Plastic Babies and Sex “Education”

In eighth grade, my friend Becca had to lug a plastic baby doll around for two weeks. She was in Home Economics, and those babies represented the pinnacle of the teacher’s Curriculum for Southern Young WomenTM. They produced a horrible, pre-recorded squall every few hours if a certain button wasn’t pushed. This made them the absolute delight of a distraction-obsessed student body.

They were also — for the same reason — the bane of every sane adult at school. Our math teacher threatened detention for any girl who forgot to push the button. There was still at least one student per day who, blushing, frantically rummaged in her plastic spawn’s onesie for the off switch.

Oh, those babies. At this point, I could take this post in three directions. I could laugh about how ridiculous the whole thing was, and tell you about my schoolmate Tricia. She was so devoted to the mechanical fruit of her loins that she spent hard-earned babysitting money to replace its standard-issue beige clothing with a bedazzled pink ensemble.

I could also regale you with how the football players used to steal girls’ babies and sling them around the field while the “moms” squealed in distress.

Or I could (and very nearly did) pound out a scathing manifesto on how incredibly sexist it was that only girls were allowed to take Home Ec. That meant only girls had to complete this sorry excuse for an academic assignment. Only girls had to understand the consequences of a baby crying at all hours of the night, and spend at least one class period weighed down by the giant fake belly Mrs. C. kept under lock and key.

And — of course — only girls were ridiculed years later in high school, when a few of them did become pregnant. Only girls dropped out because of sheer embarrassment and bullying. As far as I could ever tell, only girls suffered the consequences of my tiny home town’s entirely abstinence-based sex “education.”

But. This is one of those times when I think the phrase “trust your readers” comes into play. You don’t need me to break down what was wrong with all this, and I don’t have the stomach to put a funny spin on the misogyny. Instead, I’ll just give you the rest of the story.

In the first year of high school, boys and girls started taking Physical Education separately. One day when we had Health class instead of sports, the girls were marched to the auditorium for a movie screening. When our teacher hit Play, the screen sprang to life and we were instantly beset by a giant image of a bleeding vagina accompanied by a woman’s agonized shrieks.

The Health teacher didn’t say a word. She just started intently at the laboring woman, then peered out at the class to make sure we were all paying full attention. Three minutes of crying and bleeding later, the baby had been born. She shut off the film.

“Well, ladies,” she intoned, “If you ever have sex, that’s what will happen to you. It’s very, very painful.”

Then she asked us all to pull out a pencil with a decent amount of eraser left on the tip. “If you ever feel funny in your private area, don’t go looking for a boy to kiss. Just rub a pencil eraser on you lips and you’ll feel much better. Let’s try it now!”

She proceeded to pace up and down the rows of seats until she’d confirmed that we all understood the divine pleasure of scrubbing a smudgy eraser across our mouths. Then she gave us a post script about how we should never be alone with boys, because they would definitely rape us, and then we would definitely get pregnant.

(So wait — I was wrong. This pitiful excuse for sex ed did harm boys as well. It made us see them all as potential attackers.)

At that point, the teacher asked if we had any questions. Terrified of further contact with our pencils,every girl shook her head.

We spent the rest of the class labeling a worksheet with line drawings of the female reproductive system. The teacher observed our work and contributed helpful comments like, “Let me remind you, ladies: Real babies don’t have an off switch!”

When class ended, I had completed the full coursework for my middle school’s sex ed curriculum.

Given this “education,” I consider it a personal miracle that I didn’t get pregnant in high school. (Of course I was sexually active. The CDC reported in 2013 that 47% of high schools students are.) The truth is that abstinence-only sex ed DOES NOT WORK.

This is a huge part of why I support universal free birth control, why I believe in a woman’s right to end a pregnancy, and why I don’t think parental consent should be needed to access either of these services.

What kind of sex “education” did you receive? What are your kids hearing at school? Do you think comprehensive sex ed should be mandatory, or should it be left up to parents? Let me know…


101 responses to “Plastic Babies and Sex “Education”

  1. We were not allowed to ask questions. It was abstinence-only and most of the time was dedicated to hygiene and development of a fetus.
    The kids in my grade who knew nothing about sex, not even basic egg meets sperm basics, were the ones who got taken out of the class every year.

    I think there needs to be more comprehensive sex ed and resources available to students. I’d like to know if my son decides to become sexually active and not tell me that he has another place to go to (easily) to get information and stay safe. From what I can tell, not much has changed between when I was in school and when my kid went through this “class”.

    • Isn’t that the way it goes? It makes me so sad when parents choose to keep their children in the dark. I understand giving them a healthy respect for the possible consequences of sex – physically and emotionally – and I do believe that it’s a big deal. But trying to scare kids away from something their bodies naturally crave and “hoping for the best” is not a solid approach.

  2. Oh good lord… That is… wow. I thought my sex-ed class was vague.
    I think it should be mandatory, because not everyone’s parents are willing to talk to their kids, like mine were. Kids are going to have sex regardless of what they know about it, and seriously knowledge is the best defense against… well, almost everything, really. Fear tactics only work for so long.

    • I think it should be mandatory, too. Some people worry that educating kids about birth control = empowering them to have lots of sex. I would edit that to: educating kids about birth control = empowering them to explore sex in a holistic, healthy way, IF they want to.

