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The first person to talk to me about sex was my mother, a feminist lesbian. She gave me a basic rundown of anatomy and reproduction when I was 10 years old. Later, she also told me that it was fun, but better when you were in love. She introduced me to Betty Friedan, who convinced me I was not going to get scoliosis from masturbating (thanks, Judy Blume).
This was all pretty embarrassing at the time, but being that I was growing up in a small town in north Georgia, I was lucky to have my mom. My hometown had more churches than local businesses. There was a bible stenciled on the wall of our public high school. Our local school board would not let us read the sex scene in Romeo and Juliet. And when it was time for my classmates to learn about sex, the only thing they heard was, "Don't."
As freshmen, we all took a gender-segregated "health" class. There, we learned about puberty and that all drugs are addictive and bad. We were all anticipating "sex week" — our older siblings had told us we were going to spend five whole days talking about doing it. We knew sex week had arrived when we were handed permission slips for our parents to sign. These permission slips were necessary because our sex education was outsourced to a religious organization called whykNOw (get it?!).
By signing these permission slips, our parents would be helping our school skirt federal law.
On the first day, we were given an "intro to the history of human sexuality" lecture by a volunteer named Meghan*. Meghan looked like a contestant on The Voice — she wore all black, tons of shiny accessories, and more glitter eyeshadow than my peers. Meghan told us of a magical time called the fifties, a time when good people waited until marriage to have sex. Families were stronger and women were happier because they never had to experience the heartbreak of having a man hit it and quit it.
Meghan said everything was wonderful until that pesky sexual revolution popped up; she claimed that the free-love movement had brought about HPV and herpes. She told us that the subsequent women's movement was a conspiracy by men to get women to have sex before they were married. Her proof: feminists told women not to wear bras.
I was starting to think sex week was not going to be very fun for me.
The next day, we learned about slut-shaming, While portraying men as sexual deviants who would only pump and dump you, Meghan insisted we were supposed placate their desire for an unsullied maid on their wedding night. To illustrate her point, Meghan produced a piece of clear tape, instructed us to stick it to our shirts, then pass it to the next person, who would do the same. When the tape had been banged by every girl, she produced a fresh piece of tape and asked us which one we thought our husbands would want to make love to on our wedding nights. The tape was not supposed to represent a used vagina, but rather it was piece of our soul that was tarnished by bad sexual experiences.
This was the overall message of whykNOw: by saying no to sex, we would be rebelling against a society that viewed us as sex objects by becoming the exclusive sex object of one person. Meghan promised that if we were super-good, god would send us our very own patriarch who would help us figure out all this crazy sex stuff after we were married. There was no reason for us learn anything about sex, because we were not supposed to be doing it.
It's like blindfolding your children every time they get in car because they don't have their learner's permit.
We did actually spend a day discussing birth control. We learned that the pill did not work because you had to take it at the same time every day, and apparently our tiny lady brains could not handle that. After that, Meghan began discussing condoms, which she claimed were only 40% effective and did not prevent H.I.V.
This was the straw that broke the teenage feminist's back. I had sat quietly drawing a pentagram on a plastic fetus's forehead during an anti-abortion lecture disguised as an anatomy lesson, and I had only raised my hand twice during the S.T.D. slideshow: once to point out van Gogh died from suicide, not from syphilis, and to ask that if we did not want to get chlamydia in our eyeballs, could we not just wash our hands. This was some bullshit, though. I was very young when my great-uncle died from AIDS, but I still remembered him skinny, covered in carcinoma at his last Christmas.
I lost it.
I half-sputtered, half-screamed that condoms were regulated by the FDA, this was not an advertising ploy, and they actually had to prove that shit to put it on the box. Meghan gawked at me. She was a very effective propaganda machine, and the girls in my class were acting as if they were disgusted with the very idea of intercourse. I do not think she expected any defiance at that point. My gym teacher stepped in and mumbled that, according to what she had read, Meghan was right.
Later I would learn that abstinence was policy. If our school wanted the funding for abstinence-only education that my high school nemesis George W. Bush had promised them, everybody had to toe the party line. You could not even ask your guidance counselor for honest advice about your sexual health.
Throughout sex week, Meghan promised that if we stayed pure, our future sex lives with our spouses would be wonderful just because we loved each other. We would have tons of fun figuring it all out on the fly. I doubt that worked out for my classmates, some of whom became parents or got HPV before we graduated. To have good sex, you have to be able to talk about your needs with your partner. Someone who only associates sex with sin and shame is not going to do that.
Even if you do want your children to wait to have sex, there is no reason to twist something that can be so beautiful into something that makes them feel bad. If innocence is maintaining a sense of hope and wonder, then sex did not take our innocence, the adults around us stole it to further their own agenda.