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What Kids Should Actually Learn In Sex Ed


It’s been a long time since I was in middle-school sex ed. I haven’t retained much from that classroom back in 2000, but it’s an amusing exercise to reflect on those few memories I still have.

There was lots of giggling. There were diagrams of ovaries and urethras and the like, but they were too sterile to engage my seventh-grade brain. To be sure, I was very interested in sex, but the mechanics of reproduction, not so much.

My clearest memory is of a poorly acted video drama—our instructor’s preferred teaching tool—about two sexually active high school girls. We’ll call them Rosa and Jenny. For the purposes of the story, there were two key differences between them. Rosa was promiscuous (to put it nicely), while Jenny was in a committed relationship with her boyfriend and only lifetime partner. But Rosa was rigorous about using condoms in her encounters, where Jenny was less so.

You already know where this is going. (It’s stolen directly from the movie “Kids,” after all.) One day Rosa, the irresponsible one, suggests they go down to the clinic to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases. Jenny is sure she doesn’t need it, but goes along for support. Rosa, of course, comes back with a clean bill of health. Jenny doesn’t get so lucky. She has HIV. Womp, womp.

Even at the time, this tale struck me as morally askew. It was also, I now know, factually misleading. In reality, if you stick to heterosexual circles and, absent any intravenous drug use, your chances of contracting HIV are less than that of being struck by lightning. But our teacher knew not to let his students be led astray by inconvenient data.

I got an A in the class, and have thus far avoided HIV. Success! Yet somehow I still reached adulthood without full mastery over real-world sexual dynamics. There must be a better way to teach this stuff.

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