  3. Holy Freakin’ CRAP – REALLY? REALLY? I went to such a progressive school (public school too) – we had sex ed/drivers ed, Planned Parenthood came in… we had a ‘Decisions’ class about how to deal with suicide, depression, sex, drugs etc… nothing like what you described (which sounds like you went to school in the 1950s and I know I’m older than you)…

  4. I never took Home Econ – but guys could and did. I never carried around the bag of flour (that’s what I remember seeing from that class) – nor did I have to take sewing or any of that stuff if I didn’t want to… I took weight training 🙂 HA!

    • Yes, REALLY. I sometimes elaborate a little for effect, but not this time. This is what happened, down to the way the Health teacher called us “ladies” over and over.

      Your school’s approach is my ideal. In my opinion, no one should graduate high school without knowing how to read and write, do basic mathematics, understand their own bodies, know the basics of managing money, and having some sense of how to maintain a car. I graduated knowing 2/5 of those.

      Kudos for weight training! I’m trying to mix more of it in with my cardio now, and wish I had a better idea what I was doing.

      • Now that I’m 44, I’ve forgotten most of what I learned when I was 16 – sad but true 🙂

        My friend (female) took a mechanics class – she LOVED it – I did luck out in getting to go to a progressive public school. We even had Eastern Religions classes and Literature of Totalitarianism – which I LOVED. Of course I cannot sew anything..and I did eventually have sex 🙂

          • 🙂 Actually, a funny story… I worked at my mom’s bagel deli which was in the same shopping center as a Planned Parenthood – and every time they had a bomb threat (which was too often) they’d evacuate and come over for some nosh and chatting. So I knew them from that – when the Planned Parenthood people came to our sex ed class in high school, they were from the location near my work, so they knew me. One woman had a condom on her fingers and when she saw me greeted me by name and waved at me with the condom 🙂 – I got a lot of strange stares from my classmates..and the woman realized what everyone was thinking and quickly told everyone that I worked near her clinic and that if I was a patient she would have NEVER acknowledged me before I acknowledged her 🙂

          • That’s an awesome story. Good for her for explaining – I love all the PP staff and volunteers I’ve met so far! Also, this gives me the strangest urge to put condoms on my hands and go wave at people. But then, I’m a weirdo.

  5. I think you could have definitely gone in a much HIGHER horse way, Jennie, and I’m proud of you that you didn’t. It’s an inescapable fact of biology that women are the ones who can never walk away from pregnancy — that we are the ones who must make all the choices. I always thought that if girls are forced to be “fake pregnant” during high school, that they should be partnered up with boys who are forced to drop out of high school and get jobs at the local McDonalds (or whereever will take a high school dropout) and provide financial support for the girl and her baby — shelter, clothing, food, etc.. as she struggles to stay in school and carry a baby. If you’re really trying to teach responsibility, it’s a two way street.
    In my high school, it wasn’t this one sided — both girls and boys had to carry around an egg. We were actually paired up and had to trade off.
    Canada — America’s more open-minded neighbour with a U.

    • Ha – the egg! Did you draw faces on them? I suppose, at the end of the day, I just don’t think the egg/sack of flour/plastic baby approach is worth the time and effort. When schools are already cutting the arts, do we really need to take days or even weeks to make kids do a lousy simulation of parenthood? From talking to actual parents, I know that breaking an egg is the LEAST of their concerns!

      …but I do applaud Canuckistan for gender equality.

  6. I recall watching a sex-ed video with animated talking sperm around 5th or 6th grade, and the teacher telling us beforehand that anyone who laughed would get time knocked off of recess. Not a lot of people got recess.

  7. WHAT?! I was raised in a small town, but it was a New England small town, and our public school sex education, while perhaps not comprehensive, was always co-ed, taught us the basics, and put the focus on the fact that unprotected sex lead to bad consequences for everyone. The focus was much more disease than baby heavy and there were definitely some images burned into my retinas that I will never be able to erase.

    • Ah, the glorious north. 🙂 I think that separating the sexes is easier for the teachers, NOT the students. In the long term, men need to understand menstruation and not have a mythical fear of it because it was always kept a closely-guarded secret. Keeping the sexes together makes it all seem more normal and less shameful.

      We didn’t see the infamous “STI slides” – I’m actually rather surprised. Maybe they wanted to just drill home one overwhelming message?

  8. Oh my word, I’m nearly speechless. What the?!

    I went to a private Christian school for elementary and high school, and our sex ed class talked about what sex IS, and what all of our reproductive organs are actually called (one girl kept referring to it as public hair instead of pubic hahaha), but we definitely didn’t talk about pregnancy prevention or STD prevention at all.

    When I got to public HS, we did talk about condoms and prevention a little bit, but nothing stands out. I guess that’s a good thing, no horribly traumatizing memories like rubbing an eraser on my lips. Seriously?!?! That’s so bizarre and just wrong. I’m curious what your parents thought of that?

    • What the WHAT? Exactly.

      In my opinion, 8th grade is a good time to start. The students are 13, and it prepares them for high school. Freshman year was when kids in my grade started becoming active, although for more of them it was junior or senior year.

      P.S. There’s a song that calls it public hair (on purpose) and it always makes me grin.

