Nonsexual Education

Not long ago, about halfway through my freshman year of high school, while I was still trying to decide who I was more in love with—the short, curly-haired boy with whom I talked about movies in math class or the vivacious, artificially blonde girl who so exuberantly ignored me in art class— a paunchy older man with a voice like a revivalist preacher and a similarly aged woman who I’ve retroactively decided looked tired and abused came into our health class to teach our two week-long Sex Ed unit, an abstinence course, or, as they termed it—with all of the moral and religious implications therein—a course on “chastity.”

Chastity, they explained, the man doing most of the talking, was like a red, felt heart. He held it up for us. When you “have intercourse” with someone—he tore it in two—you give away half of the heart. Do it again, and you’ve lost another piece. Living the wanton life, by the time you settle down and get married, how much heart do you have left to give to your partner? FUCKING TATTERS. A whole, happy felt heart, on the other hand, once married, can survive drowning (he dipped it into some solution) burning (he set it on fire), and suffocation (he dunked it again), and in the end emerge good as new (he held it up, proof).

Granted, this was at a massive, conservative-leaning public high school in suburban Ohio, and the visiting instructors were representatives of some unspecified division of Christianity who had been brought in to teach sex education, but still. For a fairly confused and emotionally tumult-stricken youngster like me, struggling with the dynamics of the Freshman Dance Assembly (into which I had been bribed by my mother) and entertaining cocksucking fantasies about my then-best friend (who has since disappeared), cloaked morality and obscure metaphor were the last things I wanted to hear. I wanted answers, but got none.

In class, we learned about the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, about how to treasure our virginity and to spot and avoid others’ attempts to steal it.  All the while, our regular health teacher, Mr. Barlow, sat blithely at his desk, visibly flinching whenever our leader pro tem said “watching pornographic videos”—which he did often, as a synonym for “masturbation,” no one was fooled—presumably thanking God that He had sent these Messengers to instruct his impressionable students in such an uncomfortable subject.

Overhead transparencies featuring a shifty-looking cartoon male, lascivious gaze concealed behind sunglasses, and a vulnerable, freckled female boasted the slogan: Don’t Get HORIZONTAL! i.e. don’t let your evil boyfriend seduce you into lying down, because from this position much rape, unwanted pregnancy and rampant genital diseases (and possibly death) are wont to ensue.

In small desk clusters, we practiced what we would say if our Other tried to convince us to get horizontal with them.

The joker to my left gave his vicarious response to the Aggressive Other: “No way. I thought you were gay anyway.” (This kid, by the way, was one of the great practitioners of the sexually-confident innuendo, who wore his gym shorts low and mooned people on the bus, and on whom I also had a minor crush, because he was small and feisty, just like I wasn’t; he still exists.)

Our male leader slapped his leg like it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard in his life. I smarted a little.

Following this activity, we divided into biological boy and girl groups and watched old slides of STDs for about a week. The extent of my official high school sex education.

At the end of the course, the end of our supposed initiation into the matter and means of sex, we were all given plastic Chastity Cards on lanyards to sign (and wear around the neck) to pledge virginity until our heterosexual wedding night, when we would finally be able to give “the ultimate wedding present.” Not signing the card would not adversely affect our grade in class, though signing it would, in all likelihood, secure our place in heaven.

I waffled at length, but eventually decided not to sign, because at that point I was unsure which gender of my classmates-cum-fantasy-sex-partners I would end up marrying, if I was even allowed to. I reasoned: safest not to make any lasting commitments. The important things, I reasoned, would gradually come about as I grew old and wise. Junior year at the latest. TC mark

image – Fabrizio Monti

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  • Hugh Guiney

    It’s abhorrent that this kind of “education” actually takes place in classrooms.

    • Gregory Jean

      @LordPancreas:disqus True story…and you would know having gone to catholic School as well….Sacred heart 4 Lyfe haha

  • Guesty

    We got the one about the tape.  Every person you stick to, you lose a little of your stickyness!  Until you can’t do anything, you worthless slutty piece of formerly useful tape

  • Tau Zaman

    I didn’t know felt could withstand flame. But I’m not sure why even the tattered pieces couldn’t also be dunked in water or set aflame if  the whole felt heart could. Great read. I particularly enjoyed “because he was small and feisty,” because I TOTALLY get why that’s attractive. =D

    • Simon

      Dipping the heart into the unidentified solution apparently made it flame-retardant, allowing it to be set on fire, which could then be put out. And the heart liveth.

      • Tau Zaman

        Ooh, clever. Boy am I not perceptive.

  • Mr Shankly

    I’m so glad I didn’t grow up in the US.

    • Me

      frankly mr. shankly, so am i

      • klaus

        I am also glad you didn’t grow up in the US. the both of yous.

