16 Recent grads share what kids really learn in sex ed class

Is there anything more uncomfortable than a public school sex ed class? Each of us is pretty much expected, at one point or another, to talk about the finer parts of menstruation, baby makin’ and genital sores with our peers, all while the adult in charge stutters through anatomical terminology and warns us of the dangers that come with The Sex.

Essentially, this:

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Those dangers are myriad, and if you live in one of the 25 states (that’s half, kids, just in case math was a long time ago too) that mandates sexual education focus on abstinence primarily, you may have learned that the only way to stay safe and not pregnant was to not Do the Dew, as it were.

There’s some controversy over whether or not that’s an effective way to teach kids to be baby- and STI-free, and critics on both sides bemoan the failings of our current sexual education strategies.

As parents, knowing what’s going on inside the actual classroom can be hard to suss out. Thirty-seven states currently require schools to allow parents to sit in or be otherwise involved in the sexual education curriculum, which is good, though not always really practical. Do you want to be that mom? The one sitting in the back of your kid’s class while he or she views slide after slide of genitals riddled with sores? You could be — some moms do, and their kids are even cool with it.

If your kid is a little more squeamish or a little more conversation-averse when it comes to matters of puberty and sex, you might not want to compound that by lurking in the classroom. But that presents a new problem. Rare is the up-front, properly annunciated, easy-going and detailed conversation at the end of the day where the topic is fun facts about spermicide and nipples and the conversant is your kid.

So we wanted to know, how bad — or good — sex ed in public schools nowadays is, so we asked the people who have just been through it.

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Behold! Here’s what 16 people who have attended high school in the past decade say really goes down in the “human reproduction” unit in health.

The Good

We’re going to start with the good, and you should consider it the spoonful of sugar that helps the bitter pill of crappy sex-ed go down, because what follows these few gems runs the gamut from cringe-worthy to gobsmackingly awful. But credit should go where credit is due, and some respondents had nothing but nice things to say about the sex educators they encountered:

“My experience was good overall in sex ed. We were treated as adults in the class, and I learned a lot about sex in a realistic way.”

– New Jersey male, class of 2014

“Of course every school attempts to persuade students towards abstinence; however, I felt that my sexual education classes in school were sufficiently modern and geared more towards contemporary lifestyles, and educators recognized that abstinence was not the method of choice for many students… ”

– New York female, class of 2014

“We talked about STIs and the preventative measures we can take and where we can go to be tested. We talked about various forms of birth control including the pill and abstinence, but that was not stressed that much. We also talked about sexual orientations and how sex is different between different sexual preferences. We also had the chance to ask the opposite sex any question anonymously.”

– Maryland female, class of 2012

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The incomplete

A few of our respondents expressed that they felt the education that they got was not complete. There were a few complaints about rushed information or general apathy, like these:

“I left sex ed not knowing anything about my body. I went into college scared and unprepared for sex. I wish my sex ed was realistic and covered consent.”

– Illinois female, class of 2014

“I wish they actually talked about sex instead of just periods and boners. Best thing I learned is that guys have penises. I learned [the] majority of my sex knowledge from the Internet and friends.”

– Maryland female, class of 2014

“I wish rape and sexual assault was covered in class. Mainly because I thought for the longest time in high school that rape was just some guy or girl wanted to hook up with you even though you said no. I never thought it was anything more [than that].”

– New York female, class of 2014

And there was a conspicuous absence of information regarding LGBTQ relationships and sexuality:

“[My] class taught about sex as though it is limited to heterosexual couples/partners, and I wish it was more open.”

– Maryland female, class of 2014

“From what I remember there was just very basic information on how sex works, what hole is for what, a disturbing doc on what STDs look like. Things like consent weren’t really discussed. LGBTQ matters were only very basically discussed like ‘gay people are this, lesbians are this, bisexual… ???’ and that was the unit. It was a very awkward environment to be honest.”

– Connecticut female, class of 2014

“I feel that the class should have touched upon issues regarding LGBTQ because there were definitely students in my class who were struggling with gender identity at the time, and learning about the basic sexual and reproductive health was uncomfortable for them.”

– New Jersey female, class of 2014

The inaccurate and ineffective

There were a few responses that made us sort of drop our jaws. For instance, this educator who was perpetuating old wives’ tales:

“My teacher was also really dumb and told our class women could not get pregnant while on their period, but luckily we all corrected her and told her that yes, we could get pregnant while on our period.”

– New York female, class of 2014

Or this student’s experience, which relied heavily on teledramas for information:

“I remember watching a lot of Lifetime movies at the end of the semester, such as Too Young to Be a Dad or Pregnant at 16. We always did the take-home baby assignment, I remember loving every minute of it and getting the highest score in the class. However, it wasn’t much of a deterrent.”

– New Jersey female, class of 2012

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The appalling

There is your garden-variety bad unit on sex ed, with dated information and giggling classmates, and then there are these students’ experiences, which run the gamut from learning about porn’s mysterious evil powers and homophobia to some pretty damaging views on consent:

“I remember there being some games during the eighth grade session, but that’s about it. It was mostly just some person coming in basically saying ‘sex kills people and porn makes you a rapist.'”

– Texas female, class of 2014

“We had a program come in called ‘Teen Freedom,’ and it basically told us that sex comes after a successful marriage and that marriage and love wouldn’t be real if you had sex before you were married.”

 – New York female, class of 2014

“We covered the function of the reproductive organs, STIs and to ‘not provoke rape.’ Of course there was nothing about how to practice safe sex, or even how to engage in consensual sex. We were scared into the idea of rape, pregnancy and STIs being the only outcome of sex.”

– Pennsylvania female, class of 2014

“One thing that I liked was the cost/efficacy comparison of birth control methods. However, rather than discuss consent, we were allowed to share our opinions, many of which accused women of their choices like dress and sobriety. The teacher never corrected these students.”

– Pennsylvania female, class of 2014

“I was a 16-year-old lesbian living in upstate New York and asked my health-class educator how to properly use protection while having sex with another woman. He told me there wasn’t any protection you can use with another woman and told me to just not have sex.”

– New York female, class of 2009


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