  9. i had sex ed at 2 jr highs and one high school. the first junior high one was actually a portion of our PE class, and it was separated by gender–mostly since it included getting your first period, what to expect, why it happened, and how to take care of it. it included how use sanitary products as well. we girls were reassured it was natural, and that if we had an emergency, we could go to the nurses’ office for supplies. we were told about cramps, bloating, etc. then we rejoined with the boys for the rest of the lessons, including sex, why people liked sex, how to know how to say no, and how to use protection–all the different kinds.

    we learned about the different forms of birth control and how they also provide protection against STD’s (or don’t, as the case may be). we were strongly encouraged to NOT have sex, but if we did have sex, to make sure we used protection against both diseases and pregnancy. We were encouraged to say no if we didn’t want the sex. We were encouraged to talk to our parents as well.

    my next jr high had the same info, but condensed into 1 wk of science classes, and was coed.

    my high school had both boys and girls learn the basics, plus they all had to take care of a bag of flour, without letting it gets holes poked in it for a quarter of a semester. boys and girls both had to carry them at all times, and only leave them if they had a babysitter.

    i think the way my schools taught about feminine reproductive system, periods, caring for your body, and sex, pregnancy, and STD’s was the best possible scenario. i think this information is factual, and is what young people need to know before they start having sex. it was comprehensive also, so there were no surprises later. churches, religions, etc. should have no say in schools about what is taught factually about the body, reproduction, sex, and protection. these are facts that youth need to know. if the church also wants to address these issues, they should do so in a class for that age group, and discuss their feelings as a church about the proper behaviour. but it should not intrude into the schools. that is why we have separation of church and state. parents should be talking about this with their children as well, not leaving it solely to the schools or to the churches.

    • I couldn’t agree more with this entire awesome comment. Thanks, Kat!

      When you mentioned that your class addressed, “why people liked sex,” my jaw dropped. That should be the standard, but I feel like it’s almost never addressed. As you said, this should be so simple – tell people the good and the bad, objectively, and prepare them to avoid the bad. Then let them make their own decisions, given all the resources you can push on them – they are young adults, after all.

  10. My dad was in the Air Force and when I was entering adolescence, we were transferred from California to the most religious state in the union — Mississippi, where I was pressured encouraged to take both jr. high and high school. I took five years. I lived in MS until I graduated HS. Girls were not allowed to take shop, and we were not allowed to wear pants/jeans until my high school year, but we had to wear tunic tops that covered below our butt and hips.

    My home-ec teacher, who must have been 60+ years old, instilled fear in us about sex — and made us feel guilty for “tempting guys”. Slut shaming in a nutshell. She also told us that if our periods were ever dark or brownish in color, that it was a sign of cancer. Well, it’s simply blood from the lining of your womb that has been present for a day or two before being passed, but I didn’t know it at the time and that
    ‘teacher’ caused much fear in me. I begged my mother to take me to the OBGYN.

    Today, the state is still considered the most religious and has the highest teen pregnancy and the highest child poverty. Regarding sex education in Mississippi today? Check this out:

    I support universal free contraceptives and I do think sex ed should be mandatory, especially since most kids these days get their ‘sex education’ from porn. Here’s a quote from the Psychology Today series “All About Sex”:

    “In the study, both boys and girls understood that porn indulges men’s sexual fantasies, that the men in porn have only one thing on their minds, and that the women are there solely to satisfy the men’s needs-even when their own needs are ignored. Boys accepted this more or less uncritically, but girls disapproved of porn’s lack of interest in women’s sexual pleasure. Girls feared that boys wanted to do everything they saw in porn,”

    Excellent post, Jennie.

    • “Today, the state is still considered the most religious and has the highest teen pregnancy and the highest child poverty.” <– These things so often go hand-in-hand. I find it deeply disturbing that people are willing to ignore the harm they are doing to their children in the name of religion. And that a teacher can't explain how a condom works, but one can slut-shame young girls? It’s beyond twisted.

      • Indeed, and extremely disconcerting what they are doing Mississippi. From the article I posted:

        “Under HB 999, each school district is allowed to choose a curriculum from a pre-approved list selected by the State Board of Education. The law does not, however, require the Board of Education to consult with the Department of Health as it approves curricula. So non-health professionals have worked in a vacuum, approving abstinence-only programs like Choosing the Best and WAIT Training. Neither program has been deemed effective by the US Department of Health and Human Services.”


        “HB 999 also allows a school to teach that homosexuality is prohibited by a section of the state legal code titled Unnatural Intercourse, which lists “crime against nature, with mankind or beast” as a Class I felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.”

          • It’s still on the books, but I doubt it would hold up in court today, but those children don’t know that. It pisses me off to no end that they are allowed to instill fear in the brains of children with the possibility of inciting bullying and other hate crimes against homosexuals. They seem to get away with it under the umbrella of religious freedom, and yet — these are public schools we are talking about. Where is the outrage?

          • I’m feeling it! And if these schools DARE to state that they are anti-bullying, then that is utter hypocrisy. You cannot try to prevent bullying based on jocks versus nerds while essentially enabling bullies to go after young gay kids.

          • Exactly. But you rarely see this in the headlines, and we wonder why homophobia and bullying prevail, especially in a culture that highly promotes gender dichotomy and a hierarchical gender structure. Mississippi ranks at the top, as do most religious states. We have our work cut out for us.

            Again, thank you for bringing awareness about an extremely important, multi-layer subject that needs a spotlight shined on it.

  11. Common sense sex ed is more important now than ever. Why? The porn monster is rearing it’s ugly head (that’s a pun if you want it to be). Kids are curious about sex at this age, and curious kids do research on their own if they’re not getting the info. There was a study published recently that lots of young teenagers are interpreting porn more as a How To manual rather than a fun distraction (cough cough, when done in moderation, of course).

    This really isn’t so surprising when you think about it. Online instructional videos are great and everywhere. When I wanted to learn how to make my own furniture, I YouTubed (yup, that’s a verb now. suck it grammar Nazis) how to do it. Now I have a coffee table. Except, with the OVERWHELMING number of porn videos accessible for free by anyone right now, it’s sometimes hard to keep fantasy straight from reality. It’s even harder (maybe a pun?) when you’re completely inexperienced.

