‘Don’t be a slutty apple’: your experiences of sex education
What kind of sex education did you receive in the classroom? Was it an awkward slideshow containing more euphemisms than you could comprehend? Or was it a series of lessons covering not only the relevant biology, but also sexuality, gender and reproductive health?
According to the UN, the latter is still quite rare, which means the majority of young people lack the knowledge they need to make informed decisions.
In our recent podcast on the importance of sex education, we heard that young people who received good quality sex and relationship education were less likely to start having sex at a young age, and less likely to become teenage parents.
What was your experience of sex education? We asked readers what kind of lessons they received on the subject. Here’s a selection of responses.
Sex was largely ignored
“I received none. It was just a discussion with my roommates at boarding school. In biology classes we were taught reproduction, but there is a clear difference between that and sex education. One chemistry teacher digressed during a chemistry class and told us about how some girl got pregnant from sitting on the toilet seat in a public toilet.” Ona, 34, Nigeria
“Sex education was mystic during my younger years. In our place the best word for sex was kufanya tabia mbaya – Swahili words meaning bad manners – and it was rarely spoken about. In school the most sex education I got was in my science and biology class, where we learned about the reproductive system and STIs. The rest you got to learn on your own. The sex education was rather wanting and more should be done to create awareness.” Anonymous, 22, Kenya
“Sex education at my Catholic school was rather limited. Once a pupil asked a question and our teacher said, ‘I am a miss, not a mrs, and therefore I am in no position to answer that question!’ And that was that.” Rose, 30, Scotland
“I think it would be fair to say that no one in that classroom understood what we were being told. There were lots of stories about virtue and chastity, but I think the teacher was afraid to say anything about sex itself, in case we got so excited we’d all start doing it that night.” Joyce, 28, Nigeria
The demonstrations were confusing
“My RE teacher came into the room holding a large knife and two apples. She sat at her desk and, after a brief period of silence, started to cut up one of the apples in her hand. She started to talk: ‘Every girl is an apple. Some apples hang high in the tree, and get all the good sunlight and nutrients. These are virtuous apples. Some apples, however, hang low in the tree, where men can easily walk by and pluck an apple off the tree and take a bite of their juicy flesh. But after a man takes a bite of an apple, he doesn’t keep it. Instead, he throws it to the ground, where it will wither and die.’ She went on like this for the rest of the hour, continuing to chop up the apple in her hand, basically telling us, ‘Don’t be a slutty apple’.”Sophie, 21, UK
“It began with a demonstration. A piece of Sellotape was wrapped around one person’s wrist, then another’s, then another’s: ‘Sex is like Sellotape; if you use it with too many people, you lose your stick’.” Anonymous, 22, UK
We had to fill in the gaps ourselves
“The girls learned about periods and how a baby developed. We were told sex led to STIs and that eye contact could lead to sex … I have heard it is more descriptive and they teach about condoms now. I appreciate this. Students need to know. I learned how to put my partner’s condom on from YouTube.” Anonymous, 21, US
“Sex education was a part of the formal programme, but the classes were completely useless. They were held by a biology teacher, who kept telling us to be abstinent until we are married. Try convincing 16-year-olds to do that. There was no talk about birth control, or abortion, which is illegal in Poland. I received a proper sex education thanks to my parents.” Anonymous, Poland, 26
“I didn’t really get much sex education but it was partly covered in health education. The programme lacked all the important information about sex, I learned more about sex from peers. In schools now they are delivering sex education through a life orientation subject. But the teachers still shy away from talking sex with learners – they still put their own beliefs and values forward.” Yethu, South Africa, 34
“It was the fifth grade, and I was about 10 or 11. They took all the boys and girls from that year, and put us into separate rooms (one for the boys and one for the girls). They then had the school nurse and principal come in and show the boys a slideshow that had medical illustrations of the penis. They mentioned that we would soon be getting hair down there. They then gave us a small stick of deodorant and sent us on our way. That was literally all the sex education I received from the public education system.”Anonymous, 23, US
They told me everything I needed to know
“Sex education lessons in school when I was 12 or 13 were informative and we mostly learned the anatomical differences between boys and girls, since we all knew what happens during and after sex. We also learned about various ways to prevent pregnancy as well as diseases. The way our teacher told us these things was factual. She gave us the feeling that there’s nothing to be ashamed of.” Sabrina, 19, Germany
“I learned a lot about sex and the reproductive system from year seven onward. The teachers were engaged, supportive and more mature in their approach in comparison to the way I was taught in primary school. I guess this had a lot to do with going to a single-sex school for girls.”