Ask any middle school teacher and they’ll tell you the tween years are a confusing time for everyone involved, teachers and students alike. At a certain point, seemingly overnight, you’re dealing with classrooms full of girls who are suddenly little women and little boys who are still just little boys. The dynamic gets sloppy. The kids get confused and rowdy. And teaching subjects like Sex Ed must be the biggest bitch of them all, even if there are only something like five or ten classes in total each year.
In the Spring of 1987, I was a nerdy girl with not many friends. It was a time of flux not only in my body chemistry but in my sense of self as well. I floated around in a dream world without a proper place in the cafeteria, meaning without a proper place in the world, because your lunch table placement is really how you are defined. Or were, last century at least. Kicked out of even the Ugly Nerdy Girls table and not welcome at the Nerdy Boys table because, eww, I was a girl, (but OK I could come over and play D&D when nobody else was looking), I found shelter, via a request put forth by my mall-haired and Def Leppard-loving English teacher, at The Popular But Nice Girls table for the rest of the school year. Nobody spoke to me, but I was allowed to sit there, which was good enough for me. Even after The Sex Ed Incident, when the little boys were still pointing and laughing at me for months, these girls continued to save a place for the dork who didn’t exist to them, and I was grateful.
Before I realized how hurtful the situation really was, I was too busy to notice it. As a girl with a very active imagination I not only had a lot of daydreaming to do, but was also raised in a family where good grades were of the utmost importance. Every day I came home and was asked what my homework assignments were and if I had any tests or quizzes coming up. It didn’t occur to me to lie, so I was subsequently watched like a hawk as I did my assignments and studying. Then my work was checked by parents, grandparents, or tutors, and after revisions were done I was quizzed and re-quizzed again. Every night. Therefore, as uncomfortable as it was, all weekend long we studied, studied, studied the medical illustrations and very technical Latin names of both male and female anatomy for my upcoming Monday morning Sexual Education test.
Rewind a bit to the Friday before the test, as we sat in a darkened classroom and watched the teacher flash below-the-belt line drawings on the projector. Actually, saying we sat in the darkened classroom is definitely an exaggeration. More like everyone was squirming around, giggling, whispering, pointing, and even throwing wadded up notes at each other. With a long, extendable pointer the teacher would briefly flick the tip at the various parts of the penis and bark their names, just trying to get through the lesson before the class actually exploded into complete chaos and anarchy. “Here we have the scrotum which contains the testes where sperm is created,” etc. I remember the vagina section being even shorter with a very brief mention of the words “menses”, “period”, and “blood” and then her holding up an unwrapped tampon and a very large and beat up maxi pad (“Beltless Napkin”) to the very confused class. Side note: I didn’t know what any of those things actually were until a few years later and the day after I got my period, when I tried to hide my stained undies at the bottom of the laundry basket and got a lecture which I still didn’t really understand.
Anyway, at the end of the class we were all given handouts, fresh off the ditto machine, to study from. They looked more detailed than those from the projector, but once given the order to study this or that I was programmed to obey. Study I did. And when Monday morning came and the test was handed out I was more confused then ever. Once again the original anatomical drawings from Friday’s class were projected onto the wall and the parts we were to name were circled in red temporary marker. But this was different. This was wrong. I’d spent all weekend searing the more detailed images from the handouts into my brain, the ones that had numbered and lettered specific parts. Was this part in question the Scarpa’s Fascia or the Vas deferens? This circle seemed to encompass parts C, D, and a little of G on the chart in my brain, so I gave my best guess and wrote in the medical term for it. Most of the test went like this. And then it was over, thank goodness. Or so I thought.
The next day was our last day in Sex Ed, the last day before we started Home Economics and I could finally sew that panda bear kit I’d been dying to try. First we were shown a condom in the wrapper and told a vague something or other about what it was, though I don’t remember being given the information I needed to actually use one or anything. Then we were asked if we had any questions. Naturally nobody asked anything — there were just a couple of titters from the back row. Last but not least, we were given our tests back as we sat in our seats, lights up, everyone watching the teacher as she walked up and down the aisles giving each individual one back. When she got to me, she handed me my test with a big D on it in fat, red marker. I had never seen such a thing in my life. Obviously most of my guesses were wrong. How was I to know the answers were actually the more generic terms such as “testicles” or “urethra”. My mouth hung open. I turned beet red. To add insult to injury as she let go of the paper she leaned down and sarcastically said, “SOMEONE studied too hard!” And the class just lost it. Pointing. Laughing. Jeering. I wanted to disappear. I’m certain I cried, too. In the classroom, in the hallways. For weeks and weeks after I was the girl who liked penises so much I studied them too hard. No pun intended. As if I weren’t already enough of a social pariah.
To this day I wonder what that teacher was thinking, but I’m sure it was just something along the lines of “well thank goodness that’s over till next year!” And me? Well, I’ve actually forgotten where the Epidydimis is located but eventually, and in time to make it count, I did figure out what a condom was and how to use it, no thanks to the public education system. So I’d call that a win.