• Thu, Mar 20 - 11:00 am ET

All Girls High School Education Taught Me More About Sex Than Any Backseat Fumbling

sex-ed-all-girls-school

The sex ed offered at my high school was far above the grade that most students are entitled to in this country, which is something that makes me seethe with rage. I have pretty mixed thoughts about single sex education and my high school in particular, but after making it through six years at an all-girls school I will tell you one thing: the sex ed I received at that single sex looney bin was incredible, and most of it happened outside the classroom.

I took health class for a whole semester in ninth grade, in which we covered–among other things–drug education, eating disorders, a live birth video, body image, and reproductive health. The sex ed was completely clinical–after the first day when our health teacher told us a funny story about a girl being uncomfortable with the word “vagina,” I never heard another euphemism come out of her mouth. As a result, I have exactly no trouble using clinical words for anything sex related at all–it’s called a vagina so I’m not going to call it my lady garden. The curriculum was detailed and expansive–one day we were shown what a rape kit entailed. We passed around a speculum, and nobody got nervous and dropped it. We were shown every single method of birth control known to man and how to use them, and nobody giggled. I did try to make a paper airplane out of a dental dam, though, but that was just for laughs. Obviously, it didn’t fly.

Sure, the curriculum itself wasn’t dependent on my high school being an all girls school–my high school was progressive, secular, privileged and private, meaning that the school had the freedom to teach sex ed according to their own curriculum, had the financial resources to effectively teach, and a liberal student body willing and wanting to learn. But I can’t say I would have had the same experience at a coed school.

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  • CMJ

    Did you have the picture slides of STIs?

    ETA: I went to an all-girls, Catholic high school and had a pretty similar situation. I think I graduated before you so you probably got some updated information :)

    • Julia Sonenshein

      all girls school survivors unite! And yes, there were many photographs. I love safe sex.

    • CMJ

      My sister was a year ahead of me and I just remember her saying: “Wait till you see the slide of the chancre. You’ll die.”

    • Julia Sonenshein

      THE HORROR!

    • momjones

      +1 for the “Heart of Darkness” allusion. CMJ’s AP English teacher approves.

    • https://twitter.com/FaintlyXMacabre Theresa Edwards

      BUT IT WAS SO FUCKING GROSS THO

    • Valerie

      Ok, wtf is a chancre. Definitely not gooling that at work.

    • Bunny Lou

      A syphilis sore.

      It’s pretty… Sore-like.

    • Valerie

      Yeah…I googled. And then wished I could have ungoogled.

  • CMJ

    Sorry for bogarting this thread but….that stock picture is too much.

    • Robotic Socks

      wood it help if it was a broom stick instead?

      Julia, I think you rubber the wrong way with your articles. You and CMJ should enter-a-course in mediation to help settle your differences. .

    • Valerie

      Yes. Penetrate each other’s minds to get to the real issues. But try not to take each other too clitorally.

    • Julia Sonenshein

      omg

    • Julia Sonenshein

      this is my favorite thing.

  • pixie

    Ah, I wish I had that sort of sex-ed, and mine was even pretty decent. In grade 7 we had this older teacher come in to teach us (co-ed) and the first thing she said was “No dicks, no pricks, they’re penises. No boobs, no tits, they’re breasts.” I still remember that more than a decade later.

    Though when it came to learning about periods and those things in grade 5, we were separated. I don’t know how much the guys learned about menstruating, but they obviously didn’t learn a whole lot because when I was about 15 or 16 my boyfriend and one or two of his friends started asking me about it. They were curious and their high school hadn’t covered much when it came to the female bits being taught to the guys, since phys-ed and health class were separated by gender (my high school covered a lot, but wasn’t quite the same as yours). So, I told them, and I think I blew their minds with how it actually is, and that it’s different for every female so just because mine was super heavy and I suffered awful cramps, some girls had very light periods and no cramps.

    • LadyClodia

      I remember one day when we were seniors in high school during lunch one of the guys at our table (there were 3 girls, and I think 6 guys) got brave and asked about periods. We discussed it for a little while, and it was never brought up again. I just remember thinking that it was strange because he usually did have a girlfriend and he had a mom and sister at home, so I guessed he would have been more familiar with it.
      When we were in 5th grade they separated the boys and girls for sex ed/puberty ed too, and I think that information was only briefly discussed in co-ed classes in middle school.