    Let me give you a for instance of why this is a problem. The majority of porn videos end in a facial. If you don’t know what that means, google it right now. If you’re on your work computer, google it when you get home. Ok I’ll wait … … see what I mean?

    If you’re learning about sex via porn, because no one else is explaining it to you in a satisfactory way, you’ll grow up thinking facials are the norm. Just think about the implications of that for a generation of young boys and girls.

    In short — yay comprehensive, competent sex ed.

    • 1) I love you for the puns. I found it HARD to read them without giggling.

      2) This is spot-on. Kids are smart – deviously so – when it comes to learning about the things that interest them. They will find out about sex and start experimenting with it no matter what, just like they tend to do with drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, driving fast, etc. etc. etc. It’s an age made for pushing limits and defying adults. And I completely agree with what you said – comprehensive sex ed isn’t just an opportunity to discuss pregnancy and STI prevention, but a chance to instill some healthy, realistic concepts about what sex is like, how to decide whether you’re ready, and how to respect your partner.

  12. Oh thank God I went back and re-read the pencil eraser paragraph. I thought Miss Meitzlebaum was asking you to do something entirely different with the eraser.

    My sex education? A book thrown at me by my father in 5th grade that I was told to read and ask questions if I needed to. And a horde of porn magazines that I found in a dumpster at a local college after their classes had ended when I was in the 6th grade. It’s a wonder that I’m still married.

    • OKAY I’m so glad I’m not the only one who thought that!!!!!! Hahahah I read that part about 5 times and was like “I can’t believe she wanted these girls to masturbate with pencil erasers!” Ya know…lips…ugh gross. Okay phew.

    • Ha! Miss Meitzlebaum. Rereading this, I totally get it – my husband said the same thing – but I’m gonna leave it! Because it felt almost that disturbing, even if it was only on our food-eating mouths. (There’s really no good way to distinguish the two in words, is there? The mouth we talk with? The mouth with teeth? They could all be made into double entendres!)

      My parents gave me a book too, and my mom checked in a few times. But, despite her efforts, I lied to my parents about all sorts of things back then, and sex was no exception. I did get on birth control eventually because a dermatologist said it would help clear up my skin, and I think that was my saving grace.

  13. That sounds terrible, and if I had been the parent hearing about that I would have been appalled. What is wrong with people?

    I think people should stop pretending that abstinence-only sex ed works. Maybe if people stopped making such a huge deal out of it, it wouldn’t be this “well they told me not to, so I’m going to do it all I want, without knowing safety and protecting myself.” That needs to be the primary focus, protecting themselves, rather than stopping the act itself.

    I don’t really remember much about sex ed, but we did have the “babies” thing, but in senior year of high school. We had babies that were filled with rice, and didn’t make any noise, and they had us paired up so that the ‘parents’ would switch off taking the baby home for the night or between class periods.

    As for your primary statement, I agree completely.

    • I never even told my parents – sex felt like one of those icky, off-the-table topics. And that wasn’t their fault. It was the fault of the school, for not just being vague about sex but purposefully making it terrifying. I’m so on board with your view of this – adolescents have been sexually active for ALL OF HUMAN HISTORY, no matter what social barriers were put in their way, so when are we going to catch on that informing them is the only real way to reduce unwanted consequences?

      …and a baby filled with rice is weirdly sick. It’s just… so strange! I’ve also learned that there was one electronic variety with multiple keys – each one for a different “need” – so you had to determine whether the baby was hungry, needed a diaper change, etc., and then insert the correct key to make it stop crying. It also came with a “panic button,” but you got points deducted from your grade if you used it, because the teacher got an alert.

  14. Raised in a housing project my sex ed was playing doctor with the neighborhood girls . . . tried to really have sex in second grade, but couldn’t get it in her belly button. . . .

    as dumb as that was . . . yours was dumber IMO. . . .

    • We’re all just trying to be older than we are, aren’t we? That’s why 8-year-olds try to have sex. Until we hit our mid-20s, anyway, and then most of us want to stop time…

      And yeah, mine was even dumber, because ADULTS were making those decisions!

      • I think it was more like really dumb adults.

        As a parent I had no trouble explaining sex to my kids in an open and honest way

        . . . I’m sure they experimented just like we all do, but at least they knew the basics . . .
        we never had sex ed when I was in school, but if we had to have teachers who thought like the one you had I’m glad we didn’t . . . were you in Catholic school??

        • I wasn’t! Just run-of-the-mill public school. J went to a Catholic school, and they never addressed it at all, which I agree is better! He did mention that, at school dances, the nuns used to walk around poking a ruler between kids, making them dance at least 6 inches apart, and saying to, “leave room for Jesus.” It always makes me laugh to picture Jesus boogying between two 14-year-olds.

  15. My High School’s sex education was actually not as horrific as this. I too had a baby to take care of, but I did Early Childhood Studies and anyone (boys and girls) could take the class and have to have a crying baby as an assignment. We had health classes at school and thankfully it wasn’t segregated. We talked about a variety of contraception and learned how to put condoms on banana’s. We also learned about pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. I didn’t go to a religious school but I know friends who did and they were shown footage of an abortion with the foetus being vacuumed up. I was also lucky in that my parents were very open about sex and talked with me and my brothers and sister – no holds barred. So sex was never a dirty topic.

