All-Girls School Confessional #3
The list of “Stuff I Picked Up at Catholic All-Girls School That May or May Not Be Good For Me in the Long Run” continues. Tonight- a Very Special Edition. For part 1 of my list, see here. Part 2 is here.
I should probably call this All-Girls School Confessional #3: Sex Ed. But then I feared what element that title might attract. It sounds like a kinky porn, doesn’t it? Like maybe I’m wearing a tiny plaid skirt with nothing underneath while I suck on a lollipop. Sorry– everybody knows that the hem of your uniform skirt should be no more than 4 inches above your knees and all Catholic schoolgirls wear shorts under their skirts. In fact- let’s make that part of the list.
11. Wearing shorts or pants under a skirt isn’t that weird. (contributed by Erin B.)
You might think high school age girls at an all-girls school would have no problem wearing a skirt to school with no fear of 9 year old boys trying to catch a glimpse of their undies while they hang upside down on the monkey bars. Regrettably, high schools almost never have monkey bars anyway. The shorts-under-your-uniform-skirt thing starts when you’re 5 and you don’t grow out of it. I have no idea why. Near the end, it was a convenience on PE days to just take off your skirt and have gym shorts underneath. The trend didn’t follow me to college, but then it’s not like my favorite pair of boxers would fit under my frat skirt anyway. It doesn’t stop with shorts. If you go to a Catholic all-girls school on a Mass day in the dead of winter, you’re probably going to see some girls with sweatpants sticking out from under their skirts. Show of hands, fellow alums, are you all that upset by the “leggings under skirts and dresses” trend? Probably not because you’ve sort of been there before. It’s just good sense.
But let’s get back to the real reason you’re here. Last week, I ended my post with this:
10. That sperm can get through jeans.
But I didn’t explain myself. So here’s where we discuss sex ed at an all-girls Catholic school.
You might think that our school preached abstinence-only and tried to be as vague as possible about the creation of life. You would be wrong.
If anything, they tried to scare the shizz out of us with all the things that would not protect us from having children and the things that could go wrong in our lives. Condoms? Sure, they work. 99% of the time when there’s not a tiny hole that will RUIN YOUR LIFE.
Which brings us to item 12 on my list: Unless you are married, happily or not, HAVING CHILDREN WILL RUIN YOUR LIFE.
One of our teachers had us complete a super elaborate budget and then made us draw a card with a disaster written on it. Sure, you think you have your life in order until YOU HAVE AN UNEXPECTED BABY WHO NEEDS CRAZY MEDICAL CARE. BUDGET THAT.
Our teachers seemed to accept the fact that we were wise to sex being fun for girls; no longer would the “lie back and think of England” propaganda work with our generation. They couldn’t just tell us how much it would suck and expect us to believe them. We were watching Friends, after all. And they didn’t naively think that we would be so pious as to follow the teaching that we should wait til marriage because it’s The Right Thing To Do. So, they defaulted to the Catholic tradition of using scare tactics to prevent behaviors you don’t want.
In the end, our sex ed was comprehensive. We knew about the aforementioned condoms. We knew about the faulty spermicides, the questionable sponge, the curious diaphragm (which still looks like a stopper for a bath drain to me). We knew that the boy might tell you that he’ll get out of dodge before anything, ahem, happens… but he might not actually get out (you cannot rely on boys to do anything right) OR a tiny little bit of the “happening” might escape and then you’re having an awkward talk with your parents. With each and every method of birth control, we discussed statistics and why it didn’t work 100% of the time.
You know what works 100% of the time? Abstinence. You’re probably not surprised.
You know what else works really well? Showing a live birth to a bunch of 16 year old girls. Once you see that the tiny baby also comes out with fluids you can’t identify that are in colors you can’t imagine and you hear the sounds of a woman ripping in half…. it’s enough to give you pause for years. I understand some of my classmates have now overcome this. My hat’s off to them.
Of course, we all know that it’s not enough to talk about how to prevent getting pregnant. You have to avoid the situation where it occurs in the first place. Oral sex can give you STDs. We saw graphic pictures of this and heard horror stories of young girls finding out they have gonorrhea of the throat. And dry humping? Forget it- sperm can get through jeans.
Did you hear the record screeching there just now?
One evening in my college dorm, I was sitting with some female friends talking about sexy stuff, like you do when you’re 18 and not worried about your parents busting in. One of my friends was talking about fooling around with some guy and I gasped as she described what they did because I knew how dangerous it was. Didn’t anyone else?
“But… you can get pregnant that way,” I told her as I clutched my metaphorical pearls.
The other two girls glanced at me, confused.
“We were wearing clothes,” my friend told me, her head cocked at me like she was seeing me for the first time.
I actually felt sorry for them.
“But, sperm can get through jeans,” I said with conviction.
I don’t remember the exact details of what happened next. I’m pretty sure they both keeled over laughing and shaking their heads at me.
“Oh, honey. No they can’t.”
“Sure they can. They’re really tiny and they can get through the fibers,” I replied, but I was feeling less certain since they were still laughing at me, “I mean, it would be rare, I think, but it could happen.”
“Noooo. It can’t.”
“But in high school, in my sex ed class–”
“Oh, is that what the nuns taught you? How would they know?”
“Actually, she was a gym teacher. And she was married.”
“Well, she was wrong.”
I fought them at first, feeling certain that my alma mater would not trick me. Eventually, they convinced me I was being ridiculous. One of my friends laughed, “I mean, what do you think happens? Do you think the sperm get there and go, ‘I’ll get in there if it’s the last thing I do!’?”
She mimed a sperm swimming through rough waters, its tiny fist charging forward and raised against obstacles.
Frankly, that’s exactly what I thought. In retrospect, most of my sex ed revolved around contraception. And most of it operated under the assumption that sperm are some kind of freakishly strong bodily fluid that will swim channels if it means it can ruin a young girl’s life by getting her pregnant. That night, as I stumbled back to my dorm room, I wondered with a chill, “What else did they lie to me about?”
Even now, years later, a part of me still feels wary about what my friends taught me that night. I’ve seen Dr. Sue, I’ve been through health classes at the college level, I’ve read women’s magazines, and I know I can’t get pregnant if I’m wearing jeans. But a little voice says, “But technically…. they could get through.” They just couldn’t do anything once they got there.
I feel I have to end this post with a disclaimer. My high school health teacher was great. She actually said some stuff in class that the nuns would have frowned upon. I wonder if I misunderstood her all those years ago or maybe she didn’t really know the right answer and made something up that day. If anyone one from my class remembers what happened or had the same experience, I would love to hear your side of the story. Otherwise, I’m fairly certain the rest of our sex ed was basically correct. They left out some things that might have made us more likely to take some risks, but we did know that we had options other than abstinence. There were sexually active girls in my class who knew how to protect themselves if they needed to do so. At least, that’s how I remember it. I don’t think they lied to us anymore than any other groups of adults lies to teenagers.
Next time… we move away from hot button issues like sex ed and on to fluffier things like a general acceptance of violation of personal rights.