    • ElleJai

      One of my best male friends asked me about it in our 20s. It was actually quite a good conversation, so I’m hoping he’s more aware now.

      I’m also hoping to teach my son the main points before he needs to ask friends though…

    • val97

      My son is 14, and they still don’t cover menstruation in class. They still separate the boys and girls and mostly teach about puberty and STIs. To his discomfort, I filled him in on the rest.

    • pixie

      Oh wow. That’s…wow. At least you filled him in!
      We were separate in grade 5 when we first learned but together for 6-8 and separate again for grade 9. The only reason we were separate in high school, though was because the gym classes were separate and ran at different times of the day. I think there were a few classes that were together if they happened to be at the same time.

    • Julia Sonenshein

      Thrilled that you filled him in!

  • LiteBrite

    I went to a public school, and our sex ed was pretty comprehensive. But honestly, there is nothing like learning from your peers. For example, they didn’t cover blowjobs. I did ask my mom what a “B.J.” but her answer of “I’ll tell you when you’re 30″ didn’t really cover it. That was one that my peeps clued me in.

    I also took a sex ed class in college, thinking it was an easy 2 credit. I mean, I’m 19 right? I know it all. Yeah, um, I found out I didn’t.

    • Momma425

      Yeah, sex ed in public school was pretty detailed and graphic as far as childbirth was concerned (THAT video, and I stopped eating spaghetti forever) and as far as STI’s were concerned (barnicle Bill made many an appearance)- but did not cover things like oral sex and blow jobs and whatnot. I thought sex was all missionary, and completely FREAKED OUT when someone suggested performing oral on me the first time. I hadn’t ever considered it, and it wasn’t discussed in class…so I didn’t know.

  • Vampire Hobbit

    The condom in the picture has not been properly placed. There should not be air in the reservoir on the tip. For a story about sex ed, you would think that would be an important point since proper condom use is essential to safer sex practices, and the vast majority of unwanted pregnancies and STI transmission while using condoms stems from misuse such as this…

    • Robotic Socks

      You can get the air out by cutting a small hole with a scissor

      That always worked for me in the past.

    • https://twitter.com/FaintlyXMacabre Theresa Edwards

      What you want to do is use a safety pin. That way the condom won’t catch and, heaven forbid, fall off.

    • Robotic Socks

      Sure if yer rich!

      I just DIY condoms using duct tape.

    • https://twitter.com/FaintlyXMacabre Theresa Edwards

      Just a sandwich baggie and some rubber bands oughta do it, really.

    • Robotic Socks

      Wow, I have much to learn from you.

      Free at 8? ;)

    • https://twitter.com/FaintlyXMacabre Theresa Edwards

      Just remember that you don’t need a condom if you’re having sex standing up. The gravity takes care of it. That’s just science.

    • Robotic Socks

      Oh I get it, so have the chick be on top?

    • Kay_Sue

      Plastic wrap.

    • Crystal

      aluminum foil?

    • pixie

      There was allegedly a girl in my high school who did that…on the football field *sigh*

    • Paul White

      Congratulations, you got a whimper.

      Owie.

    • Robotic Socks

      Careful with the scissor

    • Valerie

      Or the Hot Pocket crisping sleeve. Don’t forget that option.

    • Robotic Socks

      This is good, cuz I do get hungry after sex

    • Valerie

      Reduce, reuse, recycle.

    • Kay_Sue

      Uhhhhhhh…yeah…

    • Robotic Socks

      You never know what kinda VD hickory wood carries

    • Kay_Sue

      That wood is in imminent danger of impregnating someone, also.

    • CMJ
    • Kay_Sue

      I love you for your GIFs. This is true.

    • CMJ

      I feel like I should add “Able to produce perfect reaction gifs” to my resume.

    • Robotic Socks

      Altho, you do use Kevin Spacey a lot…

    • CMJ
    • Kay_Sue

      You really should. It’s a talent.

    • Julia Sonenshein

      you nail it every single time.

