Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Screwed: sex education then and now


A piece on sex ed came across my screen yesterday — touching mainly on how bad we are at teaching our children about sex. This sent me on a nostalgic trip to the not-so-distant past (this is not true: it was a long time ago), when sex education came to my junior high school and plowed over us innocents like a freight train. A very phallic-looking freight train.

It’s sad that our culture hasn’t figured things out yet. We got terribly shitty sex education in the ’70s, and apparently it’s no different today.

For whatever reason, at Mehlville Junior High (St. Louis, MO), in the spring of 1970, the solemn duty of teaching these impressionables all about sex was handed over to the gym teachers. This, to me, seems a mistake, and in retrospect I wonder if Mr. Mohatchee might have given us bad information here and there, because I’ve learned the hard way over the years that sex is where babies come from. Doh!

The twenty or thirty boys in my gym class — in which I never excelled, so to Mr. Mohatchee I was a nonentity — were assembled on the school stage in rows of folding chairs. The red stage curtain had been drawn closed, and being crammed in that small space with all those boys made me feel like I was trapped in a large surreal womb. Mr. Mohatchee presided, standing beside a slide-show screen. It was going to get graphic. “Boys,” he said, “you’re about to get your minds blown.”

Of course, in sex ed back then, and presumably now, they’re obsessed with the cellular stuff, the sperms, eggs, zygotes, nuclei, &c, and that meant we were treated to slide after slide of blurry membrane penetrations and diagrams of lady parts. The lady parts looked to us like some kind of diabolical maze, which. I’m just saying.

The man parts were easy to understand, though none of the diagrams ever showed the key man part in anything but a kind of hang-dog mood. We already knew what it was capable of. We were twelve. We’d seen some things.

But then Mr. Mohatchee shifted gears. “Disease!” he said. “Syphilis! Gonorrhea! You go mad, boys. It eats the brain and turns it into Shredded Wheat. This is what premarital sex will get you, understand?” And he showed us a series of slides with moist, bloody wounds. “Chancres, boys. You want your body caked with chancres?”

Another slide followed, showing a brain eaten through like an ant farm. “Syphilitic brain,” said the caption.

Never mind that syphilis was curable by then. Penicillin. He should have been hammering into our heads that pregnancy was a million times more likely than catching a medieval disease like syphilis.

“How does the siflis get into your body?” asked one brave lad, and Mohatchee was livid.

“How do you think, you dimwit! You got a hole in the end of your wang, don’tcha?”

And it deteriorated from there.

The sad thing is, we all get our sex education eventually. From books, videos, or just on-the-job training.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could teach our tweens about the birds n’ bees without screwing them up for life?

13 comments on “Screwed: sex education then and now

  1. Karen
    May 13, 2015

    Did it screw you up for life?

    I sat through sex ed probably about twenty years after you did, but the focus was still primarily on disease (AIDS, not so much syphilis). My twelve year old just completed the second half of Human Growth and Development in the sixth grade (last year, her fifth grade class got the first half of the program). The materials were sent home via PDF attachments I downloaded and reviewed. Still lots of talk about AIDS, but for the most part I feel it’s good stuff, and gave us opportunities for discussion that came up naturally as we reviewed her school day.

    Anyway, I’m glad I’m not an educator who’s charged with teaching school kids about sex. It’s got to be a veritable tight rope that they walk, and the criticism that’s leveled against them is mostly unfair (I’m reminded of the recent Mom who sat in on her son’s sex ed class and then live Tweeted it. I’m sure her presence in that class improved the educational experience of each of those adolescent boys. And I don’t believe that sex is dirty or shameful, but I wonder how open and honest those boys felt they could be with their friend’s Mom sitting in)

    I’m not sure why you feel it’s a “sad thing that we all get our education eventually.” The fumbling and stumbling (and not just with sex) we do in life is part of the journey toward maturity.

    • Kevin Brennan
      May 13, 2015

      Well, I’d like to think I survived the ineptitude. But I will say, if it weren’t for the abstinence cult (which is really what all the disease stuff is aimed at, as a deterrent), we might be able to be more real with the kids in the school setting. Plus, sex ed varies wildly depending on the state and school district you’re in. Strange, because “the facts of life” are stable and unvarying. I think.

      And by that last line, I just mean that we could pave the way better for our children. Nowadays, though, I bet they know more through Googling than we might want to admit!

  2. Phillip McCollum
    May 13, 2015

    I was lucky enough to have parents who had no problems with frank sex conversation. Seemed to work out pretty well. It’s too bad that kids without such parents are left at the mercy of ‘approved material.’

    • Kevin Brennan
      May 13, 2015

      Yep. There seems to be a whole class of parents who think they can delegate that stuff to the teachers. Why have kids if you’re going to have strangers raise ’em?!

  3. John W. Howell
    May 13, 2015

    I taught my kids. The school material stank. Didn’t cover important stuff like how does a kid know when they are ready for sex and how to say no if not ready.

    • Kevin Brennan
      May 13, 2015

      So true. The science part of sex is easy. It’s the social side, and the personal decision-making, that’s hard!

  4. kingmidget
    May 13, 2015

    My son, who is about to graduate this month, had his sex ed class a year or two ago. The teacher told the class that putting a condom on was like putting a yarmulke on. Not only is that just about the worst comparison I’ve ever heard she said it repeatedly and looked at my son when she did so. My son is Jewish. So — bad description that also turned into a religiously offensive situation.

    • Kevin Brennan
      May 13, 2015

      Wow, that’s lousy! Not too far from that principal who said, “All the black people are leaving.” Schools aren’t necessarily temples of wisdom, eh?

      • kingmidget
        May 14, 2015

        No they’re not. I’m thrilled to be two weeks away from the end of my kids in the public school system. The level of incompetence is amazing. It’s interesting though — I would say that almost all of the elementary school teachers my kids had were good teachers, most of the middle school teachers were too, but something happens in high school. Far too many of them seem to be just playing out the string, having lost the motivation to teach long ago.

  5. 1WriteWay
    May 14, 2015

    I remember sex ed and it’s variations. Even though I grew up in farm country (or maybe because of it?) my schools were fairly progressive. I recall a couple of different classes where sex ed had to be discussed. Unfortunately, in one of those classes, the teacher (who, of course, was also a gym teacher) blushed furiously during most of his lecture (which meant that we kids were more focused on his 50 shades of red face than on his lecture). While I understand the desire to keep kids STD-free, I don’t understand the difficulty so many people still have with talking about pregnancy. In spite of my schools’ progressiveness, we still had a fair number of students who spent their senior year pregnant. That, to me anyway, is the sad thing about “fumbling and stumbling” our way to maturity. An unwanted pregnancy can definitely screw one up for life.

    • Kevin Brennan
      May 14, 2015

      50 shades of red indeed! 😝

      Seriously, though, it’s so hard for a young woman to overcome the consequences of teen pregnancy that you’d think teaching 50 kinds of contraception would be the priority. It ain’t rocket science, folks!

      • 1WriteWay
        May 15, 2015

        Well, it is rocket science if you’re anti-science, which I think most abstinence-only folk are 😉

      • Kevin Brennan
        May 15, 2015

        Oooh, snap!

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