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Sexual education is often a defining experience in a person’s life. It usually (hopefully) happens at the beginning of adolescence, a time when a person is extremely impressionable and let’s face it, if sex ed is ignored or done poorly, it can be detrimental to your sexual health and attitude toward sex for the rest of your life. Up until recently, I hadn’t really given much thought to the importance of sex ed, and I’ve determined that it’s because my experience with sexual education was just absolutely top-of-the-line. So good in fact, that hearing what other people got for sex ed in middle and high school down right shocked me. Since this discovery, I’ve been thinking nonstop about what made my experience so positive and realized it was all thanks to one woman.

I went to all girls school, and I received a full week of sexual education in science class every year. Even years like 9th grade when we were studying physics, the school brought in Dr. Smith (not her real name) to talk to us and answer all our questions about sex. All sex. All week long. Dr. Smith was a retired physician and had two daughters that had also attended my school but had already graduated. She was a medical professional, but she was also a mom. She used the clinical terms for all the sex organs but was also approachable and really seemed to care about us. We were allowed to ask her any and all questions. Nothing was off the table, a fact that excited and delighted us. During the week of sex ed, we scrambled to write down all our burning curiosities on little scraps of paper and slip them into the anonymous “SEX ?’s” box outside our science classrooms.

Starting in 7th grade, the questions were mostly about the parts of sex 12- and 13-year-olds didn’t understand. One such question that I still think about on an almost weekly basis and still laugh out loud about was “What is an organism?” Okay, so clearly, this girl meant to write “orgasm,” which is just utterly hilarious to me now, but Dr. Smith never laughed at our ignorance. There was a light tittering of laughter throughout the room from the girls who knew enough to notice the mistake, but Dr. Smith calmly said, “Now girls, I think this question is meant to say orgasm.” She continued by giving a detailed explanation. 

As we got older, our questions reflected our sexual experience like, “Why does my stomach hurt when I swallow semen?” She NEVER judged and NEVER made us feel stupid. I’m pretty sure someone one time wrote, “Is it true that semen whitens your teeth?” These questions, which seem insane now, are the reasons why we need sex ed.

Dr. Smith was understanding, calm, and knowledgeable, but her best quality, by far, was how REAL she got with us. When I was a senior, I took Human Biology, and as luck would have it, Dr. Smith had signed on to be a full-time teacher, and I got to be in her class. It wasn’t until recently that I realized this class absolutely changed my life and played a vital role in shaping my attitudes about sex. Up until this year, I frequently thought about the class but only ever to laugh hysterically about the things that she taught us. While relaying some of her tales of sexuality to a friend over dinner a few weeks ago, his reaction was to smile but also to exclaim, “Wow, she told you that? In high school? That’s awesome.” It wasn’t the reaction I had expected, but it made me stop and think, “That is fucking awesome.” Her authenticity provided me with what I now see was probably the best high school sex ed in the state of Tennessee.

One time, Dr. Smith went into graphic detail about what an orgasm feels like. This was informative because at the time, though I was sexually active, I hadn’t actually experienced one myself—though I think I had convinced myself otherwise, until I heard this. She shared her own experience with us, something that none of our mothers had ever done, and if they had ever tried, we would probably cover our ears and scream in embarrassment. 

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She told us that her husband says he can feel her vagina "tugging" on his penis when she orgasms. Okay, I’d like to say that I’ve matured enough that I no longer find this funny, but I’m currently laughing as I type. (Sorry, I'm a giant child). At least now, I appreciate how incredible it is that I got such real, down and dirty, unedited explanations. At the time, I just squeezed my friend Emma’s leg under the table and took deep breaths so not to explode into completely inappropriate laughter. Now I know that she wanted us to see what being a sex-positive adult looks like, and that meant not being ashamed or afraid to have an open dialogue.

Dr. Smith was also the first person to ever suggest that it was remotely normal or acceptable to have sex while on your period. During my high school years, menstruation week meant a week of hand jobs and unreciprocated oral sex. My mind was blown when she one time casually mentioned that one day, we’d all realize how unfair that way of thinking was, and she hoped we would all find partners that would be understanding that menstruation was just a natural part of being a woman and wasn’t to be thought of as dirty. That class ROCKED MY WORLD. I actually remember sitting against my locker after class and telling my girlfriends that I couldn’t imagine ever having the desire to sleep with someone while on my period. It just seemed so gross. I’m happy to report that these days, menstruation plays absolutely no role in running my sex life.

In writing this, I realize how incredibly privileged I am to have received such impeccable sexual education. It's also forced me to face the facts that I, unfortunately, am in a minority when it comes to my sex ed experience. Today, only 19 states require that sex education be medically, factually or technically accurate. And state definitions of “medically accurate" vary. That needs to change. It's my hope that one day every American youth will find a teacher like Dr. Smith. Someone knowledgeable, compassionate, and honest.

Images via Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock

New Fall Issue d217c

Published March 16, 2016

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Olivia’s first sentence was “No talk, just laugh” and since then, she’s made it her business to find the humorous side of life and share her absurd observations with others. She’s a writer, a lover of all things pop culture, and she can’t fall asleep without having 30 Rock on in the background. If you like looking at pictures of food and random dogs, you should check out Olivia’s Instagram.

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