    • I think yours sounds like a pretty ideal experience, and I’m so glad you got it. I think practicing with condoms on bananas is genius – it teaches you how to use them properly, plus it removes some of the stigma, and takes away that classic dude excuse about “it’s too uncomfortable/they don’t fit/whatever.”

      Side note: One of my friends did Peace Corps in Cameroon and spent a lot of days teaching adult men how to roll condoms onto bananas. One day she stashed a banana in her bag and forgot it was there. Days later, she pulled it out, and it has=d basically disintegrated, but the condom kept it from ruining her things! Effectiveness WIN.

  16. Gosh – mine was much better than that, and I’m a lot older than you. What you got was positively medieval! We were split up into two groups during health, and had about two weeks of classes, replete with full biological explanations. We even had a test at the end! It was a bit ponderous in tone, but it was thorough and provided complete information. My parents were relieved that they didn’t have to do it! And yes, this should be taught in school. Great post. 🙂

    • To this day, I wonder how much of it was school-approved, and how much was that particular teacher getting away with something. Either way, the school should have been monitoring the class more closely, because she messed up my views about sex for a decent amount of time. I think your experience sounds much, much better – tedious, sure, but what could be more important to study than how our own bodies work?

  17. I teach fourth/fifth graders in “liberal” California and we don’t say a word about sex ed, which is a huge disservice. Many of these kids are starting puberty and exposed to a lot of sexuality through the media. When I was a kid we got “the talk” in fourth, fifth, and sixth grades. I don’t know what changed, but leaving it up to middle/high school teachers doesn’t seem good enough in a school culture where kids are already talking to each other about sex.

    • This. You raise such a good point. Further down in the comments, my friend Samara says that she’s angry her son is being taught about sex at the age of 10, and she’s certainly a sex-positive person. I think we all have our own views on what age is “appropriate.” But I’m in your camp – if kids are talking about it (and likely getting most of it direly wrong) then it’s time to give them some accurate information. I feel like there’s a simple enough way to scale the content you share, like how by a certain age kids have an idea of fighting, then of war (vaguely), then of historical wars (specifically), and then they start reading novels about the horrible atrocities that occured. I’m not comparing sex to war (that’d be a whole other post!) but I am saying you can broach the subject in an age-appropriate way at many points throughout their education.

      • Agreed! And, it probably depends on the community of kids, but these 10 year olds are starting their periods and many come from very rough home environments where they pick up some incredibly inappropriate ideas and bring them to school to share with the other kids… The education does not have to be in-depth, it should just acknowledge their body changes and give them an accurate/brief idea of what their bodies are now capable of…

        • I’m with you. My mom used to teach third grade, and she had girls dancing on the fire pole at recess like it was a stripper pole. If little girls know those moves, they need to know how to handle their own sexuality, or at least understand how the two are related. I think a lot of people want to fix the root problem of the over-sexualization of young kids, and I’m on board with that too, but in the short term they need information.

          • Such a crazy world we live in– completely with you on the over-sexualization. The things some of my students have said to each other are outrageous. Thanks for writing this post and getting my brain thinking! 🙂

    • Trent, I think that is the right number of horrified question marks. Maybe just a few more, to be safe… And yeah, she came so close to saying “just masturbate,” which would have been a somewhat helpful message. But, instead she veered off the edge into “rub unhygienic things on your mouth so you don’t get raped” territory.

  18. Hi, darling Jennie! Great post, my sweet friend!

    Man-oh-man, did this bring back memories, honey! My Sex Ed classes included both boys and girls and it was mortifying because they went into insane detail about our bodies and what goes in them or comes out of them. One whole class was dedicated to reproduction and child bearing, while the rest focused on STDs, hygiene, birth control, and other aspects.

    At the time, we lived in Oregon and went to a highly progressive school. It’s still shocking to me how much they told us. Still, I spent most of the time watching the boys handling the tampons or maxi pads and making jokes about them. It was great when we got to the part where the teacher talked about how a boy’s testes will drop, their voice changes, and they will begin to ejaculate. Many red faces with mystified expressions were seen that day.The girls seriously got their revenge on the boys during that session. Classic!

    But, yeah, I agree with NotAPunkRocker, we need better Sex Ed classes and resources. These kids are doing it anyway. Let’s help them do it as safely and respectfully as possible.

      • Jennie-babe, I do think it was a good thing, honestly. Sex often takes place between two people, regardless of gender. I think making boys and girls deal with the “other side’s” perspective is vital to greater knowledge and understanding, despite all of the resulting snickers and embarrassment.

        The simple fact is that kids as young as eight (yes, you read that correctly) are having sex or being sexual with each other. Parents might not like to hear this, but it’s true. We live in a hugely “sexualized” culture now. With the Rihannas, Mileys, Gagas, and others of the entertainment world, media, and Internet, the fact is that kids are being exposed to sex more routinely now and are becoming sexually active at a very young age.

        The woman who commented here that she’s unhappy with her kid being taught Sex Ed at age 10 is totally entitled to her feelings about it; I get it and support her conern, but the odds are, her kid already knows alot more than she thinks, is routinely exposed to sexuality, or is already sexually active. It’s just a sad fact. 😦 Education is the answer. Honestly is the answer. Address it with your kids early or they will address it on their own. XOXO Thanks for the awesome, thought-provoking post and conversation, darling.

