Don’t Do It!
By Patrick F. Cannon
Writing about the Disney Corporation’s difficulties with the State of Florida over its new sex education law got me to thinking about my own experiences growing up. When I tell you that my first eight grades were spent in Roman Catholic schools in the 1940s and 50s, it should give you a hint.
“Sex Education” as a subject did not exist. This now strikes me as strange, as the Church seemed to encourage its married members to be as fruitful as possible. It is well to remember that Catholic schools were run by nuns, who themselves had taken a vow of chastity. To most of them, the mere mention of sex seemed sinful. I do recall being told that it was mortal sin to touch one’s private parts for pleasure. I forget whether it was your hand or your penis which would fall off!
The late Peter Ustinov, the actor (and so much more) told a story of going to an assembly at his boy’s boarding school, where the headmaster tried manfully to educate his charges about sex. He muttered and stuttered, and finally told them: “just don’t do it!”
I went on to a public high school in McKeesport, PA, and the subject was covered in a mandatory course in Sophomore year called “Health.” It was taught by the school’s football coach. He would instruct the students to read a chapter, and answer to the questions at the end. Then, if you were on the football team, as I was that year, you would go the back of the classroom, where coach would diagram plays on a blackboard. Since football was almost a religion in Western Pennsylvania, no one thought this odd. There was a chapter on reproduction, which described the subject in vague terms. Needless to say, it wasn’t illustrated. At least, the stork wasn’t mentioned as a delivery system.
Somehow, I figured it out for myself, as those did who had a similar education. However, I do think sex education should be mandatory in our schools. The question – and this is the nub of the Florida controversy – is how much and when. Is the third grade too soon to tell the kiddies about the seemingly endless ways humans express their sexuality? I believe it is. Children that age are still three or four years from the earliest stirrings of puberty, which is time enough to raise these issues.
I’ve heard it said that teaching the variety of sexual expression to young minds may somehow encourage them to imagine that they themselves may be gay, or bisexual, or transgender. I’m not sure there’s any evidence that that’s the case. I do know that it can all be very confusing to an immature mind. Eventually, we all need to know these things, if only to learn tolerance of those who once were shunned and even prosecuted for their sexual orientation.
And not only sexual orientation, but race, religion, class and national origin. Ideally, these would be taught at home, but why do I get the impression that today’s parents are ill-equipped to do so? Religion? Some these days seem to preach intolerance instead. And even those that don’t see fewer and fewer people in their pews on Sunday.
So, my idea, for what it’s worth, is that Junior High or Middle School is time enough to begin properly educating young people about sex in all it’s glories and pitfalls. Let’s let the little kids live in ignorant bliss.
Copyright 2022, Patrick F. Cannon
5 thoughts on “Don’t Do It!”
I actually met Peter Ustinov when I was a kid. My parents and I were on a visit to Italy. Back then the preferred mode of transportation was ocean liner. And Peter Ustinov had the deck chair next to ours. He also performed one evening on the ship. He’s always been a great favorite. Must see again him, Aldo Ray and Humphrey Bogart in “We’re No Angels,” a charming Christmas spin on the Three Wise Men.
Sex education in Brooklyn public school wasn’t much better than what you got. Of course, by junior high all the kids were pretty sex wise thanks to street education. I never breathed a word about it to my parents. I remember the poor science teacher trying to explain the human reproductive system to howls of laughter. Considering that in sixth grade one of my fellow students was already a father, you can understand why.
I’m not sure who really benefits from sex ed, let alone lessons in third grade on the rather specialized ins and outs of human interactions. Parents are seldom happy about third parties coming between them and their kids. I think public education has other, more urgent priorities. Like reading, math and logical reasoning, which can be measured to determine progress. How do you measure aptitude in sex ed, especially when experts insist there are no right or wrong answers?
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I suspect kids in Brooklyn learned a bit earlier than I did!
I remember in sophomore year at the catholic high school that was attending ,we had a priest give us the talk .I remember thinking I was going to hell ,when he said anytime you get an erection it is a mortal sin.oh my .
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I wonder what he did when he got an erection?
This reminds me of Boccaccio’s tale in the Decameron (Third Day, Tenth Novella) about Rustico the pious monk and Alibech the innocent hermit maiden, who learns how the proud Devil is returned to Hell: