I went to a Christian girls’ school. Now, not to say that all Christian girls’ schools are run like this, but I’m sure you can guess what the sex ed was like. No sex before marriage for you, girls! (Because you’re getting married, and to men, don’t you know.) You are like a piece of sticky tape: every time you stick yourself to someone, you get more bits of dirt on you until you find you can’t stick to the person you want to spend the rest of your life with! Look at these gross pictures of gross sex diseases, eww!
Suffice it to say, we were taught about uteri and fallopian tubes, but not about what this mysterious clitoris was. We weren’t taught about masturbation, or any sort of non-PIV sex, and we only got a hushed ‘and use a condom!’ at the end of the course. We were too embarrassed to look at each other, let alone discuss our fears or excitement or the gaps in our knowledge.
When we were in Year 11, we had a personal development day together with a boys’ school and another girls’ school. We all trooped into the boys’ school and prepared for a day of speeches, much like those we’d been given through school. But part way through, we got a rather unusual speaker who I’d encountered once before, have met once since and have never, ever forgotten. I’ll call her Mary. Mary was a very loud, enthusiastic woman: enthusiastic about teaching us, enthusiastic about being a Christian, enthusiastic about sex. Her manner was pretty full on, going from joyful shouting to (somewhat) hushed prayers. On this particular day, one of these prayers contained, ‘and I thank the Lord for my clitoris!’ Not a Christian myself, I wasn’t in head bowing mode at the time, so I had the opportunity to look around the hall – once I got over the shock that someone actually said that word out loud, that is. Half of my classmates were tensely frozen – particularly the ones sitting near boys – and half of them were whispering to their neighbours. Even though I couldn’t hear any of them, I knew exactly what they were saying. ‘What’s a clitoris?’
Looking back, I shift between describing this moment as hilarious and horrifying. From ‘I thank the Lord for my clitoris’ on through the rest of high school, I made it very clear to my classmates that they could come to me for any information or resource recommendations they might want and I wouldn’t shame them.
What’s a clitoris? It’s a question I’ve had to answer many times since that day, but every time it makes me very sad that I’m the one answering it. It should have been told these young people by their parents and their teachers, not that oddball feminist they know. It should have been taught along with all the other information they were given, through education formal and informal, about their bodies, and relating to people, and information about how the world works. Because whether they’re waiting for marriage or not wanting to have sex ever or already starting out on their sexual lives, young people have the right to information that will allow healthy, informed decisions about their own selves. And it’s terribly sad that young people are so often left to glean this information as best they can.
I think about this kind of sex education and how damaging it can be, causing anxiety and shame where there shouldn’t be, for a start. What kind of educator wouldn’t want their charges to have proper information so they can make up their own minds and run their own lives well? Mine, apparently.
Recommended related reading: Recently I rather enjoyed Que(e)rying Sex Ed by WildlyParenthetical, who teaches a university gender and sexuality course.