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Sex education in my time

Nowadays, so I hear, schoolchildren are taught all sorts of marvelous things about sex. In some countries, at least. Let me tell you what my classmates and I were taught at school in a London suburb back in the first half of the 1960s. I attended only one lesson that was officially described as sex education, but I include under “sex education” other incidents in which teachers conveyed to us certain attitudes toward sex. I do not use the word “education” here in any positive sense.

The first two incidents are from my last year at primary school, when I was 10. The others are from my first three or four years at secondary school (ages 11—15).

E.’s public humiliation

I liked E. and I had great respect for our teacher Mrs. N., though I was still a little afraid of her. But at morning assembly one day Mrs. N. called E. to stand on the stage in front of the whole school and thoroughly berated her for her “disgraceful” behavior. Besides my shock and distress at E. being humiliated in this way, I had difficulty grasping what it was all about. It appeared that E. had been playing a kissing game with some of the boys in the playground. Pondering the matter afterward, I identified three things that I did not understand.

First, what was so disgraceful about a kissing game?

Second, why was only E. called to the stage and not the boys, especially as it was probably they who had thought up the game?

Third, and most perplexing of all, why was a female teacher unfairly picking on another female?

I felt ashamed that just by remaining seated in the audience I had taken part in E.’s public humiliation. I should have spoken up in her defense, I thought. Or at least have walked out of the hall. But I only came to this conclusion when it was too late.

In the locker room

On our last day at primary school the girls were taken off separately into the hall for some unexplained purpose, while we boys were left in the locker room to while away the time as we pleased.

“What do you think they are talking about in there?” I asked some of the other boys. They shrugged. Apparently they were not very curious.

“They will soon start having their periods,” I continued. “I bet that is what they are talking about.” I had learnt something about “periods” from my mother. Blank stares from the other boys. Then they started talking about something else.

I reflected that it wasn’t long since we had all played together. Now boys and girls had been separated. How and why had it happened? It saddened and worried me. How would we get back together? When I came home I asked my mother and she tried to explain, but I could make no sense of her explanation and grew irritable.

A vicar asks us a question

Finally, in the second year of secondary school, “sex education” sessions were arranged for us. For boys and girls separately. When I saw that we boys were going to be addressed by a vicar – I could tell he was a vicar from his collar – I expected him to take a religious approach to the subject. But to my surprise his approach was exceedingly pragmatic.

“Which of you hope to marry a virgin?” he asked.

A forest of hands shot up. I did not raise my hand. The immediate reason was that I did not recall right away what “virgin” meant. When I remembered, I decided that I would still not raise my hand. The question struck me as very odd. I looked around me to see whether anyone else had his hand down. As I did so, my eyes met those of another boy who was evidently looking around him for the same purpose. It was good not to be alone. There were four of us altogether with our hands down. I made a mental note of the identity of the other three. It would be a sort of bond between us.  

The vicar had a very satisfied look on his face as he contemplated the forest of hands before him. He showed no sign of noticing the four of us with hands down. We didn’t count.

“Well then,” he continued. “How do you expect to find a virgin to marry if you go around having sex with every girl between here and Ipswich?”

The expression on his face was even more satisfied than before as he contemplated the irrefutable logic of his argument.

And that was it! Our “sex education” was complete! 

The biology teacher reassures us

Our biology teacher was a progressive young chap. Soon after the session with the vicar, he took advantage of a lesson on the human body to reassure us that sex was a natural function. He told us not to worry about it. He spoke in a rather furtive manner, clearly afraid that his words might reach the wrong quarters and get him into trouble.

I and three others are told off for fraternizing with the opposite sex

This incident occurred during a school holiday walking in the Tyrolean Alps. The scenery was extremely beautiful. All in all, a marvelous experience. But there was one fly in the ointment.

Two of the girls invited my friend L. and me to go to their room after the evening meal. The four of us sat there, chatted, listened to music. I put my arm around one of the girls, but that was as far as it went. I enjoyed it very much. It would have helped me feel less anxious about girls – were it not for what happened next.

The next day the male teacher in charge – a pompous and overbearing individual – made an “important announcement.” It had come to his notice that two boys had been in one of the girls’ rooms (true, he did not name any of us). This was strictly forbidden. And so on. I felt that we had done nothing wrong and that it was quite unfair to tell us off in such a harsh tone.

Afterward I asked myself how the teacher had learned of our gathering. I was certain that the girls would not have told him. I knew that it wasn’t me. So my suspicions fell on L. To accept the girls’ invitation and then tell on them – that was really dirty! I didn’t speak to him again. But it could have been a girl in a neighboring room, couldn’t it? 

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