  19. I’m coming at this completely different as I had convictions about not engaging in pre-marital sex. (It is, in fact, possible for a teenager to resist the temptation, though very, very hard.) But, as I went to a school with no sex education and grew up with parents that gave me next to no information, I had to figure it out on my own. I luckily had people I could ask and frankly, the Internet helped. But, I wholeheartedly agree that sex education is necessary, abstinence based or otherwise. Children need to understand these things about their bodies and their emotions and the dangers as well, whether it be STDs or even if they are being raped or not. (you’d be surprised how little some people know.) I also agree that men are not being held nearly as responsible for their part in all this.

    • I think it’s admirable for someone to stick to their beliefs in the face of temptation, and I’m glad you found a path that worked for you. My thinking is (as you seem to agree) that kids should be able to choose abstinence for themselves based on conviction, not fear tactics. Doesn’t that make it infinitely more meaningful, anyway? And yes, it is heartbreaking that some people can’t even determine if they’ve been sexually abused, because they just have no idea what any of it means.

      • Fear tactics either warp the beauty of sex, making it always dirty, or make it more appealing since it is forbidden, not realizing that unprotected sex with multiple partners can be very dangerous. Kids need to know the facts.

  20. I have always thought programs jsut as these are funny, because, do I even need to write it down? first of all, you get a doll baby. But what about pregnancy? I was bedtied for 3 motnhs and wallowing in stomach acid induced pain for the remaining 6. My husband played video games and cheered that I can make it. Yes, I. These programs do not include male figures because they propagate that a child is solely the womens duty from pregnancy care, to labor to raising the child.
    When I was at the hospital, after just giving birth to Seth, I was ofcourse in wounds, cut etc, the whole encillada. The nurses and doctors gave 0 education of ANYTHING. Do you know what they did instead? They went from mother to mother, squeezed our breasts and if milk was not pouring out in tsunamis, they would give us a minus on a spreadsheet and tell us what a failure as mothers we are, all along while telling us that is our duty and that man will never ever be around. One doctor even amused herself (while msitaking the diagnosis and telling me my son is gravely ill, which turned out to be because of dirty test tubes), how my husband is going to leave me. It was emotional torture, instead of the quietest time you can spend with your newborn.
    We had 1 single class of sex ed in local hospital while in elementary school, boys and girls separate. The doctor spent 10 minutes giving us cards to read then 20 telling us how masturbation is a sin and everytime I touch my vagina, god is crying and devil is celebrating.
    No sex ed in highschool. Occasionaly, some people would send 3-4 college kids with bags full of condoms that they would give around the school and just say “use it, ya know!”

    I deeply and strongly believe that parents need to step up and provide an honest and straighforward sexual education to their children. Why? Because, a doctor or a teacher or whatever, is still a person, with hisor hers own views and attitudes. Why would you let anyone else educate your child on sexuality and sexual safety and facts?
    Be honest with your children, tell them how things are, without any bias. Because they watch TV and see the commercials you drool on and stick on every corner of naked women, naked man, naked children with make up competing in ridicolous “sports” and your kids are growing and they want sex.
    Banning sex and threatening will make them either rebelious or insecure.Its never too early to start the education. I know what is sex, penis, vagina, sperm and everything since I am 4 years old. The honesty of my parents helped me a lot to mature as a person and approach sex with a healthy, developed attitude and make my own decisions and be fully aware. It is never too early, because, wether we like it or not, sex is everywhere.

    If you dont talk about it, the bad people (who are always most loud and present) will.

    • This is a brilliant comment, Oloriel – so heartfelt and so wise. I also agree that ideally, parents will educate their children well, and show them that they are an open, nonjudgmental resource if they have questions, or want birth control, or have a bad experience. Unfortunately, I know that many parents are bad people, just as many teachers and doctors are, which is why I think a reasonable, comprehensive sex ed class in schools should also be mandatory. Hopefully, between the two, every kid can have a chance to learn some useful information.

      What happened to you in school makes me sad, but what happened in the hospital makes me RAGE. How dare they?! How could they?! What did your husband say about all of that?

      In the end, I think this sentence of yours is the most powerful of all: “If you don’t talk about it, the bad people (who are always most loud and present) will.”

      • Husbands are not even allowed in, at delivery nor after AND they can only see the baby once through a windowpane for 1 minute, during the mother and child hospital stay.
        The only person that can recieve any sort of visitation is the person that rents the hospital “suite” – which is a single room with its own bathroom and you pay it 30 euros a day -_-
        What can I say, if you ever need info about giving birth in Serbia, you know who to call. But let me warn you its labeled horror story1
        The reason I wrote the breast and milk part is so people can read and see how doctors can be, and how little they care of the moment and situation they ar ein to slap you and insult you with their beliefs. It turns lives around and harms both the mother and the baby, the women cried, sobbed and were desperate – and because of this their children wouldn’t suck :/

  21. Could the plastic babies have the opposite effect and actually make little girls WANT a real baby? Could it set their maternal instincts on boil? That’d be awful.

    Let’s be realistic. Only girls had to understand the consequences of a baby crying at all hours of the night because, at that age, THEY were the ones who were going to deal with it. Is that fair? Nope. But that’s the way the world is run.

    Do you know what they call people who use the rhythm method for birth control? Parents.

    When I was in 6th grade, my father took me to a “father/son” night at the school where we watch a film about sex. After, while walking back to the car, he said, “If you have any questions, ask your mother.” My hero.

    • I think sometimes they do. Rarely, but sometimes. Someone close to me is pregnant now (she has always wanted to be a mother more than anything else) and she said she’s been ready for babies since high school.

