Sex Education

Sex education was a public health fad when I entered high school in 1970, and I was among the first adolescents to be formally instructed in the science of sex. It became all the rage, an embarrassing extension of the science trend following Sputnik, only focused on a biological exploration of the zygote experience. “Sex ed” was separate from other classes, segregated by gender and always taught by physical education (PE) teachers who matched the sex of the students. Classes were held irregularly, never announced in advance, and conducted in a very grave and secretive atmosphere. Boys and girls were separated and marched to different rooms. No texts or handouts were distributed. Information was delivered by lecture, sometimes by pleading to our good sense, other times through hectoring and admonition. The teachers spoke with an exaggerated, almost morose, air of seriousness. 

During one session at Cherryhill East High School, the instructor used an overhead projector to show the class an illustration of the male phallus. A gigantic penis covered the blackboard from one end of the room to the other. The gym teacher paced in front of the blackboard gesticulating and shouting details while the phantom phallus shined brightly on, over and behind him. The penis maintained a gigantic multi-dimensional presence by appearing to move along with his white shirt as he marched back and forth in front of the blackboard waving his arms in a wild and exaggerated manner.   

He next displayed a detailed illustration of the female sex organ. “This is a clitoris,” he shouted, and violently whacked the unfamiliar image with his pointer, the loud bang startling the dark room to attention. Women, we were told, had a lot of moving parts and worked to a precise monthly schedule. Tiny labels with multiple vowels were plastered all over the female organ. The teacher repeatedly slammed the illustration with his pointer to emphasize critical points. We sat listening in stunned silence. I tried to focus on the anatomical lesson at hand, but it was harder than algebra. No one dared ask a question.  

The girls were already at their desks when we returned to class. They were talking and laughing in a lighthearted manner. The boys shuffled in silently and took their seats, looking uncertain, lost and confused.