I grew up in the 80’s, and was in high school from 89-93. I think that’s important framework for my experience. Also, Mom? Quit reading here. You can pick up at the next part. We knew then that sex ed wasn’t great. In fact, I don’t remember much sex ed at all except, “Don’t do it,” and my mother’s overbearing, “If I find out you do it in high school, you’re grounded until you graduate.” She was afraid of her kids getting trapped in a small town and in a bad forced early marriage, because that’s what happened in those days. We lived over an hour from the closest community college, and odds weren’t great for young parents, so I knew her concerns were valid. Growing up in a small town, also, she didn’t want us to get reputations that would follow us forever, especially if we decided to live near that area forever. Still, we could have all benefited from better sex ed. Plenty of girls got trapped and pregnant. I know sex ed was truly lacking in our small town, because the first time I let my boyfriend go to third base junior year it was an awful, painful experience, and neither of us knew what he did wrong. We didn’t ever try again.
Looking back, neither one of us knew what was happening with my anatomy or how to navigate it, and we were well past the age where most people knew the basics. Most of the girls in my class were having sex, but they seemed to do it because they wanted to make their boyfriends happy. Most of them talked about how it was usually painful and how they were terrified of getting pregnant, but none of them had a parent or a sibling old enough to be comfortable giving them real, useful information. There were a couple of girls we knew were having sex (it was a small school) who didn’t talk about, but as I look back on it, they were the ones with much older siblings or a free spirited parent (or a boyfriend who had the same) who probably gave them the right advice, so they weren’t complaining. That’s just the way it was back then. We didn’t even have the internet to turn to, and the librarians at school and at the public library knew your parents or grandparents. My mom WAS a librarian, so I wasn’t going to check out books about how to have hand sex, that’s for sure. I got the bulk of my sexual education from TV and my mom’s romance novels at home. All of those factors made me decide that I wasn’t going to “do it” until I was older. Two of my best friends made the same vow, and we all graduated as virgins.
Looking back, I know that I sabotaged a lot of my relationships as a way to avoid getting dumped when guys found out I wouldn’t put out, which I think screwed with my ability to form healthy relationships and develop real intimacy. It did actually prevent me from getting asked out in the first place, which I guess was good. When I finally did have sex, it was underwhelming, but OK. I couldn’t see what the fuss was about. Then I went into my first bipolar manic phase, and decided I wanted to find out. Of course, I didn’t know I was bipolar at the time, so things didn’t go well. I still didn’t know what I was doing, physically, but I met a guy who did. He, however, wasn’t a good guy, but I liked the feeling so we had a toxic relationship for a while. Fun!
Most of my adult relationships
That relationship ended badly, as it was destined to. I ran into a more toxic relationship, because I was crazy at the time, didn’t know what was happening in my head or with my body, hadn’t ever had a healthy or potentially healthy relationship that I didn’t sabotage, so I didn’t think I deserved better. That man became my son’s father, who became progressively more abusive. I divorced him before my son was two. The reason I gave is that I didn’t want my son growing up to think that it was OK to treat women that way. The sad things is that, at the time, I didn’t love myself enough to realize that I was a woman who shouldn’t have been treated that way. I’ve always had a lot confidence in my abilities at school and work, but that’s different than deep self love that won’t allow you to stand for being taken advantage of in any way, or to be physically and emotionally abused.
At this point, I was a mother. I’d gotten pregnant (in a very unplanned way, might I add) and I still didn’t know my body. I didn’t learn until a very liberal, feminist, sexually educated friend found out just how repressed I was and bought me drinks until I agreed to go buy a vibrator, that very night. She was sure I’d back out if left until the next day, and she was right. Catholic guilt and repression are serious beasts. Finally, at 25 years old, I got it. How ridiculous is that? I also wondered why we didn’t give these out to our teenage girls, because honestly, they’ll get the job done better than any groping teenage boy could ever dream of. Still, I can see how that would create intimacy issues like the ones I have, or maybe completely different ones. Having Bob, my battery operated boyfriend, helped me toss away men that weren’t right for me and men that didn’t deserve me until I found my current husband.
Click the picture to buy this pillow if you want to.
Seeing the featured image as an instagram post from Dr. Laurie Mintz made me realize why so many people have unplanned pregnancies, get STDs, are repressed, and are just bad at sex. Schools lie to kids in sexual education just as freely as they lie to us in history books about the great, completely non-problematic, non-murdery, non-racist, non-genocide-y, history of our nation that included happy slaves who were super grateful to be sold to American white people and happy to have work and a shack to live in, Native Americans who were excited to give up their culture and be pushed onto reservations after lots of them somehow died all at the same time.
Maybe we should have burned our history books and instead of taking Sex Ed, just learned this song in a required choir performance. I’m sure it would have gone over well in a town that petitioned to have MTV taken off of cable and succeeded.
Part 2 will discuss some of the history and politics of sexual education and repression.