It takes a village to teach sex ed

Joe Banks recalls his ‘funny, mysterious and sometimes bizarre’ journey to the truth about sexJoe-Banks-ss

There is nothing — I repeat, nothing — in the province’s updated health and sexuality curriculum that will stop any 14-year-old boy from snortlaughing from their seats during the slide show part
of the class. Fear not, good parents; the universe shall unfold as it will.

It is in our contract, if not in our still-developing hormones, as males at that age to turn 50 shades of red whenever the teacher utters the word “penis”, “vagina” or “intercourse” in a sex ed class, especially those with both sexes in attendance.

For the classic and proven reality is, not a single boy will remember what their teacher said at any moment during health class. Their brain chemistry and emergent sense of humour prevents it.

Sex is funny business, after all, and I’ve routinely snorted myself about how oh-so-very serious and earnest people seem to feel in demanding to impart the truth of human sexuality to children and teenagers.

Case in point: I and my buddies chortled our way through Mr. Brousseau’s Grade 10 sex lectures, not because he, our gym teacher, delivered them with the wit and timing of Billy Crystal, but  because he didn’t.

We were impressed that he kept a straight face while he said “close contact,” earnestly gesturing with a pointer — which ensued snorting from both sides of the classroom — toward a dry cutaway drawing of genitalia coupling that bore closer resemblance to a map of Chesapeake Bay than the moment of copulation (a term Stevie behind me thought meant increasing the number of police present during an orgy).

But we endured through Mr. Brousseau’s missives, not only because we respected Coach, but because we knew we would eventually learn the unvarnished truth from buddy Tom H., who was cool because his parents let him host penny ante poker nights on Fridays. He was also the first to report to us in Grade 8 that sex felt so good, we would want to do it all the time.

Those poker nights were where we compared notes, morphing Coach’s lectures with friend’s personal experiences – real or imagined – that would somehow enable us to carry on another day, satisfied we had the mystery solved.

And if there was a lapse in Tom’s explanations, one of my older brothers would tease the truth into me, via their smarmy banter between hockey periods on Saturday nights when dad was out of
the room for a bathroom break.

p28Hushed fables of pretend sex made their way into our bunk bed complex, gradually lifting our knowledge base from indifference to mystery to the actual possibility that real live men and women did this to make a baby.

And then there was this awkward waiting period that started somewhere in the early teens. By the time the moment of ultimate clarity arrived, parents were just beginning to contemplate how, or even whether, they would broach the topic. And when I say they, I mean my mother, who always had such fun jobs in our house. As I was boy number four in our house of five, her sole  contribution to my sex-ed consisted of two words, muttered in passing as she reloaded my sock drawer as I did homework: “Any questions?” That was it. And of course, I hadn’t a single one.

Sex was never taught to me exclusively through academic lessons, a parental requirement or from the street, as parents today seem to fear. It came from a funny, mysterious and sometimes bizarre blend of friends, brothers and stories. The clues gathered on the route to the truth kept the mystery developing, a quaint and anachronistic idea in the era of the Internet, where answers are just a mouse click away.

Photo: © JanPietruszka