    • candyvines

      The hand is clearly still pulling the condom down the wood. Obviously the hand will then squeeze the air out of the tip.
      Source: All my sexual education came from stock photos in random articles I read on the internet.

  • https://twitter.com/FaintlyXMacabre Theresa Edwards

    This sounds so familiar, except my school was mixed-sex, I just lived with 11 other teenaged girls, far and away more perverted conversations occurred there then among any group of guys I’ve ever met. Since our school was private too (just not affluent) we got to learn about sex in a non-abstinence bases curriculum, but in a co-ed setting. I remember that one of our projects was open-ended about STDs, so one guy did a game-show style trivia game with jazzy music and one-liners about chlamydia. It was actually not at all embarrassing to learn about this stuff with the guys.

    • Robotic Socks

      …sex the real way, but in a co-ed setting…

      examples?

    • https://twitter.com/FaintlyXMacabre Theresa Edwards

      I EDITED it as soon as I caught that

    • Robotic Socks

      >:( TEASE!

    • https://twitter.com/FaintlyXMacabre Theresa Edwards

      That was psychmama bait. I wouldn’t want her to get in a tizzy about my well-being, now would I?

    • https://twitter.com/FaintlyXMacabre Theresa Edwards

      BWAHAHAHA

  • Kay_Sue

    Our sex ed was really quite good in high school–especially given that we are a southern state, and supported abstinence-only (but there’s a wide variety of programs in actuality, because it’s left up to local control), but I still learned more about the actual mechanics of the whole she-bang from chatting with girlfriends (okay, giggling with girlfriends).

    I do think the segregation of genders for the classes in both elementary and high school was a little much. Not only because they segregated us in elementary school to talk about periods, but also because they segregated us to talk about birth control in high school. I guess my point is–sex is something we should be able to talk about with our partners, whether same or opposite sex, and segregating kids for these conversations implies that there’s a chasm between male and female sexuality, at a time when we need both sexes to be comfortable talking about sex and all the messy details. They did it under the umbrella of creating a safe forum to answer questions…but that forum should have been open regardless of where we are. It kind of sends the message that we can’t be safe talking about sexuality across genders, if that makes sense.

  • Paul White

    Our sex ed in my little Colorado high school SUCKED. I still remember getting to college and learning you could get many STD’s through oral; apparently my reaction was visible because the person giving the presentation to our dorm took me aside and asked if I needed to get tested for something.

  • LadyClodia

    This is a great piece Julia!
    The sex ed at our public middle and high schools was pretty good, I guess. That really was the extent of my sex education, though, because sex was not something that my group of friends discussed. Even among the closest of my high school friends I have no idea who was a virgin still by the time we graduated.

    • Julia Sonenshein

      Thanks so much!

  • Katherine Handcock

    I think your experience in the co-ed setting also has to do with kids not being properly prepared for sex education. One of the things that really stuck with me from Debra Haffner’s book about teaching children about sex and sexuality (From Diapers to Dating – I can’t mention it often enough because it’s such a good book!) is when she talks about how kids don’t get giggly/silly about stuff the same way if they’ve been talking about basic anatomy since kindergarten. But, as you say, if you start the education process when some of the bodies are already changing, it’s no big surprise when it’s really uncomfortable for everyone!

    Parents sometimes get upset at the idea of sexuality education for younger grades, but I think it’s so important. Besides, it’s not like the kids in kindergarten are getting shown the STI slies! ;-)

    • Julia Sonenshein

      Fantastic point. I think the shock factor played a huge role in the discomfort.

    • Katherine Handcock

      One of the excerpts from Haffner’s book describes a retired woman who wanted to volunteer to assist with classes but was very embarrassed to use correct anatomic terms. She ended up going home, looking at herself in a mirror, and saying, “Penis, penis, penis” until it no longer made her blush! :-)

  • Meg

    Our school sex ed was lacking I think. This was back in the 80′s btw. Oh we covered the basics: puberty, birth control, STDs… But the subjects I think most kids would have questions about, the school wasn’t even allowed to say anything about. There was rules against covering ANYTHING on homosexuality, abortion or masturbation.
    The part that gets me most was I didn’t even understand what sex was by the end of sex ed. Call me living under a rock sheltered, but at the age of 12ish I didn’t understand what a man and woman were supposed to do with each other. It wasn’t untill my mother bought me a book on the subject that I finally got it. Honestly that book taught me tons more about sex then sex ed ever did.

