WE NEED SEX ED
On the first day of my sex ed class in sophomore year, everyone went around the room and spoke about their sex ed experiences growing up. One girl recalled her teacher handing out drawings where you labeled the body parts and how quickly her teacher wanted it to be over and done with. Another classmate spoke of putting condoms on bananas and cucumbers, which was followed by sword fights between the girls and boys. When my turn came around, I suddenly realized I only had sex ed once, in the fifth grade.
Girls and boys were separated into two different classrooms, and they put on a video about the changes our bodies were going through. A cartoon figure of a little white girl was shown undressed, hair sprouting from her underarms and her mons pubis (a word I only associate now with the series Big Mouth, and Little Missy Greenwald’s seven minutes in heaven). I vividly remember the school nurse forming her hands into a triangle and placing it on her crotch as if we could somehow forget where it was. As the cartoon girl’s body grew, so did her breast and at one point, her stomach. My girlfriends and I pointed and laughed at the screen, embarrassed to say we were actually interested in what was going on. The conversation swiftly turned into one about abstinence, and to avoid pregnancy at all costs. Moral of the story: you grow up, you grow breasts, and you should, above everything, close our legs. Once the videos were over, they sent us back to our classes and we carried on with our day, never to speak of again. I didn’t dare ask the questions I really wanted to say. Why is Brandon G. always trying to feel me up? What does it mean to be attracted to the same sex? Why does having any type of desire feel so damn scary?
Growing up in Columbia, South Carolina, I had the type of teachers who didn’t respond unless you said “ma’am” at the end of your question. They instilled in us that we should always be lady-like, to not wear our hair wild or skirts that showed our behind. Because of this, my friends and I didn’t talk about unlady-like things. We pretended to be disgusted by anything sexual. I remember the looks one of my girlfriends got when she said she already had her period. They grilled her at the lunch table, asking questions like “Does it hurt?” and “Do you have to wear a diaper?” One of the girls whispered in my ear, “She must’ve had sex.” I nodded my head in agreement. Kids are really stupid.
At age eleven, I may not have known what sex looked like, but I was well aware of the idea of sex. I’m a lot of things, and the first is nosy. I’d sit outside with the older boys on my block and watch them play handball. They bragged about girls they’d been with or tease each other about the lack of girls they got. It wasn’t until one night I fell asleep with the TV on that I finally saw the picture the boys were trying to paint. It must've been two or three in the morning when I woke up to hear soft whimpers and moaning. My eyes were barely open when I caught tangled, naked bodies on the screen. It was one of those late-night Cinemax movies, and my little-self should’ve been asleep. I quickly cut it off, scared my mother would hear. But as I laid in bed, those tangled bodies were all I could think of, how watching them made me feel. It terrified me that I could ever enjoy something like that.
They never talked about pleasure in sex ed, what it meant to want to feel good. Thankfully in middle school, I discovered my own hands. I can’t exactly remember the first time it happened, but I know it was a wrap after that. My chest thumped each time, equally horrified and exhilarated during those moments under my covers. Yet, every time I crawled out from underneath, I wanted to shed that guilty feeling off of me, to erase everything that just occurred out of my head. Even till this day, there are moments of shame I feel after watching porn. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever stop being afraid of my own desires.
Above all, the most essential thing I wish sex ed would’ve prepared me for was what happens when others start to desire you, and how that desire can manifest in unhealthy ways. Back in school, I used to pride myself on how much attention I received from boys. Yes, I was a naive little girl and a bit boy-crazy, but who wasn’t. Still, even though I had my hands all over my own body, I was too scared of anybody else touching me. In middle school, the boyfriends I had tried hard to keep their hands on me, but I always slithered away or made excuses. Their tactics annoyed me, always wanting to put their arm around my neck too tightly or hold hands with their sweaty ass palms.
But that all changed in high school. The boys were taller, had nice cars and smiles, and I wanted them to be nice to me. One boy in particular caught my attention, and I made it my mission to make him mine. So, some days I went to his lunch table with the older kids and talked to the ones I knew, giving him glances so he remembered by face. Then, I hung out in the parking lot and told him how fancy his car was. It was an ugly Nissan Maxima, it wasn’t all that by a long shot. Eventually one day as I walked passed his car on the way home, he asked if I wanted a ride. Y'all know I jumped in that car, practically leaped. We started dating the next week.
I remember how upset he got when I didn’t let him touch me. He always tried to put his hand up my thigh or under my shirt, and I’d brush him off. He swiftly moved away from me. That's how the need to please him started. One summer night at a friends place, we made out in a spare room. He wanted to do more. I remember not having the words to say no, simply shaking my head from side to side and looking away. He immediately sat up. I wish stood my ground, told him I’ll let him know when I’m ready, but that didn’t happen. I caved, and my first time having sex was awful. It hurt like hell. The only thing anybody knows about intercourse is what they see in porn, clueless to the mechanics and craving the illusion. I laid there and waited for it to be over.
I cannot be sure if anything would’ve happened differently, but that doesn’t stop me from wishing sex ed taught me how to use my voice. I wanted an actual sexual education, one that spoke less about consequences and more about what it means to be bare in front of somebody, that we should feel confident when its time and vocal when its not. It’s funny how in a sex ed class, no one ever talks about sex. Maybe if we actually cared enough about sexual health in our schools, we should start there.