This week, I will put the scholarly pieces aside a bit and just talk about what sex education as I experienced it and as I see it now. I will focus on the girl – not because I don’t think boys are important in this issue but because girls are the ones who bear ALL the brunt of unwanted pregnancies and so what they go through is important. This is an image my daughter drew of herself and me.
As all little 5-year olds, she mirrors herself on me a lot. What I wear is the prettiest, my hair is the best. Having a little girl in the house is great for an aging woman’s self-esteem! Of course, I think she is the prettiest and cleverest of the female species – she really is.
Anyway, we were talking sex education. My daughter has for a long time believed that her brothers and her were all together in my belly, playing happily until they decided to leave one at a time. So as far as she was concerned, she had tiny little babies in her belly too waiting for their time, to come out. Three little girls that she has already named. Every hunger pang were her babies kicking in her belly. Her brothers broke her innocence when they finally told her that she has no babies, just eggs.
‘I don’t want eggs!’ she protested and came crying to me, ‘Mummy, I don’t have eggs, I have babies….’ she said to me, hoping I will side with her.
She was extremely disappointed that the three daughters in her belly were not real.
‘So how did the babies get in there?’ she asked.
‘Dad gave me a seed and that’s how the babies grew’
She looked at me funny and walked away. I am waiting for the question ‘How did daddy’s seed get in there?’ soon.
I have been told that with little children, you just have to answer the questions as honestly as you can, no need to pull out the encyclopedia yet – just answer what they ask, honestly.
I have friends who tells it as it is ‘You see the dogs mate, your dad and I mated like the dogs’ and there is another one who told her daughter ‘Your dad and I shared a very special hug and that is how he passed the seed to me’. There are merits to both narratives, I find the ‘special hug’ one most palatable. However, the big boys already know so much, they will probably spill the beans immediately I talk about the ‘special hug’.
I got my sex education from two sources: my mother and a teacher at school. The rest we figured out, like all teenagers, among ourselves.
At eight, my mother figured that I was big enough to hear a bit about how the body works. She got a biology text book and sat me down. She read through the book, everything was new and weird. I didn’t think my belly was this full of tubes and eggs and all that. I learned that the eggs were going to get ripe and I would bleed, that I would then be a real woman then, that if I mis-behaved with the boys, a baby would grow inside me. I didn’t quite understand how the boys would get the baby inside me, my head could not quite get that.
But it meant that since she was the first person I heard all that stuff from, my mother was the one I turned to with all my questions. So when my period did finally come, I rushed to my mother and she was really sweet about it. Before, my brother’s clothes and mine were in this open wardrobe, now she had the wardrobe separated. I had my side for my own things and she went and bought me some nice smelling body oil. In those days – this is where you learn that I grew up in the village – they used to come in nice oval shaped tins with labels like ‘Suzzana pomade’ , ‘Lady gay’ and such. So I think it was ‘Suzzana pomade’ in a small blue and yellow oval tin, that she got. It smelt good. Now I was a woman.
In school, the ‘sex education’ class was done one afternoon by our history teacher in standard 7. Already some of my classmates had experienced the ‘red patch on their dress’ and had no idea what was happening. Anyways, the teacher took us all under a tree – those days classes were not that large. I don’t remember what else she said but one thing stuck in my mind. She told us that when boys sit staring at nothing, they are having day-dreams. When they day-dream, their penis stands up ‘like this!’ and she demonstrated with her index finger.
I am sure she must have said something useful that afternoon, she was one of those teachers I really liked because she was fair and she treated us well. I remember a girl in my primary school telling me that when she started her periods, she remembered what the teacher had said and started taking her mother’s cotton wool. Her mother asked whether she was taking her cotton wool – and when she answered in the affirmative, her mother went out and bought her some more – but did not tell her a word of what was happening in her body. What the sex education teacher said that afternoon, was all she knew.
But for me, there was only one lesson. Now in class, when the boys sat staring at nothing, having their day-dreams, I imagined the something in their shorts, standing up ‘like this!’
The teacher had not received any training and was doing this out of her own will. I don’t know what the male students were being taught but I can’t imagine it was very good. The teacher who took on sex education for the boys used to sleep with my classmates – he liked mature-bodied little girls of 13 -15 years of age. Then, he was just considered a nuisance and moved from school to school after impregnating students. Now we would call him a paedophile. I don’t really want to imagine what he told the boys.
That was 1980 – it feels like yesterday when I write about it because though a lot has changed, a lot has remained the same. Sex education teachers still do not receive proper formal training, they are not vetted. If we do not as a country create a proper system of sex education, random teachers will continue to do their own thing at school because they know that most of the students receive nothing at home and they are filling a niche.
I did not know anything about contraception until I was much older and even when I started to experiment after high school, I could not think of a place to get contraception. There was no way I would go to the health centre because the women there knew my mum and they would run to her with that info. I had no money to buy contraceptives at the pharmacy, also probably owned by someone who knew someone that knew my mother……
But I am digressing here….
For the sake of future generations, sex education needs to be streamlined. So all students receive the same messages. There is a gap and it will be filled by someone – in primary schools across the country, this gap is being filled by someone because they can see the students need it – what messages are being passed on? Parents need to do their bit but the message in schools need streamlining – we must have this discussion about sex education in schools whether we like it or not.