One day, about thirty odd years ago I was taught all I needed to know about sex ever. Sr. Something-or-Other with the evil eye explained that if you don’t receive God’s call to become a nun, you may end up getting married and should that abominable union take place you must be prepared that the man will insert his penis (she pronounced it ‘penace’, god love her) into your vagina. It would be a painful process, but luckily the procedure was only necessary when conception was desired. She then proceeded to bring up some more relevant issues to help us through puberty. One was that patent leather shoes reflect your knickers so don’t wear them. There was a long rigmarole on how to wrap sanitary towels in newspaper and dispose of them in a manner that wouldn’t cause all the local dogs to rip the bin apart and resurrect your towel. Tampons were not mentioned. We were told that if you were put into the unavoidable situation of sitting on a boy’s knee, you should put a phone book between you and him. Today, in my dotage, I no longer recall which myths came from the mouths of nuns and which from the wise girls behind the bike sheds. In general they were much of a muchness. I learned you could get pregnant from a toilet seat, masturbation makes you go blind, you can’t get pregnant when it’s your first time, unless of course you have oral sex; you’d get pregnant from that straight away. Using a tampon meant you lost your virginity and ‘gay’ was an adjective used to describe lovely weather.
All these things sound funny now, but let’s face it, it can take about twenty years to navigate your way out of guilt and repression and some people never even managed to do that. I’ll save my comments on how the notion of celibacy brought the Catholic Church to its knees and move on to what the Irish school system is teaching our kids nowadays.
Last night I accompanied my thirteen year old son to a sex education session for sixth class students. It meant we had to miss watching
qualify for the Eurovision song contest in return for a cold school hall watching biological diagrams and hearing a lot of technical explanations about sex. There was a huge cringe/giggle thing going on with the kids and although it’s good to know how the body works, do they really need to know that the fallopian tube is about as wide as a pencil? Things were dragging along nicely until the guy giving the talk put up a slide saying that sex is ‘an intimate act performed between two adults in a committed relationship, ideally marriage.’ So here I was in a room with someone telling my kid, in a very subtle way that sex is still not for pleasure or fun, unless, ideally, you are married. Similarly, he claimed that ‘most women’ wear sanitary towels and that tampons are complex and need to be changed very often. Ireland
The kids were then sent off to write questions on all of this which he brought back to us and read out. The deal was that he’d go through the questions and we had to either agree with his answer or agree that he wouldn’t answer it at all. One kid’s question was: ‘is it wrong to masturbate?’ The nice man giving the talk (he works for a counselling institute who offer prayer groups and other almost right wing catholic services) explained that he would not say that it ‘isn’t wrong’ to masturbate. His argument was that some parents may feel it’s wrong and others may not. Being the only vociferous objector to kids still being made feel guilty in 2010 I decided to shut up just in case there was some stuff on telly after the Eurovision that other parents might be waiting to go home to.
Of course the school principal was all supportive of the sex education guy and tried to stick us to the fact that we can only cover what’s on the school curriculum. I did look it up when I came home, and if you ask me, the guy had totally twisted it to try and work in some good old Catholic guilt. The actual wording in the curriculum reads: (and I don’t agree with it either, but this is what we’re stuck with):
“The most intimate expression of love is when a man and woman express their love for one another physically in sexual intercourse. During sexual intercourse the man and woman become physically close to one another and the man’s penis enters the woman’s vagina. This is a special experience for the man and woman and ideally happens in the context of a committed loving relationship as in marriage.”
Leaving out the word ‘IDEALLY’ completely changed what our kids were told. Committed? Yeah, he should be. Bottom line, not much has changed. Key message: sex is not about fun. If it feels good don’t do it. Granted, masturbation no longer causes blindness, but it’s still not right. Luckily the finals of the Eurovision Song Contest are not on until Saturday, so I have tonight to re-educate my son.
Hopefully he’ll listen to my liberating words of wisdom. But you know what teenagers can be like sometimes - such wankers.