Sex Ed Scare Tactics – If I Only Knew

I was terrified of sex growing up. I knew very little about my own body and talking about sex always came with a negative connotation. It was always taught to be a bad thing.

I went to high school in the late 90s in rural Ohio. At the time, schools in Ohio were not required to have sex ed and if they did, it had to be an abstinence-only curriculum.

Forget training about orientation and identity (which I later learned could have saved many of my classmates some heartache, frustration, and fear) – we were lacking in even the fundamental basics. I didn’t even know how my body worked.

My classmates and I assumed if you have sex, you either get pregnant the first time or you get sick and die – either way you’re going to hell. It didn’t help that there were a lot of pregnant girls at school. See! You really do get pregnant right away!

Shedding Light on What Was Never Talked About

I was a little more fortunate than my classmates because I was an exchange student and spent my junior year in Denmark, a place with very comprehensive sexual education. I was 16 and for the first time heard about masturbation in a positive light. We were always taught back home that it was wrong to touch ourselves. I had never explored my own body. I had an orgasm for the first time in Denmark and at first, it scared me. It was new but I soon enjoyed it. Why didn’t I know about this? 

I returned from Denmark armed with knowledge that made me less fearful. Of course, I was more than willing to share this knowledge with my curious and repressed teenage friends in Ohio. 

My Path and My Daughter

I lost my virginity at 18 to a person I was serious about. It was his first time as well. It’s a fun memory and I had no regrets.

I’ve also been very fortunate in only getting pregnant when I really wanted to.

If I went to high school now, with my late-30s horniness and experience, I would definitely relax and have a little more fun – maybe fuck the football team.

Would I say that to my daughter? Probably not. But I don’t want my daughter to fear sex either – maybe just have a healthy respect for it. I don’t want her to see it as a bad thing.

In Denmark, there seemed to be this rite-of-passage where a mother takes her daughter to get birth control around her fifteenth birthday. I think that’s a great idea and I plan on doing that with my daughter. I don’t know if she’ll need birth control then, but I’m going to make sure it’s readily available and she knows how to use it.

Sex Ed in Ohio Today

I graduated high school over 20 years ago. So what’s it like for kids in Ohio today? A quick Google search revealed that not much has changed. Sex ed is now required in schools, however, the curriculum is not required to be comprehensive and it must emphasize abstinence. 

A little further research showed that now even anti-abortion groups have affected sex ed in Ohio. The curriculum must also emphasize adoption for unintended pregnancies. 

The consequences of having a child out of wedlock must also be taught.

Check out Ohio Code Section 3313.6011 for the full list of requirements for sex ed and see why I’m disappointed in my now red state.

I hope my daughter will be more knowledgeable than I was as she works her way through childhood but it’s pretty clear she’s not going to get that from school. It’s up to me.


What was sex ed like in your school? Did you fear sex? Did you see it as a good/bad thing? I’d love to hear your stories.


  1. billseymour says

    My first experience with sex ed. was in the seventh grade, which would have been late ’58 or early ’59.  It was taught as part of science class and, IIRC, was very matter-of-fact.  It was all about human anatomy and how the body works; and there were no “values” taught.

    I didn’t have another sex ed. class until twelfth grade.  My only memory from that is another teacher entering the room and announcing the Kennedy had been shot.  The other kid sitting next to me said, “Oh God, Johnson’s president.  I’m leaving the country.

    This was in a relatively affluent school district in St. Louis County, Missouri.

  2. Katydid says

    1970s, junior high school, Hawaii: part of gym class for some reason. “This is how puberty works, this is how bodies work, this is how pregnancy happens.” Nothing about birth control, I realize now.

    Just behind the last of the Boomers, my peers and I heard all about “free love” (that is, free for the man, who cares what happens to the woman) and knew that the women got the raw part of the bargain–the childcare, housework, and also a paid job because families with only one breadwinner lived in poverty.

  3. anat says

    Attended school in Israel (after years K-2 abroad) in the 70s to early 80s. In 6th grade our science teacher showed videos about reproduction – it dealt with hormonal control of female puberty, the menstrual cycle, the difference between a cycle with conception vs one without etc. In 9th grade the science teacher showed the same video, but also explained about hormonal contraception and how it works. Plenty of student questions about contraception. In 11th grade a gynecologist came to talk – a lot more about STDs (AIDS was a relatively new disease then), but also demystification and busting commonly held myths. We also had a talk by a psychologist about dating and relationships. (In 10th grade there were also a few talks about ‘education towards family life’ with the school principal, a man in his 70s – those were totally useless because we felt so disconnected from him.) So we got some information – only geared towards cis-het people – but it was at few opportunities with no organized curriculum. I think the message was kind of mixed – yes, it’s a normal thing to do, do protect yourself, but probably don’t do it ‘too much’ or with ‘too many’ people (there seemed to be a magic boundary somewhere).

    My parents never brought the topic up at all. My main sources of information were youth magazines that had advice columns – one by a gynecologist, one by a psychologist.

