For most of us, our memories of middle and high school sex ed classes revolve around visibly uncomfortable teachers, giggling fits prompted by the word "spermatozoa," and illustrations of the female reproductive system that looked vaguely like a schematic drawing of an X-wing fighter from Star Wars. However, for some of us, sex ed class wasn't about adults making awkward faces and that one movie where they show a baby crowning out of a vagina — it was about receiving inaccurate or misleading sexual health information. For many American students, inaccurate sex ed is not a thing of the past — whether due to a specific agenda on the part of the teacher or school, or just simple ignorance on the part of the people in charge, people are still getting incorrect sexual information from teachers at an alarming rate.
If you're surprised, you probably shouldn't be.Only 22 U.S. states (plus D.C.) require sex ed in public schools to begin with; beyond that, only 18 states require that students learn about contraception, and only 13 states require that the information in sex education classes be "medically accurate" — which leaves the door open for scaremongering, opinion given as fact, and other things that young people who are probably about to embark on their sexual lives for the first time shouldn't have to deal with.
The 11 people below are just a handful of those who've encountered inaccurate information in a U.S. sex ed classes — and at least they were fortunate enough to eventually find out that the information they were given was wrong. If this list shocks, upsets, or otherwise motivates you, consider agitating for more accurate sex ed classes in your area.
1. Lucy, 30
"There wasn't a clitoris in a single anatomy drawing that we looked at in my middle school sex ed classes — which I guess they thought was fine, because there was no discussion of sexual pleasure, or why anyone would have sex besides 'guys want to.' I saw a drawing of it in a feminist book a few years later, when I was a freshman in high school, and was like 'What...?'"
2. Blair, 26
"My 10th grade sex ed class was taught by a MARRIED COUPLE, and the first day, they had us just, like, shout out words for body parts to 'get comfortable' saying them, and the husband would write them on the boards. Someone yelled 'vagina' (of course) and so he starts writing: V-I-G-I-N-A."
3. Jack, 29
"I attended an Orthodox Jewish high school, where a very smart, nice, middle-aged woman taught most of our sex ed course and she was very accurate. And then on the last day, they brought in a rabbi to talk about 'Jewish law and sex' and he said, 'The Torah says birth control is evil and only married people should have sex, so only have sex if you're married. But if you have premarital sex, at the very least, for the love of god, don't use birth control.' You could call it inaccurate or just very bad advice, but either way, not a smart thing to tell 10th graders."
4. Abby, 22
"EVERYTHING we were taught about the hymen was incorrect. It was basically like, 'Hi girls. You will have sex, this flap thing will rip and you will bleed. That's your lesson on the hymen. Unless it broke while riding a horse, because we know SO MANY of you ride horses all day long.' This is, of course, a lesson full of many misconceptions about the hymen. In my opinion, this also leads a lot of young women to accept that sex should hurt or be uncomfortable, which is not the case, and that belief can even persist after the first time and throughout a woman's life.
"In addition, I sat through so many activities where we did things like put a sponge with blue water into one cup and then mix a bunch of people's clear water together, or share one piece of gum with a group of people. These activities were used to show what it is like when you're sexually 'promiscuous.' They'd say the color of the water represented baggage, emotions, other lovers, and chance of sexually transmitted diseases. The idea of comparing a human person to dirty water or chewed up gum disturbed me even then. Why are we teaching shame?"
5. Jenna, 24
"That you can only get STDs from penetration, and only then if you don't wear a condom. I thought I was safe from herpes because the guy wore a condom — but I caught it after he went down on me while he had a cold sore."
6. Bianca, 31
"I went to a private Catholic school that advocated abstinence, but was surprisingly progressive about sex education. Except for when they taught us about a form of fertility awareness called the Billings ovulation method, I guess.
"They told us if our cervical mucus was sticky and opaque when we stretched it on our fingers, you were at a point in your cycle where you wouldn't get pregnant, because the sperm would have a hard time getting through it. I later learned that if you are trying to practice fertility awareness as a birth control method, it's actually the opposite: the mucus is considered a sign of fertility; you're less fertile when you're dry."
7. Gina, 26
"That you can catch HIV from skin-to-skin contact."
8. Hayley, 27
"On the subject of STDs, my young 20-something health teacher told our class, 'I have this friend. Well, she's not really a friend friend. But, anyway, she kinda sleeps around a lot and she got STDs. So.' End of lecture. She proceeded to talk to the male students in class about their basketball game until the bell."
9. P., 33
"The anus is not intended for intercourse."
10. Marie, 31
"Masturbation is wrong, because it turns your love in on yourself, and leaves you unable to love others."
11. Deena, 33
"My public middle school health classes never once mentioned that gay people, queer people, or basically people with any sexualities besides 'straight' existed. But hey, at least we dedicated two entire weeks of the term to learning that people who ever tried weed were likely to immediately become addicted to hard drugs, right?"
Images: Paramount Pictures/ Broadway Video/ SNL Studios; Giphy