This is a catch up post for the Erotic Journal Challenge. Meme overload and a busy social life has meant I’ve missed a few posts. Sex education is as important as any other topic of education, but it is also vast and complex. What’s more it isn’t something that can just be learnt at school and it isn’t something that you learn once and then move on. Sex education is part of life long learning.
When I was a child
I don’t think my parents really ever spoke to me about sex in any constructive way. It was something that was for adults and they didn’t really talk to us about it. I think it was assumed we’d learn it at school.
Sex education in school was mainly instructional. The physical aspects of how vaginal penetration happens and how a woman gets pregnant, for example. We did learn about menstruation and periods, but the boys were excluded from that one. I don’t think there was much about relationships, and certainly nothing about gender or sexual preference. It was assumed we were all heterosexual. We did cover other topics as part of the same syllabus for example drug taking, particularly heroin. That felt so removed from my own life though we saw an interesting film that has stuck with me.
I really knew very little about my own body when I went off to train to be a nurse at 18. While we didn’t receive sex education as part of our course, we did learn about anatomy. Probably the most useful thing I learnt, which helped me understand the female body was catheterisation. This is a very intimate procedure and one that can be very embarrassing for the recipient. As a nurse you really do have to examine the woman’s vulval area to ensure the catheter goes into the bladder and not the vagina. The urethra has a very small opening, so it is easily missed.
I also had the ‘pleasure’ of having to hold a few men’s penises so they could pee. It wasn’t until I was qualified that I catheterised a man.
While there is nothing sexual about this work, it did prove to be invaluable in understanding more about the human body. After all I was still a virgin at the time. Although I had a boyfriend we didn’t have sex until I was at least 18 and had left home, though we did everything but penetrate.
There was also a requirement to talk to people about their own sex lives and this was challenging. Both in terms of my own lack of experience, but also embarrassment on both sides. Sex really wasn’t discussed much in the early 1980s.
I think that HIV and AIDS changed things beyond recognition. I was working in a London teaching hospital and began to care for people who we later discovered had AIDS. This required new procedures around infection control, but also new conversations about safe sex. Nurse and sex education of children and the public changed, slowly, but change it did.
Unlike my own experience I talked to my son about sex and relationships a lot. From a young age he had a book called: The Body Book. It was functional, but it did enable us to have conversations about other elements of sex education.
This approach meant he had a good working knowledge of the body. This slightly backfired when at age 5 he told everyone on our holiday beach that he knew how babies were made and how they came out of a mummy’s body. I wanted to jump into one of the holes he was digging in the sand and disappear.
On the way to school one morning, it was announced on the radio that David Beckham and Posh Spice were to have a baby. He turned to me and said: “but they aren’t married” Oops! I seemed to have failed to cover that aspect of relationships, but it provided the opportunity to cover that one off.
Children are inquisitive beasts and they ask a lot of questions. I tried never to be scared to answer those questions and where possible (and when we had time and the place was right) to expand on the topics. I’m not sure if his school sex education was much better than mine, though it certainly covered more topics. But at least he was able to come home and discuss what had been taught at school. That is something I never really felt I could do when I was a child.
Lifelong learning and sex education
Of course my own sex education has continued. Sex positivity isn’t something I really even considered until I was in my 40s. What’s more I have learnt more about actually having sex in the past 10 years than the previous 20. Reading and participating in our community has helped me understand more about sexual identity and preference.
Luckily my nurse education focused heavily on treating people with dignity and respect. This allowed me to muddle through the stuff I really knew little about. Things like transgender, non-binary and even being gay. I can understand why people are nervous about teaching children about sex positivity when they have had little education themselves. Talking about sex still seems to be a taboo subject, something to be frightened of rather than embracing. Change has got to come through better sex education and a realisation that you never stop needing to learn.