The Joy Of (My) Sex Education

Skipping is like making love
Do you remember your first introduction to sex education?

I found myself pondering this as I read about the new documentary The Joy Of Sex Education. The doco looks at the history of sex ed films, from the earliest “look out for VD” propaganda from WW1 to the hippy-influenced fun of the 70s through to today.

It occurred to me that there was never a moment in my life where I didn’t have some kind of knowledge about sex. That’s because, thankfully, I was a child of the seventies and my parents believed in sex education. They weren’t hippies by any stretch, and they certainly suffered from various red faces when it came to the crunch, but they gritted their teeth like good people and… well, they bought us a book.

Yes folks, I’m talking about that classic tome of rudeness, Where Did I Come From?

This amusing book appeared not long after the arrival of my baby sister when I was five and I absolutely loved it. Especially because it had the EXTRA RUDE PAGE where the man and the woman “got as close to each other as two people can get.” I can still remember smuggling it out of the house so I could snigger about it with my brother and his friends.


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Obviously that attitude is not the most perfect approach to sex ed, but we were young and had picked up that sex was naughty. Prior to that we’d done the “I’ll show you yours thing”, except that, unfortunately, I was the one who did all the showing. Bastards.

That’s not to say that I didn’t learn anything; indeed, the book does give a nice, straight-forward approach to sex, refusing to stint on details about pleasure or orgasm. (Interestingly, some reviewers on Amazon are horrified that you would tell a kid about orgasm. Why leave out the good bit?)

Still, Where Did I Come From does have its flaws. For a start, it left me believing the sperm have cute little faces and top hats. Damn, was I disappointed to discover they don’t.

But the main problem with the book is the way it gives the wrong information about female sexuality. Men have a penis, women have a vagina (and that’s all). Rubbing the penis in the vagina is what causes the “nice feelings.” There’s also not a lot of info on where the egg comes from or female anatomy in general (“boys have a penis, girls don’t”). So I must admit, this book helped to create my teenage misconception about how women have orgasms.

It didn’t help that, when I was about 4, my mother had sternly told me to stop sticking my hand down my pants. To give her credit, I think this occurred because I had an embarrassing habit of touching myself when visitors were there, especially the minister’s wife. These days we tell kids that it’s something you save for your bedroom but Where Did I Come From notwithstanding, masturbation was still taboo in 1977. So discovering my own body did have a certain stigma surrounding it.

I had other sex education moments as I grew up. There was the time I was taken along to the school library to see a “special film”, an evening organised by the local church. Don’t remember much about the movie except thinking that sex must be equivalent to a religious experience if the church was involved.

I do remember learning the details of human reproduction in year 7 science class at school, mainly because I was in the almost horrific situation where my Dad was the teacher. Still, he did very well and it was all terribly detached and factual.

“Personal Development” classes in high school recycled the usual reproductive stuff but they were also really big on condoms. AIDS had just become a problem and so safe sex was where it was all at in Australian classrooms. Unfortunately there was no discussion of pleasure, clitorises, orgasm or how to negotiate with a partner in bed. Useful stuff like that was out of bounds.

One memory I have is of finding the courage to put my hand up and ask where the sperm went once it was inside you. My teacher informed me that it stayed up there and was absorbed by the body.

I can’t believe I was lied to about the wet patch!

As for the other details, well, Dolly Doctor filled in a few gaps, although the advice column didn’t mention orgasms or clitorises that I recall. Acne and tampons seemed to be the main obsession. And I did enjoy the odd furtive peek at 1980s porn magazines, a habit that left me in no doubt of the inherent sexiness of stockings and suspenders.

So there it is. I didn’t grow up ignorant but I did encounter some misinformation and a few negative attitudes along the way.

I sometimes wonder if today’s kids are doing any better. Certainly there’s still a determination to keep any mention of pleasure out of sex ed classes (that’s if they’re not pushing abstinence-only) and I don’t think they discuss any of the really tricky issues surrounding sex.

But then again, sex ed classes are always a lesson in embarrassment more than anything else. I’m actually glad kids have access to the internet so they can research this stuff in privacy.

And then overshare it on their blog 30 years later. Like you do.

A couple of good links:
Where did all the good sex-ed lit go? (“It was my Most Favorite Book Ever. And after a disastrous show-and-tell session at Christian day care, it was also mandated to be my Most Favorite Book Ever That Was Never to Be Taken Out of the House Ever Again.”)
Where Did I Come From Book Review (“I should note that Peter and Arthur have also teamed up to bring us What’s Happening to Me? and hopefully after this offering will reunite to answer the timeless, Whisky Tango Foxtrot?”)

One Reply to “The Joy Of (My) Sex Education”

  1. My parents answered my questions as I went along, and got me a set of really good books about anatomy and health that were geared toward late childhood/early teens, and covered all kinds of stuff in plain language, including sex. I wish I could remember the name of those books….

    But what I remember most, and realize more the significance of now, was health classes in 6th grade where the football coach took the boys in one room, the sole female coach took the girls into another, and she began with “This is not sex education. Do not go home and tell your parents you had sex education. Now we’re going to discuss pregnancy and childbirth.”

    I didn’t know then, but I do now, how unusual that was – and how outright brave our school district was to do that in hyper-conservative, Catholic-down-to-the-ground SW Louisiana. I don’t recall if there was any talk of birth control (I sincerely doubt it, considering.), but I do remember that disastrous myths like “You can’t get pregnant the first time” were dealt with.

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