Sex Ed

Steve left the following comment to yesterday’s post:

Another friend tried to convince me that fucking was ipso factor rape, which was the most serious crime in the world, more serious than murder and you would automatically be hanged for it. I pointed out that children continued to be born, so either that wasn’t true or there were an awful lot of unhanged rapists walking around, even acknowledging that the children were theirs. He then informed me that fucking did not produce children, kissing did. I thougt someone must have lied to him, but when I grew up I thougth that his parents may have tried to give him some sex education, and he had misunderstood it/.

This gave me an idea to discuss what sex education we all received.

I grew up in a country where sex was not discussed and even the word “sex” was not mentioned in polite company. At least, that’s how things were in our social stratum.

A sextant. Not to be confused with sex!

When I became curious about human reproduction at age 12, I decided to consult the fount of wisdom that was the Great Soviet Encyclopedia. I was completely innocent on this subject and had no idea that men had any involvement in reproductive processes. I had this vague idea that women decided when they wanted to grow a baby inside of them and men were not necessary for this in any capacity. We had a neighbor who gave birth to a baby girl without getting married or ever being accompanied by any man (that I knew of, obviously) which was what gave me this idea.

The article on reproduction in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia was filled with long, confusing words that sounded obscene (I mean, “zygote” or “gamete.” I’m still embarrassed whenever I hear these words.) When I finally managed to decipher the article, I was shocked.

“No,” I decided. “Of course, people don’t do these nasty things. Maybe some horrible people do them but nice, normal people definitely don’t.”

This was when I understood why my parents always said that the Great Soviet Encyclopedia was filled with lies.

N. also researched sex at the same age and using the same method. We, the Soviet children, were not very inventive, it seems. His parents, however, did not have the Great Soviet Encyclopedia. They owned a shorter version titled the Small Soviet Encyclopedia. The word “sex” wasn’t there. The closest word to “sex” that it contained was the word “sextant.” N. stared at it for days, trying to figure out why something that looked so innocent was supposed to be this huge mystery. This was when he realized that all adults were idiots.

When I was 14, my great-grandfather finally brought me a brochure that explained human sexuality in a reasonable, calm, and comforting way. I still remember the first sentence from it: “Sexuality could and should be among the best, most beautiful parts of human experience. And if it isn’t, that is a result of how badly we handle the sexual education of the growing generation.”

And how did you learn about sex?

36 thoughts on “Sex Ed

  1. No, I didn’t have any knowledge about sexual matters in my teens. I had vague ideas about certain mechanics, but they didn’t interest me. I was perhaps slightly more technically interested in the topic than I was regarding any practical involvement with the opposite sex. This kind of discussion, when I later came across it, was like so much noisy clattering. It was irrelevant to my real interests, which involved forging a strong relationship with the wilderness somehow.

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  2. I was subjected to sex ed multiple times in my school career, starting in 5th grade, then also again in 7th grade and 9th grade and 11th grade (“Health Class” lasted half the year and included sex ed as well as “don’t do drugs, kids” and “eat right and take care of yourself, kids”). Being autistic and asexual meant that even in 11th grade, it all went completely over my head. I managed to pick up bits and pieces of how stuff worked, but one of my most awkward moments was trying to figure out what “oral sex” was – oral = mouth, therefore kissing, right? So my sex ed, while actually extremely liberal, and pretty well-done, was completely useless to me, because I just wasn’t there, mentally, yet. And the worst part was they would always say “you can ask questions if you don’t understand”. But if everyone else understood, there’s no way I would ask a question!

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    1. I think that a good sex ed should start at home and a lot earlier than 5th grade, too. Children become interested in sexuality between the ages of 2 and 3. This when they discover genitals, for example. My niece Klubnikis pesters her parents with questions like, “Does Auntie Clarissa have a penis or a vagina?” And “Did Daddy come from Mommy’s belly, too?” Parents are, unfortunately, often unprepared for these questions and let the child know they are not welcome. As a result, the child withdraws the trust on this issue and turns to other sources of information.

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  3. My parents pretty much left it up to the school to teach us about sex. But friends filled me in before we got much of a talk at school. In an ironic twist, compared to contemporary craziness, I was taught how to put a condom on a banana in sixth grade at my CATHOLIC grade school. Can you imagine?? We also learned all about birth control, though not about abortion. The people who ran my school felt it was more important to prevent pregnancy if possible than to end one with an abortion.

