The internet makes Playboy look like a Penguin Classic
There were six of us and we were around 10 years old. We had come together for Alice’s birthday and pretty much left to our own devices.
It was Alice’s idea to go to their attic. Attics were something the Secret Seven might explore - they did not exist in the houses I frequented. So Alice had already scored points with this plan. Little did I know the experiential gold that awaited.
Safely up the ladder, we clustered around her to see the reason for our ascent. There, in several old filing boxes, was at least a decade’s worth of Playboy, carefully stored away by Alice’s taciturn father.
We stayed in that attic until our eyes were sore. Sitting in a neat ring and politely passing each publication around the circle. Eventually the odds of detection became too high and, with my heart pumping like a hummingbird’s, we descended.
In this way my unofficial sex ed commenced. The official sex ed followed a few years later. I can’t recall the exact year of the official stuff, but part of the magic of school sex ed is that whenever teachers decide to slot it in, it always seems too late - usually hilariously so for most of the audience.
Whether a school foists the job of sex ed on a sweaty-palmed form teacher, or cops out and brings in an outside expert, these classes pretty much guarantee students some good times.
My all girls’ school opted for the outside expert. When she arrived she opened by placing a packet of the pill in front of us. The little yellow dots were ensconced in a piece of perspex the size of a brick, which we obediently circulated. I imagined the perspex was to deter theft, and any consequent spontaneous and ill-informed teen fornication.
The outside expert then moved directly to her central theme, which was “the minds of men”. Her key point, which she was at pains to drive home, was that boys would “say anything” to get what they wanted.
She advised us not to be surprised if a boy were to say, for example: “That his erection was causing him pain and he needed to have sex with us to stop the pain.”
This piece of advice was actually met with a marked silence – raising the distinct possibility that some of the class had already succumbed to this very plea. In any event, we finished the lesson with a clear understanding that humanitarian grounds were not a valid reason for compromising our chastity.
My final memory of that class is of the teacher asking whether any of us knew the amount of semen in the average ejaculation. To this day, the pedagogical underpinning of her question eludes me.
In any event, this new line of enquiry was instantly undermined by the interjection: “About a mouthful”.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. Little did I suspect as I wisecracked my way through those classes that in the future I myself would be called on to give the same classes.
I was fresh out of a Dip Ed and had been allocated to Year 8 at an all boys’ school – a position made available by the fact that precious few of the experienced teachers would touch it with a stick.
The first sex ed class was to be dedicated to, in a word, genitals. Consequently, each student had two detailed anatomical drawings on his desk. After a marathon minute at the board, I surveyed the be-pimpled mini men in front of me afresh, and was blessed with the revelation: I was the goddamn expert.
I sat back on the edge of the desk, swung one leg nonchalantly over the other and began.
My only other memory from that class was the final question before the bell, which came from a boy called Justin.
Looking intently at the female diagram on his desk, he asked, “Miss, why is the clitoris so far away from the vagina?”. I have not changed Justin’s name since he doesn’t require protection.
Now, in another phase of my life, I’m sitting here wishing my seven-year-old daughter could similarly have stumbled on some Playboys in an attic toward the end of primary school.
Instead, all it took was a rogue iPad, and a 9-year-old neighbour who knew what YouTube was and could spell.
I don’t know precisely what they saw, but judging from a few of the questions I’ve fielded since, I suspect it made Playboy look like a Penguin Classic. Needless to say the iPad has been desexed but the milk is spilt.
When should official sex ed start? If you thought you could wait for them to tie their shoelaces first you may need to think again.
Whatever systems and controls are in place, kids are getting exposed to all sorts of material much earlier than adults may wish. Access is everywhere.
Do you know where your mobile is right now? My objective has changed from simply shielding them, to building some kind of scaffolding of fact, against which they can start to assess the crazy stuff they are going to find out there.
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