      When it comes to teenage parents, I don’t know what I think is worse: a single young mother without any help from the father, or a forced union between two people who are way too young to know if they’ll be good for each other long-term. These no-win decisions are why I think birth control, pregnancy prevention and – yes – abortion need to be widely available.

      J has a story much like yours – his dad handed him some condoms and asked, “Do you know what these are for?” J said yes, his dad said good, and that was that. It really is simpler for boys.

  22. Jennie, love, I have a couple of thoughts-
    1. While this was completely obscene and bizarre on so many levels, I’m distressed that they are now teaching sex education to my 10 year old. I hate to sound prudish (which I’m so NOT) but that’s just too young.

    2. I WISH more parents, at least mothers, would be open with their daughters about sex and birth control. It’s profoundly upsetting to me that so many high schoolers are having sex anyway, but fear asking their mothers for advice/trips to the gyno for birth control. I’m sure it’s difficult to think of your child as a sexual being – and remind me of this when my boy is a teen – but if they ARE, they should be SAFE. This component, I feel, has to come from the family.

    • I know you’re not a prude. I referred to you up-thread as “sex-positive!” I think ideally, the timing of this would always be up to parents, but there are some shitty parents out there. I would rather have kids get a thorough education at school than not get one at all in their home. I’m curious – what sorts of things are they telling him? How detailed are the classes? I do think there’s a space to talk about sex with 10-year-olds, but with limited specifics.

      And yes, it is ALWAYS best when kids feel safe going to their parents for information, help, reassurance, whatever! But on the other hand, there are many places where a sexually active teen can’t get birth control without parental consent, and sometimes parents are self-righteous assholes who’d rather see their kid become a young parent than support them in that way. And that? That is an enormous problem.

      • He’s learning about sperm, and eggs, and fertilization, and something he called “intercourses” and I just put my fingers in my ears and went,
        “LA LA LA LA LA LA”

        And he also has already learned about pot and drugs and joints and wine and beer and alcohol…

        It’s all a bit early. But I suppose the schools feel it’s warranted in this area. I’m terrified.

  23. I think my school had a great sex ed program- we did all (they didn’t separate girls and guys) have to watch a woman push a baby out, but that only left us wondering why she didn’t get a wax before the film. We all learned how to find a tumor in both a a penis and a breast, and we learned the proper way to put in a condom. The scaring us straight part happened when we saw pictures of STDs, they really showed us disease ridden private parts. We learned how they’re transferred and the importance of getting tested and making sure your partner is tested. I think every sex ed program should tell students how to be safe. None of us were in a hurry to have sex after that class, but later in life I felt a lot more prepared because I knew how to be safe.

    • I think that’s brilliant! A healthy respect of sex is different than an uninformed fear. STIs are real, and I don’t see any problem in telling kids about them as long as you also tell them about prevention. If it means some kids stay virgins longer, that’s fine. They probably weren’t ready for other, more personal reasons as well. I’m so glad you had a good/useful experience.

  24. I never had a sex ed class (all my skills are natural! 😉 ), though the girls in my school had one.
    I’m all for comprehensive sex-ed, maybe along with a civility class or something so that girls don’t have to be quite so worried about being raped.

  25. My mom gave me a book called, “Susie’s Babies,” which was about hamsters procreating. I was ten. It was an okay book, but it was years later (after I had a child of my own) that I learned that it had been my sex education.

    Fast forward to tenth grade. We got to watch a movie, too, but ours had a more positive message: it was Emergency Childbirth. Boys and girls saw it in separate rooms. But the boys did not fare as well as the girls. A few boys passed out.

  26. Holy moly, rubbing a pencil on your lips?! My school taught abstinence based sex ed that was such a joke (though admittedly not as much as yours) that the highschool ended up having a daycare. And not for the teachers’ kids. The fact is, kids are going to have sex, end of story. Lets give them the tools to be safe about it! And requiring parental consent is just stupid. I’m quite confident more than one of those babies in daycare was there because his parents were too scared to talk to their parents.

    • I have never heard of a daycare in a high school. I’m impressed though – I mean, obviously outraged at the willful ignorance surrounding the failure of abstinence-only sex ed- but impressed that at least the school provided young mothers with a way to stay in school without worrying about child care. Still – there’s a MUCH simpler way to stop that problem before it starts! Can I ask where your high school was?

      • I agree, it’s a little ass backwards but at least they’re helping in a way. The oh-so brilliant school was Lincoln High in (wait for it…) Lincoln, NE!

  27. Holy shit. How is that sex ed?

    My sex ed consisted of us learning all of the parts and what they did and how conception occurred. We were also taught about many forms of birth control and even told that the local health department would provide condoms if we went and asked. And this was back in 1993.

    • It isn’t. At all. Yours sounds great. And that’s the thing – it should be so simple! I can’t think of any other program that can so cheaply confer such huge public health benefits and STILL ISN’T BEING ENACTED because some adults are terrified of children becoming sexual beings.

  28. I had smatterings of sex education from various sources. A girl at school told me what sex was in the fifth grade when I saw the word “rape’ spray painted on a scoreboard. Then my mother who was pregnant at the time tried to tell me about sex after it was learned that there was talk of sex in the neighborhood. ( Gayle H’s boyfriend had gifted her with a playboy magazine.) That conversation with my my mother was very embarrassing.The visual of my parents… you know….did not make me interested in sex at least. In sixth grade the girls saw a movie about reproduction while the boys saw one elsewhere, In the ninth grade in gym the girls saw a movie followed by a lecture from a nurse. I had not yet started my period but I left convinced I had “V.D.”, and that I could never have any children bc I didn’t want an epidural.In 10th or eleventh grade we had “mini classes” during study hall. I signed up for one on sex, taught by a man to a co ed audience, as I recall. He told us that orgasms were a let down. I think I would have benefitted from something more comprehensive and open. I don’t think my parents would have been “up” for that, sorry about the pun. So I would have had to get the info from school. Sorry about the long reply.