    Look how liberal the Catholics were back in the 1980s! I have a theory that the Catholic church was getting more and more liberal until the priest sex abuse scandals came out. Then, the church decided to go in the other direction and get back to its medieval roots. That alienated me and a bunch of other people with, you know, brain cells. I think the mass exodus from the Church since then has been a combination of disgust with the sex abuse cases and dismay that the congregations, not the priests, are suffering consequences as a result.

    Then again, I never really, truly “bought” Jesus. I was a closet non-believer for a long time. (Sorry — off topic! But my sexual upbringing was highly influenced by these brave nuns who dared to allow sex ed to be practical in my childhood. Go nuns!)

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      1. Why didn’t I buy Jesus… Maybe because I could never imagine any circumstances for which dying on a cross would be worthwhile. 🙂

        I’m kidding. (Well, not really, but you know…) I think that how Christianity was presented to me contained too many contradictions for me to believe in it fully. Kierkegaard says, “Faith begins where thinking ends.” I was never able to stop thinking, and none of it made rational sense to me.

        Now, don’t get me wrong. I tried. I was very involved in church and went through all the sacraments available. I was in youth group, did a couple of Catholic summer camps, got married in the church, sang and played guitar at masses a couple of times a week for many years, and sang at all the nuns’ funerals when I was in college. I went to Catholic school for 20 out of 25 years of my education. To outward appearances, I was just as Catholic as a person can be. But I was masking the fact that I was a doubter. Then, when the church started to collapse on itself with the sex abuse scandals and blaming it on gay priests (not true) and then reaffirmed its conservatism with the election of Pope Benedict, I just knew there was no way to keep up the charade.

        Plus, I had kids. Some people become more religious when they have children. I
        didn’t. Instead, I realized that I would have to lie to my kids about what I really believed if I kept going to church. I wasn’t willing to lie to them. So I decided enough was enough, and I officially decided to out myself as a nonbeliever. (And it took a long time to say that without fear of being struck dead for my heresy. So maybe that means I’m superstitious, but this stuff was so ingrained in me as a child that I may never be free of it entirely.)

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      2. There is a certain shamanistic logic to Christianity. We all accumulate guilt just by living. This has nothing to do with sex or an actions we may have committed. Christianity is a ritual for releasing that guilt. Nietzsche realized this and thought that guilt ought to be released not into a static figure in that past, but via energetic striving for a more beautiful and vitalized future. This striving he called Overman.

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        1. “There is a certain shamanistic logic to Christianity. We all accumulate guilt just by living.”

          – All Catholics are Christians but not all Christians are Catholics. 🙂

          “Christianity is a ritual for releasing that guilt. ”

          – Again, you are talking about Catholicism. Many Christian denominations fo not have confession or absolution of sins.

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            1. “The idea that Christ died for our sins is ubiquitous to Christianity.”

              – The reaction to the idea might vary, however. 🙂

              Do I strike you as a particularly guilt-ridden person who worries a lot about my sins? 🙂

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              1. Oh. I don’ t think anybody is necessarily “guilt-ridden” in an extreme way, but you would be susceptible to guilt under certain circumstances. There is a lot of potential for irrational guilt to appear in the human psyche. For instance, take survivor’s guilt. Nothing is more irrational than that. People feel guilty when they survive a disaster and others close to them did not. That’s just one example.

                Nietzsche thought that people felt guilty in relation to their ancestors — but only if their culture was in ascendancy. Then the psychological pressure to do the right thing builds up. If one’s society is in decline, one feels no such guilt.

                Then there is of course Melanie Klein and the idea that the infant grows up into an adult who feels the need to make reparations to the mother because of their childhood aggression. Once again, this is meaningless guilt.

                These examples show, however, that humans are susceptible to feeling guilty. That is why one of the central themes relating to Jesus is salvation from our sins.

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              2. “Oh. I don’ t think anybody is necessarily “guilt-ridden” in an extreme way, but you would be susceptible to guilt under certain circumstances”

                – Yes, just talk to my mother who owns the travel agency called “Guilt Trips Unlimited.” (I stole this joke from a comedian.)

