For most of us, our memories of sex education that were taught to us at school at age 16 are most likely to be tainted with that feeling of painful awkwardness.
We all recall the cackle of laughter that would circulate the classroom every time a teacher mentioned the words “penis” or “vagina” or any other clinical term used to discuss the mechanics of sex and relationships.
An experience shared by the majority in their adolescent years and perhaps an ordeal that most would care to forget, sex education and guidance on relationships in schools is a topic met with much controversy as many debate that this area of teaching is governed by outmoded teaching and practices as it scarcely reflects our adult lives and intimate relationships.
[pullquote]One of the most horrifying facts about this story is that Amy only left the school in 2015 [/pullquote]
I was particularly struck by the tales told by a good friend of mine as she recalls some of the peculiar teachings and attitudes surrounding sex and relationships during her time at school. From the ages of 11 to 16 Amy attended an all-girls Catholic School and former convent in a small town on the border of Northern Ireland. It was a relatively conservative school as its education had such a close affiliation with Catholic Church disciplines.
For Amy lessons in sex and relationships came in the form of a series of scaremongering metaphors from teachers who would instil the message that sex is a disdainful act and that, as a woman, the number of sexual partners you have throughout your life will tarnish the way you will love when you eventually find ‘the one’ - whatever that means. The most shocking and eerie analogy Amy explains of came from an R.E teacher who insisted to a class of sixteen year old girls, in the earliest and arguably most paramount stage of their pubescence, that having sex with a man can be compared to taking a piece of sticky tape and sticking it to the arm. It gets weirder… whenever you move onto the next partner imagine ripping this duct tape from the arm and reapplying it. As a consequence of increasing the number of sexual partners you have the sticky tape loses its stickiness, thus making it harder to establish a connection with the next person.
Although an outwardly absurd and incomprehensible metaphor to use, Amy shudders at the underlying and incredibly detrimental message this has as she explains that it clearly promotes premature slut shaming in young girls even before they have thought to embark upon any type of intimate relationship. Teachings like this were also often laced with ridiculous false scientific fact, one of them being that women could actually ‘run out’, as if women can be likened to a car engine, of oxytocin or ‘the love hormone’ (the preferred term used by the teacher) if you have multiple sexual partners throughout your life.
One of the most horrifying facts about this story is that Amy only left the school in 2015 which leaves me with the ghastly thought that there are possibly many other girls who were susceptible to this type of brainwashing. It’s worrying to think that something as complex and personal as their sexuality is like a roll of sticky tape - a part of them which isn’t governed by themselves but controlled by their fear of being shamed by others.