So I have had almost zero formal sex education.
When I was ten, our teacher held the girls back at break time and solemnly informed us that we were due to start bleeding out of our vaginas any day now. If this happened while we were in school, we were to tell NO ONE but immediately locate the nearest female teacher, who would provide us with something to soak up THE SHAME OF OUR WOMB. She did not actually say that last bit, but even at ten years-old, I felt it was strongly implied. This was my first introduction to periods.
When I was fourteen, our science teacher skipped over the chapter on the reproductive system. She told us it was very unlikely to come up in our exams next year, and even if it does, you’ll have lots of questions to choose from so you can just skip it. I stared at the diagram of the penis in the book for a while. There was no diagram of the vagina, only the ovaries and uterus.
The same year, a lady from Tampax came to speak to us about periods and gave us heavily branded booklets about growing into our new bodies. At this point, I was wearing a C cup and I’d been using tampons for over two years, so it felt a bit belated. Nobody had any questions at the end of the talk.
When I was seventeen, we had forty minutes of “Health Ed” class every two weeks. There was no syllabus, but our teacher was smart and engaged. He led a lot of interesting discussions – about drinking, drugs, smoking, bullying, about stress and good study habits, depression, body image, more drugs, more bullying – but something was notably missing from the laundry list of things seventeen year-old girls typically worry about.
And that was it. I could definitely blame this on growing up in Ireland, a country so deeply steeped in Catholicism that it’s difficult to find a school where saying prayers in morning assembly is not the norm. But a friend of mine also went to an all-girls convent school, and she did have a sex ed class. Which apparently involved trying to put a condom on a banana with one hand.
I’ve started thinking about the sex education I wish I’d had. I even went as far as drafting a syllabus, because I’m obsessive like that, but I will not inflict it on the Internet because I’m not an educator and also it’s five pages long. But I will show you my wish list. Because maybe it’s just my inner Hermione Granger talking, but I do wish there’d been a class.
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