Words || Erin Christie
We all have some pretty messed-up memories from our high school sex education classes. Friends of mine have exchanged stories about cartoon cats rubbing up
against one-another, teachers comparing sex to tickling or skipping, and being shown how to stretch a condom over plastic bananas. I found all of this pretty hilarious, having never been exposed to anything remotely phallic in the entirety of my sex education. It was a young male teacher who provided my seventh grade PE class with the basics, while blushing so hard I worried he’d spontaneously combust. His rudimentary, heteronormative explanation was thus: penis in vagina, ejaculation, pregnancy. When the smallest boy in the grade slowly raised his hand, and asked about condom use, he was shut down instantly: “If you wait until you’re married, you don’t need to know about that, do you?”
A 2010 research report into Sexuality Education in Australian Secondary Schools by La Trobe University found that almost a quarter of teachers surveyed weren’t certain whether their school followed a specific policy with regards to sex education. The survey found that 95% of teachers taught ‘factual’ topics, including STIs, safe sex practices and birth control methods. While this sounds helpful, without a matching a policy, safe sex practices and birth control methods can be taught as abstinence, and STI-prevention can be reduced to ‘waiting until marriage’. If schools are failing to outline what their students will be taught, then there is plenty of room for personal beliefs, ideology, and religion to slip its way in. This same 95% also taught ‘social topics’ including decision-making and dealing with emotions when sexually active.
For my peers and I, this advice came in the form of celibacy. And the only emotions associated with discussions of pre-marital sex were guilt and shame.
One day in year ten, our PDHPE teacher rolled the TV set into class, lighting up the class like the words ‘early mark.’ Before starting the video, however, our teacher treated us to an anecdote about a friend of his who procured such a painful bout of herpes after having sex with ONE MAN who had himself engaged in intercourse with ONE OTHER PERSON in a context that WASN’T MARRIAGE. Our excitement waned, and promptly died, as the TV screen introduced us to the snarling face of Pam Stenzel. Stenzel is a Christian sex-educator, renowned in the United States for her screech-preaching on abstinence and the horrors of birth control. While writing this, I sought her out on Youtube, and spent an hour laugh-wincing at what I saw. In the first ten seconds of an educational video, Pam, with her double-denim and ‘can I speak to the manager’ haircut, says ominously:
“If you have sex outside of a permanent marriage relationship – you will pay. No one has ever had sex outside of that context and not paid. God created sex with boundaries – and when sex happens within boundaries, it’s awesome. But when sex happens outside of boundaries, it’s horribly horribly destructive.”
Alright, Pam. Way to terrify a group of horny teenagers straight off the bat. “Are you married? No? then DON’T” she continues, berating everything that exists outside the context of abstinence. She twirls her hair mockingly, pretending to be an idiotic teenage girl who had sex with her boyfriend because he claimed to love her.
The pill? That’ll make you ten times more likely to contract an STI, or worse, you’ll become STERILE or DEAD.
Endometriosis be damned, no contraceptive devices are allowed, for anyone or any reason. It’s Coach Carr from Mean Girls, but without a trace of satire.
Stenzel embodies a fear-mongering attitude that is adopted by many schools who don’t adhere to a balanced sex education policy, including the one I attended. Her running theme is that when she worked as a guidance counsellor in family planning, the girls would come to her with either unwanted pregnancies or STIs saying, “nobody told me, I didn’t know.” As I look back on six years of scare tactics, then another three spent deep in midnight discussions with my friends, attempting to undo the damage, I realise there’s another side to that story that Stenzel, my teachers, and even one pushy doctor refused to consider.
Nobody told me. I didn’t know that the Gardasil injection and consistent condom use is pretty much guaranteed to prevent the spread of HPV – the virus I was told had a high chance of killing me if I had sex with anyone who wasn’t a virgin. After my sexual debut, I disclosed to my mother that I’d be getting tested. After affirming I’d used a condom, she burst out laughing. “Condoms prevent the spread of HPV.”
Nobody told me. I didn’t know that the weird feeling I get when I see my ex walk across campus is only the remnants of feeling vulnerable after having sex for the first time. For a while there, I bought into the idea that girls lose a piece of our soul to each person we bang – poetic advice handed down by my high school librarian. “That dick has a piece of my soul and I want it back,” I told my friend, smirking. She laughed and shook her head, as we have learned to do.
Nobody told me. I didn’t know that it’s no one’s goddamn business how much sex I’m having, and with how many people, and on what basis of regularity. I don’t have to justify it to my friends, my old teachers, or the doctor who forced me to get tested because I was having sex outside of the context of marriage. I didn’t know that no one outside of that freaky little small-town high school actually gave a shit or thought twice about my sex life.
So, I’m telling you now, in case you’ve arrived at this campus off the back of six years of conflicting messages, misinformation and Pam-shaming. Nobody cares. Be safe, be happy, and do as you please.