Any other subject, no one would stand for teaching kids I don't know that like the Earth is flat or pi is exactly three or something like that. It's it's wild how bad my sex education was.
This is Death, Sex & Money…
I thought that there was something wrong with me.
The show from WNYC about the things we think about a lot...
Abstinence-only was the name of the game.
And need to talk about more.
We do kids an enormous disservice.
I’m Anna Sale.
Last week, we released an episode about a listener named Andrea, who has spent a lot of her adult life trying to unlearn the things she was taught about sex growing up. And she’s not the only one. A lot of you found your sex education… lacking.
My sex ed fail...
Sex ed fail...
Sex ed fails.
When we asked for your stories, you told us about things you wish you hadn’t learned…
That you had a limited number of orgasms in life.
You also told us about things you wish you had known sooner…
I had no concept that there was motion involved. I just thought it was like insert, release semen, and then you're done.
For a lot of you, your sex ed fails happened at school…
I went to a really small non-sectarian private school.
A tiny Christian school.
Catholic high school.
A progressive public school.
But parents, friends and siblings played a part too.
My version of "the talk" came from
My sister, who is 14 years older than me.
My stepmother at the time who took me to the side, handed me a bottle of Midol and a copy of The Hollywood Wives and asked me if I had any questions.
When my dad gave me my first sex talk,
It wasn't so much a talk as was a declarative statement on what I shouldn't do.
There’s definitely a place for caution when you’re learning about sex, to keep yourself physically and emotionally safe. But some of the warnings you got? They were NOT HELPFUL.
She always told us things like oh, don't kiss boys because then you're going to get pregnant.
I was suddenly terrified that I might accidentally give someone "the special hug."
And obviously at 40, I’ve figured out that’s not the way it's done.
And so, let us gather for a collective purging of our sex ed fails. Picture us all around a big bonfire tossing in the dumb things we’ve carried around with us for years and years.
We didn't learn anything other than if you engage in sex, you know, you're going to contract a disease and your parts are going to fall off.
You were ever with somebody and you're not sure if they might have an STD, like you can even use two condoms.
That of course is dead wrong.
We were taught abstinence.
I was never fully taught about -
Safe sex or consent or anything. Just don’t do it.
The teacher had all the girls in one room. She got us a Butterfinger and she gave it to the first girl and she said I want you to just rip open the top of this and pass it to the girl behind you.
This really happened.
And by the time it got to the end of the rows, we had bitten, licked, eaten after each other. And the lesson was (laughs) - ugh, I can't believe this - the lesson was that every time you have sex with someone that is not your husband, you essentially are the Butterfinger who is becoming more and more unwanted.
Yeah. No actual information and just a lot of shaming and scare tactics.
Something that I learned about sex that ended up being really dangerous for me personally -
Was learning probably from TV that rape was somebody stalking you out in the evening.
I thought that men couldn’t get sexually assaulted.
I was never taught that rape could be by a partner.
I also thought that you couldn’t have an erection without giving consent.
So we were all pretty confused.
I mean, these are things that you should learn.
I couldn't figure out for the longest time why women had sex.
'Cause you know what I don’t feel like I got taught in sex ed?
That women have sexuality.
For women's bodies, they really just talked about periods and pregnancies and STDs.
And so I think I had a lot of sexual experiences that didn't have a lot of a lot of pleasure in them.
I did not learn how to have great sex until I turned forty.
One thing that I learned that I think a lot of us learned about sex that I find incredibly damaging is the narrative of like first base, second base, third base, home.
Same sex relationships were never brought up.
I had a lot of insecurities about lesbian sex because it felt like it wasn't the real thing.
There was no guidance on what sex would consist of outside of male-female penetration.
I had an older brother, and I heard him talking about how if you have anal sex you could get bacterial infections in your penis that would cause you to lose it or to have it amputated.
So that was great.
Something like that from childhood really, really sticks with you.
I just wish I had known that -
You're just kind of in this weird genital-filled playground and you can have a lot of fun and there's not like necessarily an end goal.
Unfortunately it was a little bit too late when I learned that.
I feel kind of cheated. Like these healthy normal experiences I was having that I associated with shame and guilt, I could have avoided had I had better education about it.
And now that I'm an adult I can say it definitely, definitely was a fail.
I actually wanted to share a sex ed win. When I was in 7th grade near Seattle, Washington, I had a teacher named Mrs. Romney who was a pretty old, white, religious lady that you would expect would have had plenty of fails that I could share. But instead, I had the complete opposite experience with her. She was open and candid and sex-positive and answered our hard questions with a thoughtfulness that you don't expect from anybody even these days, certainly not 23 years ago. So Mrs. Romney wherever you are, I hope you're still alive and still speaking truth to teenagers that they desperately need and aren't necessarily getting anywhere else.
My name is Beverly Romney and I taught sex ed for fifteen years. I guess I thought everyone else probably was teaching it just like I was teaching it.
AS: (Laughs) It didn't feel like you were doing anything remarkable at the time.
BR: I didn’t. You know, I loved every single day because there was never one discipline problem. The students were so interested.
AS: (Laughs) They were rapt!
BR: They were! I really loved teaching it.
That’s Beverly Romney, enjoying her retirement after many years of sex ed wins. Thank you to all of you for sharing your stories with us.
I’m Anna Sale, and this is Death, Sex & Money from WNYC.