    • clueless

      I didn’t understand the mechanics of sex until I was 12-13 too! An older friend had to graphically explain it to me.

  • Valerie

    So ya’ll….I am on lunch at work and my computer just froze on this page. Like, I could not click on anything else. People were walking by and a handful came into my cubicle and I had to turn off my monitor because this wooden be-condemed dick was just right out there.

    • Katherine Handcock

      Ah, the joys of Murphy’s Law…

    • Julia Sonenshein

      I want to apologize and also claim victory?

    • CMJ

      This is my favorite thing ever. also…sorry?

  • Lackadaisical

    My experiences were very similar. My single sex school wasn’t private it was grammar meaning there were no fees but you had to pass some exams at 11 to get in. Basically imagine a private school where every single kid is the scholarship kid. Because we were all girls, intelligent but not swimming in money there was a strong feminist ethos. There were male teacher, but not many and most of the senior teachers were women. Also we had uniforms, as most English schools do, and that broke down barriers between potential cliques and removed dressing to please boys from us (also dressing for fun, alas).

    Because our school was steeped in feminism and we were all girls our sex ed classes were all about us, even when they sometimes discussed men, and were devoid of all embarrassment. The teachers warned us about rape and domestic abuse but spoke to us as if we were all powerful people who would have control of their destinies and bodies and would be able to stand up to any man who thought otherwise because we were as good (OK, we were told better) as them. Like you we had all birth control discussed in depth with statistics of effectiveness.

    It wasn’t just an all girl’s school thing, though. One of the schools for those who didn’t pass was an all girls school too. Our pregnancy rate was tiny (in the 7 years I was there only one girl, in another year, got pregnant), while friends in the other school all got pregnant before I left school for university. It wasn’t because we were smarter or virginal, I really do think it was because we were raised to feel we could tell a man that if he didn’t use a condom we wouldn’t choose to have sex. We were raised to laugh at attempts to pressure us and we were taught that protection was essential as we were all expected to go to university.

    There are no grammar schools where I live and no single sex schools. It will be interesting to see what my daughter’s sex ed will be like in a normal mixed school.

  • Fireinthefudgehole

    Things my virginal ass had to explain to girls in high school who were actually having sex
    1. You can’t get pregnant from oral sex
    2. You can’t get pregnant from masturbation
    3. There isn’t actually a magically vagina cherry that pops when you have sex for the first time (she didn’t believe me about the whole hymen thing)
    4. Babies aren’t actually carried in the stomach
    5. Virgins can use tampons
    6. Pulling out isn’t a very good method of birth control

    • evilstepmom

      Texas?

    • Fireinthefudgehole

      Yup!

  • Tinyfaeri

    It all depends. I went to a public school, and we had pretty comprehensive, co-ed sex ed. It was fine, really – sure, we giggled at some things, but I had a group of friends, half boys and half girls, in a social studies project group that dedicated at least half of most class periods to discussing sex and relationships. One of my fav conversations was telling our one friend that yes, if his girlfriend had ever had an orgasm, she’d know it, and then describing every way we knew of to get her there. I think personality is key, here – we were all on the mature side, and none of us were ever involved with anyone in the group of friends.

    Also, wtf is on top of that wooden dildo?

    • candyvines

      That is a condom. Perhaps you would like to sign up for an advance copy of the book I intend to write: All I Need To Know About Sex I Learned From Stock Photos On The Internet.

    • Tinyfaeri

      Now I see the bottom ring! If it had been a banana, I would have gotten it immediately… ;-)

    • candyvines

      Bananas are pretty sexy :)

    • Guest

      You’ve never seen a condom, girl?

    • Crystal

      took me a minute to figure it out too.

  • Crystal

    but why is there a wooden penis?????? WHY?!?!

    • Julia Sonenshein

      Great question! I struggled to find something on earth more silly looking than an ACTUAL penis, but then Shutterstock stepped up to the plate with that wooden scenario.

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