By Lucy Caradog
My school waited until Year 9 to give us any form of sexual education, apparently in order to coincide with the year that the national biology syllabus taught us about reproduction, so as to give us fourteen-year-olds a comprehensive understanding of sex and relationships. I’m not saying that this wasn’t a good idea in theory, but it meant that some of us had to wait years until the rumours around sex that we heard about from some kid’s older brother in Year 3 were finally disspelled. That’s a whole six years of thinking that [insert funny sex myth here]. And even though most of us had cleared up the major misconceptions, we were still a bunch of teens who giggled at any innuendo and thought that sex was something to be ashamed of. We were in dire need of information, which we thought we would be receiving when two individuals, a man and a woman in their early- to mid-thirties (whose source were unknown to us) were brought into class.
Even though they made a number of what I would now call ‘mistakes’, bear in mind that this was a Catholic school, and a strict one at that, which may be why we didn’t notice that anything was amiss . We didn’t for a second wonder why there was no mention of birth contrl or STIs, or why any sexual act or feeling between two individuals who did not identify as a man and a woman was treated as impossible. We giggled madly when the man wrote the word MASTURBATION on the whiteboard in capital letters, and even more so when he attempted to rub it out only to find that he had accidently used indelible ink. I still to this day can not fathom why, when separating the boys and girls to tell us about “the changes our bodies would soon be going through” (FYI: I was at this point a C-cup and my cycle was so regular I could predict in advance when to get dispensed from swimming lessons), they decided that the man should be the one speaking to us girls, leaving the woman to teach the boys about erections and body hair.
The low point, however, came when they had reassembled us to discuss relationships. This was the longest section of our afternoon, and featured a hypothetical couple, both teens just like us, named Romeo and Juliet. That’s right. The Shakespearean tragedy was reappropriated to serve as an example of an average teenage relationship. Oh but wait, it gets worse.
Romeo and Juliet met at a party and started dating. It was going well until Juliet went on holiday for a week or so, a preplanned ski trip with some friends and family. There’s snow, there’s skiing, it’s basically the fun-filled holiday every middle-class fourteen-year-old dreams of, but all Juliet can think about is Romeo. She was lovesick, and therefore unable to enjoy herself in any capacity. She gave her boyfriend a call, thinking he was probably as hung up on her as she was on him. Little did Juliet know, Romeo was spending her holiday hanging out with his mates, watching the football, doing whatever ‘dudes’ do when their significant others are away. Juliet was the last thing on his mind, and when she phoned and told him that she missed him, she was surprised to find that he did not exactly reciprocate. This was when our instructors told us that Juliet was making a typical mistake: what she didn’t understand was that men’s brains “work differently” to women’s brains and that men operate on more of a “out of sight, out of mind” basis. It was thus unreasonable of Juliet to get upset. They explained that we girls would just have to accept that when it our time came to be in relationships, it was unlikely that our level of infatuation would be returned.
To say that I am angry at having experienced such appalling sex education is not quite right. Looking back on it as an adult who understands love and sex and everything inbetween, it is even slightly amusing. It was not amusing when I was sixteen and spent time pining after a boy I had already given up on because I had been told not to expect him to like me as much as I liked him. It was not amusing as I watch my friends play hard to get because, even though they were not subjected to the Story of Romeo and Juliet, they have some deeply ingrained idea as to how to capture a boy’s attention, and a subconscious idea that this is a difficult task, something they should work for. I remember being fourteen, fifteen, older maybe, and chatting with my girlfriends about our crushes on boys. We complained in a matter-of-fact way like 1950s housewives about the work we had to put in to keep our lads captivated. That this was a woman’s work. We did not expect to be on a level footing, we did not believe in an even give-and-take.
I have heard my fair share of sex ed horror stories. The ‘pouring-ink-into-a-water-glass, this-is-your-soiled-virginity’ story, for example. I don’t mean to discredit these stories; I appreciate that my experience is a different thing altogether. Maybe it is because I went to a particularly uptight Catholic school, or I had an uncommonly misogynistic instructor. All I know is that it took me a long time to get over this information and to trust men to love and respect me the way I deserve.
About the Author
Lucy Caradog is a student in English and American Literature who’s interest in gender, sexuality and feminism stems from literature on the subject. She writes essays and short stories on these topics and others that can be found in various university publications and in a Writing folder on her laptop. She hopes to one day work in publishing whilst continuing to write on the side. Lucy also enjoys illustrating, and her artwork can be found on instagram @orangetoplucy