When to start sex education is an oft-debated topics for schools and parents. We debate it because, as humans, we pretend our intervention can halt the inevitable.
A few years ago, a local school revived the great debate when it instructed its third grade boys to play sperm and crawl through a series of holes to unite with a girl and make a baby.
While I certainly give the program points for its imagination…
Third grade? Are you kidding me?
Sex ed, the American way!
I grew up in the United States during the Ronald Reagan years.
I remember the weekly Legend of Zelda slot of the Super Mario Bros. Super Show being canceled so they could run footage of cranes busting apart the Berlin Wall on Friday, December 22, 1989: Day Two of the demolition, so let there be no question of my ’80s street cred.
In the two decades since, I have learned that humans will fuck regardless of the age at which they begin sex education.
In Michigan, “sex education” began at age nine. For us, sex education was a video and nothing more.
When the day came, our four fourth grade class was split up. The girls were led across the brown carpet and out through the white-brick hallway by three female teachers.
The door slammed shut.
We boys were left behind with the male teacher — you know, the lone male educator in the entire school.
A glance at the elementary education system could easily leave one with the impression that American schools are required to pack their staff with neurotic women — ones who insist the cure for the Y-chromosome is a double-dose of methylphenidate — but that’s another topic.
And so we sat confused, staring ahead at the screen that was supposed to answer all our sexual questions — oh, and to explain what the fuck sex was.
As a nine-year-old, the closest I had come to sex was seeing a Madonna video and watching the kid was on his fourth run through the fourth grade doodle penises on my homework.
Nevertheless, the lights dimmed and they rolled-in media center television that was always seatbelted to its cart.
The cathode rays crackled to life to reveal blue static.
Life: it begins and ends in piss and shit
As the blue of the dead signal gave way to images, we were greeted with a field of flowers waving in the breeze.
The scene changed to a lone bee buzzing about a flower and digging around inside it, coating its hairs with rich pollen before taking off. The voice-over spoke brief words of pollination, carpels and stamen before switching to a cartoon that, to use the vernacular of our times, was full of epic fail!
The scene began with blue, which at first made me think the VCR had failed. I soon realized that this was intentional when the bottom of the screen turned brown.
Suddenly and without warning, a female fish swam by. I could tell she was female because she had a Ms. Pac-Man bow in her scales. As she swam by, what appeared to be her asshole opened and a pile of black bubbles fell out all over the floor of the pond.
Moments later, an excited fish without a ribbon swam by and casually pissed all over these bubbles.
What happened next was terrifying. In stunning three-second-per-frame animation, the bubbles developed into baby fish, which then broke out and swam away for reasons left unexplained. The video then made a hard cut to a 30-second clip of a baby suckling at a woman’s breast.
The tape ended and the blue signal returned. The fever dream of sexual education was at an end.
Our obviously bored teacher asked the last thing you should ask a fourth grader after such a video.
If I had the vocabulary of an adult, I might have asked, “Just one. What the fuck was that?”
The lasting damage of early education
That fish video, and apparently all similar early attempts at sex education, fucked with an entire generation.
It doesn’t take a degree in psychiatry to recognize that the surging in interest in water sports and cornholing began in a post–fish-video world.
I’m willing to bet that in twenty years, Japan will again rise to the task and provide the eight-year-olds of today with the “unbirth” fetish porn they are sure to crave.
While I’m sure these new classes are far less traumatizing than the video we saw, I can’t help but wonder if they are really needed. Aside from some basic clues about the life cycle, we were left knowing nothing about sex. Condoms had to wait for the eighth grade.
While I have no evidence to back this up, it is my hunch that polls about sexual activity among elementary and middle school students fail to take into account that virtually every student lies about being a virgin to avoid being laughed at — even if they don’t know what a virgin is.
Now, to be fair, the video was not our only sexual education experience.
Four years later, we were again sent home with permission slips so we could sit in a room with the history teacher and ask any questions we had thought of during the last four years. We wrote our questions on slips of paper and dropped them into a sealed box “to avoid embarrassment.”
That turned out to be a good move given the stunning number of boys asking things like, “What is a dildo and how do I use it?” Today, such a question would probably require a discussion about safe practices in urethral sounding.
Our third and final bout of sex education came another four years later, this time as an entire semester on love and marriage taught during my senior year at a Catholic high school. For one week of this semester-long course, we were once again allowed to ask questions about sex.
One girl immediately raised her hand to pose a question.
“Is it possible for my boyfriend to pee in my vagina?”
Clearly, the fish video was not unique to my school.