If the public school system did me any disservice, it was a lack of sexual health education. I started getting “family life education” — a program I didn’t fully appreciate the title of until just now — in fourth grade. We learned about the vagina and the penis, the fallopian tubes and the urethra. I learned what a menstrual cycle was. Everything about it was about as — or probably less — real to me than Harry Potter, which I read every night. It seemed much more likely that I was going to get an invitation to Hogwarts than that those pictures on the board were actually a part of my own body. I learned that babies were made by a sperm meeting an egg. I raised my hand. “How did the sperm get there?” I asked. The teacher couldn’t tell me. That topic wasn’t covered until middle school.
In high school, sexual education was delivered by a stout, slightly overweight woman with huge hair. What I remember from those days is very limited. I do remember that she seemed to love shouting “Penis!” and “Vagina!” and watching us jump. She showed us dozens of pictures of what STIs look like, and we watched the trauma of live birth. I left that class thinking that if I had sex, chances were almost 100 percent that I would get pregnant; birth control just didn’t seem effective. You had to take the pill at the same time every. Single. Day. God help you if you took it at 9 a.m. one day and 9:30 the next; a baby was definitely in your future. Pulling out isn’t always effective, because pre-ejaculate is swimming with those pesky little sperm. And didn’t you know you can even get pregnant during dry-humping? No penetration necessary!
Needless to say, I was terrified of getting pregnant. Note: It did not stop me from hooking up with my boyfriend at the time. It didn’t even really make me any safer when it came to sex. I had never seen a condom — they couldn’t be brought to the class — and had no idea how to put it on. I just did what I — and my teenage hormones — wanted and paid for it after in fear and doubt. Because what if semen left his body and got on his boxers, which got on my underwear and into my nether regions? It seemed perfectly logical to me that the sperm could swim through all that material up to my eggs of gold where I would, without a doubt, get pregnant. Probably with twins and with a bad case of the clap, to boot.
To this day, I have gone to many seminars, read many scientific papers, and objectively know that the chances that I am going to get pregnant are not in my favor. And yet, I still insist that my partner and I use condoms, every time, even though I’m on the pill. I have taken multiple unnecessary pregnancy tests because I stressed my period into being late. My sex education in school did not properly educate me on the strain of sex on the relationship or how to talk to your partner about hard topics like getting tested. I didn’t know that female condoms were an option or that lube can help with potential discomfort in both vaginal and anal sex. I had never heard of a dental dam, because oral sex didn’t exist in the program I was taught; I guess they didn’t want to give us any ideas.
I think it’s so important — whether you are having sex or thinking about it — to educate yourself. It is your body. You get to decide how to use it, and you should know what the potential consequences are. There are resources both on campus and online. H.O.P.E. has a sexual health branch and resources in the Fishbowl. This is one of those (rare) instances where you can’t believe everything you read on the internet; Yahoo! answers might help you with your physics homework, but it can’t be trusted to tell you how likely it is that you or your partner could get pregnant. Plannedparenthood.org and beforeplay.org are both really excellent resources that have information about the statistical and health sides of things, but also present ideas for conversation starters about the relationship side, like the importance of using birth control and getting tested. Sex can come with some big responsibilities, but it does not have to be something that’s completely frightening or dangerous, if you are emotionally ready for it and sufficiently educated. I wish that I had learned that in school.
Tyna H. is a Behind Closed Doors columnist and she has since learned how the sperm gets to the egg.