  4. says

    1960s, junior high, Washington state, PE/Health class. Mostly fairly abstract stuff about how pregnancy happens, though we apparently saw a film that I don’t remember. (I may have missed it.) What I do remember is our PE teacher in the next Health class explaining red-faced why the film was wrong about masturbation (which he referred to as “self-abuse”) being harmless; it took away the energy we needed for sports. We (the boys) weren’t told about the consequences of an unintended pregnancy (as far as I can recall anyway) but it may have been different for the girls; I had that impression anyway.
    Being asexual and celibate I can’t really speak to that aspect. I did look forward to having a family and I knew sex was part of the deal, but it all seemed pretty vague and abstract. I definitely could have benefitted from information about “orientation and identity” but that wasn’t covered even in the fairly technical books I had access to that covered such things as homosexuality and other so-called “deviations.” Certainly there was no mention of them in school.
    Well, in classroom instruction anyway.

  5. grahamjones says

    I have a Danish friend who was born in 1944. She first learned the basics aged 13, riding a bike with a friend. When her friend told her, she was so shocked she fell off.

    I grew up in the UK, born in 1959, and fared better, though not thanks to school. There was almost no sex education at school. At about 15, we did the mechanics in biology. My mother told me the basics pretty young, maybe 9. My father gave me a copy of The Little Red Schoolbook at about 17. Very little in between, everyone was too embarrassed, especially me. I mostly picked up things from friends.

    When I was 10 or 11, I and some friends (other boys) found some ‘dirty magazines’ near the village playing field, and took them to our den. They were soft porn (Playboy, Penthouse, etc) and Cosmopolitan. We knew the latter contained the real stuff, and a friend a year older quickly turned to the letters page. I remember reading (to this day!) about a woman having a problem with a dry vagina. At about 13, a geography teacher with a tendency to go off-subject, asked the class where they got information about sex, and several kids said Cosmopolitan.

    The Guardian has this to say about The Little Red Schoolbook
    ‘On sex, it gives straightforward information with explicit language, and a few warnings about misinformation. “If anybody tells you it’s harmful to masturbate, they’re lying. If anybody tells you you mustn’t do it too much, they’re lying too, because you can’t do it too much. Ask them how often you ought to do it. They’ll usually shut up then.”‘

  6. anat says

    BTW: At what age did you (anyone here) find out the basics of what penetrative sex was and that’s what leads (or can lead) to conception? I was about 8 when I secretly read a children’s book about this that I found on my cousins’ book shelf. Many years later I used the same book with my son who was 5 at the time.

    • ashes says

      I was probably 8 or 9 when my big sister told me a little about sex. I learned way more when I studied in Denmark at 16 but there were a few details that were still a mystery to me. I didn’t completely understand ejaculation until I was a little older and started having sex. Imagine my surprise!

      • John Morales says

        I had a class (back in… um, 1974, in Adelaide, Australia) and one thing I remember is that once someone has a stiffy and is fucking, even if they need to pee they will ejaculate instead. Kind of a valve arrangement in blokes.

        So, that was a worry assuaged.
        Paid off first time I had penetrative sex, after a few drinkies.

        From what I recall (’twas a while back now), the education most certainly was worthwhile, and it was done in an informative way — as it should be.

        (The Monty Python version, however, perhaps not)

  7. lanir says

    I went to Catholic a grade school and highschool. Starting in about 4th grade, I read a lot. This matters because while the books I mostly read were fantasy or sci-fi, they tended to approach love and sex much more honestly than the sex ed class I got in 6th grade. Between the two I managed to form some very murky ideas about what was going on. I had another one in I think sophomore year in highschool. Both were the bare minimum required by law, I’m pretty sure.

    The school mostly told us how things worked and I think the highschool class mentioned condoms. But they were heavy on the abstinance track. They even had a short film that taught a perversion of consent. The video showed a couple having a slight misunderstanding and one partner not being as into it as the other. The announcer then labeled this rape. And then dropped it right there without any further discussion of it. No solutions, no talk about what consent looks like and how to get it. Just trying to make a bunch of teens paranoid about raping people they like enough to have sex with.

    My education in the many varieties of relationships and sexual practices came by way of a book. It was an older book by the time I got it. It was written for the average person and relayed some of what the Kinsey report found. It was something my parents picked up before I was born and I thought they’d cleverly left it where I could find it. A neat way around having a talk that neither of us would have enjoyed. But no, I found out much later that it was an accident. So between that and expanding my horizons via sci-fi and fantasy fiction, I managed to counter some but not all of the horrific nonsense I grew up with.

  8. brightmoon says

    My mom basically threw a Kotex booklet at me and my sister that explained menstruation . Didn’t get any information about sex other than giggles when we spent the night at my female cousins . Had to deal with an extremely sexually repressive and oppressive home life where I got called a whore for merely wanting to wear bikini underwear or miniskirts . I thank God for 2 things, I was a biology major and the women’s lib movement. They both saved my sanity around the emotional abuse and deliberate sexual ignorance i was raised with.

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