                “Then there is of course Melanie Klein and the idea that the infant grows up into an adult who feels the need to make reparations to the mother because of their childhood aggression. Once again, this is meaningless guilt.”

                – It’s very meaningful to the mother who can then exploit this feeling she generated in perpetuity.

                “That is why one of the central themes relating to Jesus is salvation from our sins.”

                – I’d much rather he saved me from guilt-tripping people I know.

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              3. Yes, I have only recently got off that railroad myself, because everyone told me after we had lost our country that now, to show my humbleness and willingness to do anything it took to atone for having lost something so fundamental, I should make every effort to “adapt” and change my ways. I’ve spent a long time atoning for this loss, and I’ve never received any rewards for it. To lose one’s way of life may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose everything that ever had any meaning before migration looks like carelessness.

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        1. “I’m happy that other people find solace in Christianity. It’s just not for me. I’m happier being a secular humanist, with Shakespeare as my bible.”

          – And what a great bible it is! Seriously. Of course, Don Quijote is quite good, too. 🙂

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    1. “There is a certain shamanistic logic to Christianity.” I just don’t buy it. If it makes everyone feel better, I don’t buy any religion. I’m not a Christian hater. I dig a lot of Jesus’s philosophy — being nice and having compassion. I just don’t really think I need someone else to pay for my transgressions. And I don’t believe in hell. When you make a mistake (sin), you pay for it plenty on earth.

      People can believe whatever they want, and I’m happy they feel a sense of relief and joy from it. But there’s nothing that anyone could say to me that could convince me to rejoin the church.

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      1. “People can believe whatever they want, and I’m happy they feel a sense of relief and joy from it. But there’s nothing that anyone could say to me that could convince me to rejoin the church.”

        – And I think that nobody has the right to intrude upon your worldview and try to convince you of anything. Especially when your God is literature! 🙂

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      2. I wish people would read more closely what I write. I did not say I embrace Christianity, I just said that Christianity, up to a certain point, embraces a shamanistic perspective. Beyond a certain point, however, it is extremely anti-shamanistic.

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  4. The good old fashioned way! Sneaking around eavesdropping on adult conversations, trading dirty jokes that had been handed down by generations of pre-teens, looking at porn mags we found in the trash, our mothers finally realizing we were about the age to get our period and giving us The Pamphlets (every American woman of a certain age knows about The Pamphlets; they’re the ones that tell you’ll have to wear a skirt during your monthlies, among other things), and then in high school getting a proper course in sex ed during your biology class where you learned what was true and what was lies (as in, yes, you can get pregnant if you do it standing up).

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    1. Why should one wear a skirt while menstruating?? Truly, you live, you learn.

      In my country, nobody would throw porn mags in the trash. They were brought in by the lucky few who could travel overseas and passed from hands to hands in secret. Adults would congregate to look at them. This was done for the sake of curiosity and to feel horrified at the crazy foreigners rather than for any erotic value.

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  5. I remember sitting at the dinner table with my parents and brother (we were probably 7 and 5) hearing about penises, vaginas, intercourse, even chilbirth’s episiotomies, and that sex = love. Too much truth and one destructive lie.

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  6. I don’t remember how I learned because it was at a young age. Definitely less than 12! Or 9, I guess. How can one manage not to know that men take part with all books read (you said including the original 1001 Nights fairy-tales), movies watched? May be movies in my childhood in the 90ies were more explicit though. I believe you, of course, but it sounds weird.

    Haven’t you read Kuprin’s “The Pit” till age 12, for example, which is full of sex?

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    1. “How can one manage not to know that men take part with all books read (you said including the original 1001 Nights fairy-tales), movies watched”

      – I don’t know which books and movies you mean given that I was 12 in 1988. 🙂

      I read Kuprin much much later than that.

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  7. I was brought up in a family, where I felt comfortable to ask my grandmother & mother sex-ed questions. Never remember 1 sex ed talk with my classmates or anybody outside the family. At least, not in my 7 grades of Ukrainian school. In Israeli high school don’t remember about sex, but we had some talk(s) RE (un)healthy relationships.

    //you’ll have to wear a skirt during your monthlies

    Why? I would never wear a skirt during menstruation, especially if bleeding is heavy. Sorry for straight language, but pads may leak sometimes. What if a cluster of blood or “only” X drops fall on one’s bare legs? Also, if clothes become spotted, black jeans hide it even better than a black skirt.

