
    Teacher: Oh! *turns bright red* I’m SO sorry, I had no idea.
    Me: I didn’t tell you, so you didn’t know. Therefore, you have no reason to apologise. But, I don’t need to worry about getting pregnant.
    Teacher: You know, sometimes women are told they can’t conceive a baby and then they find out that “one-in-a-million” chances sometimes come true.
    Me: I don’t think I need to worry about that.
    Teacher: *trying desperately to convince the rest of the class condoms are a good idea* Well, condoms are a very good idea! AND, you can use them in conjunction with birth control pills for added security.
    Me: Well, it’s just…. *laments*
    Teacher: What?
    Me: To get pregnant you have to have sex.
    Teacher: Usually…..
    Me: …WITH BOYS.
    Teacher: *turns bright red again* UM! YES! IT TAKES A BOY AND A GIRL.
    Me: I don’t need to worry about that, then.
    Teacher: OH! OH. OH. OHHHHHHHHH.


    It wouldn’t be for another four or five years until I decided that maybe this sex-with-a-boy thing was something to try. (I still don’t think it’s worth the hype, unless you manage to find a really special boy.)

    I’m sorry to hear that your sex-with-a-boy experience wasn’t very good. It sounds like he was also very inexperienced. Imagine encountering a vagina for the first time! Who the hell knows what to touch and where to put your tongue?! (I once had a male friend earnestly think he was supposed to put his tongue inside her vagina and only inside her vagina…) Not that I think you need to have another relationship with a male AT ALL — but I do wish your experience had been a better one. Bad first relationships are a horrible way to learn, especially when it comes to sex.

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