I got the kind of Sex Education that some people might say makes parents into grandparents when they are still in their thirties. That is: effectively, I received none at all. I do not consider this a chief failing on my parents’ part, though. Because I? Was a nun. You would not need to equip a nun with information about reproduction. She took a vow of celibacy, after all. And I was a nun for all of the years I lived under my parents’ roof.
It is only with some hindsight that I understand better the kind of education my parents did impart.
Had I asked my parents as a teenager, probably whilst riding through a very loud car wash, what an erection was or how I could get on the Pill, please believe they would have talked to me about it. I just had no interest in mining information from them on these and other matters (Teen Embarrassment, Population 4.6 Billion). The fact that the internet was not accessible to me in all the years I lived under their roof would imply that I must have been a patient child. However, this was patently not the case.
I was wildly curious. I was also wildly busy being a Very Pious Good Girl at my all-girls Catholic high school. You could not defy my surefooted rhetoric around the importance of abstinence. I cut out a badge from the newspaper that said “Proud to be a Virgin” and taped it to my daily planner (that I had any friends in high school is a complete miracle). I was a vehement pro-life crusader (even my locker senior year bore a magnet that said, “Choose Life! Your Mom Did!” and again with the miracle that was anyone who agreed to be seen near High School Kendra).
The irony in all this is that I had to be on birth control during the latter part of high school. I hated this since I was so abstinent and so anti-contraceptive, but my anxiety and overachieving zeal caused a perfect storm of the loss of much weight and much menstruation. So by the time I went to college, I was 17 years-old and had never used a tampon but I took the Pill every day and could tell you all ways you should not have an abortion.
In the spring before I graduated from high school, a rent-a-cop visited our theology class to warn us about the hazards of being a female living on a university campus. It was like Scared Straight: Sex Ed edition. The rent-a-cop presented several case studies of young women who had been just like we were (overachieving, overprivileged) and they were all basically pillaged and raped because they left their dorm rooms alone at night. Probably to do laundry.
The intentions of the rent-a-cop and the school that hired him were well-meaning. There is a place for precautionary training, and law enforcement plays a meaningful role in helping to prevent sexual assault. But it’s problematic to me that this was, up until this time, perhaps the most direct an adult had ever spoken to me about sex. And it was not about sex, per se. It wasn’t about relationships or physical boundaries or pacing or pleasure. It was about sexual violence and its inevitability. The angle was basically, you, as young females away from your parents, are a vulnerable population and you will be preyed upon and the best thing we can do for you is to prepare you as to what to do when an assault occurs, either to you or someone you know.
I only wish that things appeared to have changed in the twenty years since I graduated high school. But it still seems to me that the pervasive message about sex education is directed at girls and women, and it is still one that places us on the defensive. The Law sees us as both the preyed upon as well as the gatekeepers, so we best know how to react when we’re in a situation that could become a sexual one. Otherwise, things are going to get pretty (choose your own adventure: messy, awkward, uncomfortable, harmful, hurtful, unable to be remembered).
I don’t purport to know about the sex education imparted to my male counterparts in high school. Was a rent-a-cop hired to speak in the theology classes at our brother schools? If so, did he or she remind them that curiosity and hormones and strength, especially when mixed with alcohol, can be a potent cocktail of poor decisionmaking? What did their parents tell them before they hung out with girls? What did they ask them after they drove girls home? If they got a girl pregnant, were they ever asked whether or not they intended to finish high school?
I only know what it’s like to be told to never leave a party alone, to be taught how to use my car keys if an attacker is holding me down, and to know how to detect whether my drink has been rufied or not. I only know what it’s like to be afraid, constantly, of not being able to get out of a situation that I might have consented to being in, initially. I only know what it’s like to feel freighted with responsibility and to remain vigilant at all times that sex might happen and that it won’t be good.
Now that I have taught university and am raising a daughter and a son to eventually leave home and attend university, I am a bit more circumspect about the sex education. I now see it as a mere thread in a more holistic education in helping to raise a capable and contributing member of society.
Whereas my parents did not address, say, the possibility of sexually transmitted diseases with me, they fed and clothed me, took me for regular physicals, asked me about my friends, encouraged me to pursue hobbies, and they constantly showed that they cared about my well-being. This is all a part of educating a person as a healthy physical, social, spiritual, and eventually a sexual being.
But I still have such angst for the two-pronged messaging we are constantly imparting to young people about sex. If you are male, sex will probably be something you’ll be interested in pursuing, either with a female or male or both. Just make sure it’s consensual. If you are female, you should be very prepared. Because it could all go very wrong, very fast.
I trust that no one is surprised about the Aziz Ansari story that is having a moment. By this I don’t mean, based on Ansari’s comedy, one should deduce he is an aggressively sexual person. I mean that it all adds up: both the the account of the anonymous woman who alleges he would not take no for an answer, as well as her guilt and shame after the fact. They had both received the memo. Ansari, as a male, would be the one who pursues. And she, as the female, should be ever vigilant as the gatekeeper. And when things don’t go the way she wanted them to have gone? Well. Pay no mind. He, like so many of his peers, weren’t given the holistic portrait that sex is about more than consent. It is about respect and affection and mutuality.
Master of None, indeed.