    • Most importantly: never apologize for puns. They are my favorite!

      And now back to our featured story… I think yours is one more experience that makes a case for truly comprehensive sex ed in schools, with a curriculum planned by an expert. (It’s amazing how quickly misinformation can get passed on when the teaching style or content hasn’t been specified and vetted.) My other takeaway is my complete lack of surprise that a man might call orgasms “a let down.”

  29. Holy crap, your sex ed experience sounds terrifying!

    By some small miracle, in my high school Health class (which was coed) we were told the correct anatomical names for all of the parts in both the male and female reproductive system, and were further told exactly how an egg is able to be fertilized – even if a boy tries to use the “stick and pull” method. Indeed, we discussed all of the potential forms of “birth control” (including aforementioned method), and learned that only abstinence is 100% effective – but that condoms, when used CORRECTLY, have a 97% protection factor.

    We did watch a video of a live birth – but it was of a “normal” (read: non-hysterical) woman giving birth to an average size baby. She certainly moaned, and we all got the point that it certainly hurt, but it was presented as the real deal that labor and childbirth is.

    The best part of all of this? It occurred in a small town in Indiana, in 1990. My community was pretty damn cool.

    • Go, Indiana! You’re doing it right!

      That all sounds excellent, and I have nothing to add. Thanks for sharing your positive story! And I’m guessing it didn’t scar you for life, or cause you to immediately run out and begin sleeping with multiple partners? (Note the heavy sarcasm.)

      • Sarcasm noted. 🙂 No, I did not suffer any long-term emotional or psychological damage. In fact, I felt BETTER knowing the reality of things. (Granted, by that time I knew the logistics of how babies were made – but the fact that AIDS could be transmitted through oral sex, for example, *was* new knowledge. [Again, keep in mind this was the early 1990s.] And that new knowledge (along with the knowledge of how to have sex safely, even if it was “just” oral) was really quite important.

  30. If you ask me, that kind of sex ed lesson would propel people into having sex just to recover from the sheer ugliness of it! Crazy crazy… I think I must have moved schools to many times, because I seem to have missed out on sex ed at school. With the exception of one slightly uncomfortable anatomy class. My mother did try to read some boring book to me once, after finding out I had been taking books from the library to read. It was hideous – I didn’t get why we both had to endure the discomfort of a read aloud session, when I was totally capable of reading for myself! I don’t know, it takes a certain skill, I think. If teachers could teach it properly (ergo, without the use of pencils and horror movies), I’d leave it to them.

    • After reading this, my mom said, “Jennie! You made your hometown look like some hick backwater place!” And I said, “Like a magical sitar, I only speak the truth!” (Or, if you aren’t as obsessed with Moulin Rouge as I am: “Mom, I just told it like it was.”)

      P.S. In my college’s bookstore, I discovered a HUGE (over 1,000 pages) guide to sex. I can’t remember the name, but the cover had an illustration of two people kissing, and it was brilliant. There were drawings depicting the manymanymany different forms genitalia can take, tips for pleasing a partner, plainly put facts about STIs, a sort of psychology section on knowing when you’re ready to try different things… I have to remember what it was called, and buy a copy for my someday kids. But I promise I WILL NOT read it aloud to them. 😉

  31. I remember those dolls for home ec! I never took it. I was horrified of the dolls.

    I’m still sort of amazed how “responsibly” my parents handled sex ed. They gave me a book and let me read it. Then I had question and answer time. I remember not really understanding until one of my questions prompted my dad to make that hand sign for sex. You know, the one where you make a circle with one hand, and then put your finger in the circle. Dick in vajayjay. Universal sign. Then I was like, ooooohhhh.

    Also, it was before my parents were divorced, which seems young to me but maybe not. I would’ve be 9 or 10. Probably cuz I was dry humping the neighbor boy already. *snort*

    AND, off the subject, but I KNOW I was following you…then I come here tonight and it says I’m not! WTF? I’ve missed like 3 posts!

    • Your parents sound awesome. Especially because of your dad’s “sign language.”

      And what the hell, WordPress? It sometimes drops me off of people’s blogs, too. I guess we are too awesome. We overload their system.

  32. My Father was pretty cool. One night as I was having supper with my ‘family’, my step sister said, “You know Daddy” (Yes, I am a Texan), “Daddy, I am growing up now (she was fourteen at the time–this was in the Seventies mind you) and I think it would be a good idea if I had The Pill.”
    My father (who was a physician) paused for a moment then said, “Yes. I agree.”
    Few weeks later my step-mother found a condom in my bluejeans’ pocket while doing the laundry, and (I was told by my step-sis), related this to my father. His response. “Well at least he has good sense.” (I was thirteen and had recently ‘lost’ my virginity after having read the book,
    ‘Everything you always wanted to know about sex, but were afraid to ask.”

    Ahhhh! The Seventies!
    Great time to be a teenager growing up in a small Texas town.

    • I approve. Meanwhile, my mom got shamed by her doctor at age 20 for asking to be on the pill. She wasn’t married, so the woman wouldn’t write her a prescription! Hooray for your dad.

      • As much as we fought, I did respect my father. In fact, I just posted a post about him. Perhaps you may want to read it. The ink is still wet.

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