      • Katie

        I want to be able to like this more times. I want to be the type of person who would think to say “Frankly, Mr. Shankly.”

    • dechon.mustard

      I grew up in the US and was taught (in public school) alllll about what happens before, during, and after sex. Don’t generalize us TOO much :)

      • Tony Jiang

        what happens after sex? 

    • STaugustine

      I grew up in the US but got the fuck out before it turned into a terrifying blob of  paranoid, retarded,  fundamentalist, obese American Idol fans

      • Kobayashi

        Seconded! I just moved out of the US earlier this year and it looks like I bailed just in time to avoid going down with the ship.

      • STaugustine

        I don’t know about you, but I’m staying the fuck out. It can only get worse…! Are you in Stockholm?

      • Guesty

        No, you didn’t.

      • STaugustine

        Ha ha… partially right!  There was no such thing as American Idol when I left.

  • Jessie

    This was such a great article! Thanks for writing it.

  • A.

    Sadly enough, this mirrors my sex ed. Only instead of the felt heart, we had the rope analogy. “You shouldn’t see how close you’ll get to the rope without going over, because eventually you’ll get pulled over when you least expect it”.

    And that’s why the majority of my classmates are either knocked up or getting married at 20. I’m still amazed I escaped.

  • A.

    Sadly enough, this mirrors my sex ed. Only instead of the felt heart, we had the rope analogy. “You shouldn’t see how close you’ll get to the rope without going over, because eventually you’ll get pulled over when you least expect it”.

    And that’s why the majority of my classmates are either knocked up or getting married at 20. I’m still amazed I escaped.

  • Michael Koh

    My Sex-Ed teacher in middle school was GORGEOUS. 

  • guest

    Separation of church & state????

    • STaugustine

      Separation of  Church and Intellect

  • coffeeandinternets

    “When you ‘have intercourse’ with someone—he tore it in two—you give away
    half of the heart. Do it again, and you’ve lost another piece.”

    Soooo my heart is a horcrux?  I’m not saying I’m some wanton harlot, but I am saying that this new information leads me to believe I am probably immortal.

    Come at me Voldemort.

    • no silly

      No not your heart, your genitals

      • coffeeandinternets

        If only we could all be romantics like you

      • oh i get it

        Whenever harry destroyed a horcrux, part of voldy’s soul (that was ripped into several pieces) died.

        Whenever the genitals penetrate (or are penetrated) part of the heart is ruined forever or something like that. Thats what i meant :-)

    • MM

      i had something like that during my Home EC class where my teacher (this is seventh grade) held up a foot of tape and said “this is your body before sex” and then put it on this guy’s forearm and rip it quickly and said “this is your body after sex” and then did it again and again and it was getting dirty and she said “if you don’t wait to have sex until marriage you are just going to be dirty and used up”

      i thought that was pretty convincing hahaha

  • izzy

    Wow my sex ed class was the polar opposite from this. In my sex ed class in 8th grade we learned how to put a condom on a synthetic penis model (that would ejaculate water.)  It was definitely more effective at scaring me away from having sex than an abstinence only program would have. 

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  • STaugustine

    Welcome to the United States of Tehran; you “harlots” will be head-scarfed and veiled by 2020, at the latest.

  • southern baptist escapee

    We basically got the Mean Girls sex education, minus the free condoms and plus a few disgusting pictures. True love waits rings were high fashion as well because the churches all made the youth sign those pledge cards. Personally i think it’s lazy :-) just tell the kids what they’re going to try to find out on their own anyways: how to properly and safely have sex.

  • NoSexCity

    I have a lot of questions about this piece. Did you parents have to sign off for you to take abstinence-only sex ed like they would have had you gotten the “real deal”? What year was this, anyway? 

    • Simon

      To my knowledge, my parents did not have to sign off on this. Every kid was obligated to take one semester of health class in high school. This was in 2006.

      • Simon

        It’s still in effect– my youngest brother took his semester last year.
        “Did they teach you about birth control?”
        “Only how it doesn’t work.”

      • NoSexCity

        My mind is just… blown by this. I wonder what the percentage of unplanned pregnancies was in your class. Or will be in your brother’s class, even.

  • Rose georgia

    so thankful i grew up in london rather than smalltown, usa. we got to put condoms on plastic penises, prompting half my class to clamour ‘the black one, miss, i want one of the black ones!’ even so, several of them still got knocked up before we hit 17.  
    of course this is a school that taught us about drugs by giving us what were effectively top trump cards, and then quizzing us on the current street value. 

    we also got to watch lots of educational shorts from the early 90s that were about how to flirt (feat. a spotty ginger boy) and what sexy feelings were. one of them featured lots of clips of giles from buffy being a babe in these really old nescafe adverts.

  • Kimi

    I didn’t realize they actually did abstinence-only sex ed in public schools, especially so recently.

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