Earlier today, a friend wondered why pregnancy doesn’t feature more prominently in sex education. Now, I have to start by saying that since I went to a private Catholic college preparatory high school, I didn’t have sex ed of any kind. (I think there may have been a middle school health class, but by the time I arrived in eighth grade I was pretty much out of luck.) I do remember the fateful day in sixth grade at my public elementary school when we were split up, boys in one room, girls in another, and forced to watch a video on puberty and menstruation. (We were much more fascinated with what the boys must be talking about in the other room.) But that didn’t actually involve any information about sex or pregnancy, aside from the vague notion that bleeding once a month had something to do with the ability to get pregnant. Also in sixth grade we were visited routinely by a couple of high school girls from the STARS (Students Today Aren’t Ready for Sex) Foundation. All I can really remember from those visits are ugly tshirts (I tie-dyed mine later), a list of ways to show someone you care without having sex, and listening to Merrill Bainbridge’s “Mouth” as an example of how pervasive sex was in popular media.
Regardless–sex ed clearly wasn’t memorable for me, and wasn’t at all present in my high school career. So I was a little surprised when my friend related that in her sex ed class they went through the whole condom on the banana demonstration, but no one mentioned what the condom was actually supposed to be doing. And now that I think about it, none of the sex ed or abstinence programs I’ve skimmed have done a whole lot of mentioning of pregnancy. The focus seems to be more on either the general immorality of premarital sex, or the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. (Infections? I can never keep up with which term is popular at the moment.)
This strikes me as a little bit, well, weird.
I have to say, if I were heterosexual, I’m really not sure if I would be having sex while dating a man (as in, before marrying one). From a very early age I’ve been mildly terrified of unplanned pregnancy. And when I really think about it, fear has been my major motivation for not doing a number of things: I don’t smoke because my father would kill me; I didn’t drink for a long time because I was afraid of being drunk; I’ll never try illicit substances, particularly not LSD, since a friend of a friend apparently developed some terrible allergic reaction that means he’s constantly tripping and can’t really function; motorcycles scare me to death; and so on and so on.
Clearly fear-based education worked well with me. But it was never fear of moral reproach (says the lesbian). It was fear of disappointing the real people in my life, or enduring the real physical consequences of doing something stupid.