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    1. In the 5th grade there was a topic on the reproduction of plants in the Botany class. Everybody was terrified of being called to the blackboard to talk about it. And, of course, I was the one called. As I stepped to the front of the classroom and started to speak, everybody started giggling and making stupid jokes. So I loudly promised to beat people up for being idiots and delivered my talk.

      “You show them, Clarissa!” the teacher said.

      This was when I lost my fear of public speaking forever. I mean, if I managed to deliver that talk at 12, what lecture can’t I give?

      In the 11th grade, we reached the topic about human reproduction in the Biology class. And who do you think was called to the blackboard to speak about it? Me, again.

      So again I delivered the talk. A couple of male classmates tried to make fun of me after I sat back at my desk. “Well, at least I have a sex life, unlike you, idiots!” I announced loudly.

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  8. None. Absolutely zero. Yes, I was raised in ultra-conservative southern United States, but I got zero. I think science class had covered “egg + sperm =zygote”, but that doesn’t really tell you anything, now does it.

    Then I was an early bloomer and had…*ahem* an experience. lol. Since I had no idea what this stuff was, I did what I always did — I read! Encyclopedia articles, those sex books hidden in the attic…I probably knew more about female anatomy and arousal at age 12 than many of my male peers in high school!

    My school sex ed (it was a religious school — not Catholic ) was a huge joke. Segregated by gender (I have no idea what they told the girls) and taught by a coach, I think the “sex” portion of the health class consisted of a deck of dirty playing cards, a “lesson” on how many days are between ovulation and menstruation, and a knowing, “you guys all know this, right?” Pitiful.

    Fortunately (?) having the wits scared out of me that Bad Things would happen otherwise, I didn’t have sex (and thus end Western Civilization) for a while…so a lot of stuff I could learn at my leisure. Unfortunately, there was a lot of internal stuff to unlearn (about sexuality itself). That sex wasn’t dirty, for example…nor was I dirty for actually liking and wanting it.

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  9. I was taught that women did not enjoy sex the way men did, that they got their satisfaction from having a home and a family. I was taught that I would ruin my life if I touched a girl anywhere on the front of her body unless she was my wife. [by my father]

    I was taught that girls did not appreciate boys with roaming hands and that I should keep my hands to myself if I was out somewhere with a girl. I was taught that it would ruin sex for me forever, taking the edge off of it, if I ever did it before I was married. [by my mother]

    I was given a book by someone, either my father, my mother, or some other adult, which told me that girls who had sex outside of marriage became listless and vacant-eyed, and quickly lost their ability to attract men at all. [I remember the book, but I do not recall who gave it to me.]

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    1. “I was taught that women did not enjoy sex the way men did, that they got their satisfaction from having a home and a family. ”

      – Sweet Jesus on the cross. Were women supposed to derive sexual gratification from “having a home”?

      ” I was taught that it would ruin sex for me forever, taking the edge off of it, if I ever did it before I was married. ”

      – Aha, I heard that, too. “If you try sex too early and too often, you will get tired of it and become gay”

      “I was given a book by someone, either my father, my mother, or some other adult, which told me that girls who had sex outside of marriage became listless and vacant-eyed”

      – I heard this one, as well!!! Also, that girls became stupid as a result of sex!

      This conditioning is eerily similar.

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  10. I was taught how reproduction happened but it was implied, if not directly stated that these things were undertaken to produce a child and not for any other reason. Also, it was important to maintain virginity and so on, or all of the various things listed up thread would happen. It took some time to figure out why anyone would do anything but maintain virginity, given that the only reason to have sex was to get pregnant.

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  11. I think the first time I heard about the mechanics was on a girl-scout camping trip. All the girls were sleeping in a big tent together and decided to tell “scary stories.” After a few ghost stories, a few of them decided to tell dirty jokes, some of which went into graphic detail.

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  12. I had a book on human biology, featuring 2 pages on reproduction. Pictures showed a girl square robot (which had a gap labelled “special hole”), and a boy square robot (which had a sticking out spring with a tube through the middle). Totally puzzling. I spent years trying to figure out where the spring was…

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