The More You Know
(story by Mir, from WouldaCouldaShouda.com)
I grew up in the 70s and 80s, which was of course the era of Very Meaningful After School Specials and the little "The More You Know" PSAs on television. (Also: "This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?" My smart-ass question was always, "But what if I want my eggs scrambled?")
I attended middle and high school just as national phobia about the AIDS epidemic hit, too, which meant that I was subjected to year after year of watching middle-aged women—always someone a little stodgy, unflappable, and so unremarkable that we all felt positive she had most certainly NEVER had sex—come to an assembly for the express purpose of rolling a condom down a banana as a demonstration of How To Stay Safe. Schools were teaching sex ed with a vengeance, you might say. At least where I was.
Plus, as I've mentioned before, I grew up in a household that very much believed that knowledge is power. My mother talked to me early and often about my body, sexual maturation, and all the various related matters.
This is why it always shocked me when it came time for Ye Olde Separated Genders Sex Ed Classes (at some point after the health teacher rolled a condom down over a banana, natch) and we did the index card thing. Remember that? You'd have your lesson about the eggs and the fallopian tubes and the "shedding of the uterine lining" (is there a weirder sounding phrase in the English language?) and whatnot, and then everyone was instructed to write down any questions on index cards and pass them in. This way, we could anonymously ask about whatever we liked, and not be embarrassed, and get answers.
I usually just didn't pass in my card. Sometimes I'd write "I don't have any questions." But the questions that came from my classmates… sure, I'd giggle along with the rest of the class, but mostly I was horrified at how much so many of the other girls apparently didn't know. Everything from the standard, "Will I still be a virgin if I use tampons?" and "Can you really get pregnant in a hot tub if you're wearing a bathing suit?" on down to "Is douching with Pepsi good contraception?" Whoa.
My lot in middle school was much like most kids at that most awkward age; I wasn't popular, I wasn't one of the Beautiful People, but I wasn't a total outcast, either. Being smart meant I was offered a grudging spot on the fringe of the in crowd, because we tended to share classes. Debbie was both one of the Beautiful People AND she was totally popular. She not only had a boyfriend when we were in 8th grade, she had a boyfriend when we were in 8th grade who was in high school (ooooooooh!). She always had designer clothes and she had a set of ribbon barrettes (fellow former 80s children may remember those, where skinny ribbons were braided through a barrette and then left to stream down along the ends into the hair) in every color of the rainbow, to go with every outfit. To add insult to envious injury, she had long, straight, blond hair. (My frizzy brown locks only wished to be so pretty.)
Debbie was sort of my friend because we were both involved with a mock trial club that was almost entirely high schoolers and mostly boys, so we stuck together there. I knew we weren't really friends; I wasn't nearly cool enough for Debbie to really like me, after all. We carpooled to mock trial and hung out together there, but she rarely talked to me at school.
One night Debbie called me in a panic.
"I got my period," she said.
"Congratulations?" I said. Was Debbie really calling me to tell me this? I may have pinched myself.
"What do I do?" she continued, a note of urgency in her voice.
"You, uh, tell your mom?" I suggested.
"I can't," she hissed. "There's pads and tampons in the cabinet in the bathroom and I don't know what to do. This pad is HUGE and I hate it. I feel like I'm wearing a diaper."
"So wear a tampon instead," I said. "I always wear tampons. You can't even feel them."
"I… don't know how. And doesn't it stop you from having babies?"
Suddenly being popular and pretty seemed to have a hidden downside. "Debbie," I said. "There's instructions on the tampon box. They don't stop you from having babies, what are you talking about?"
"I thought they make it so you can't have babies ever. I thought I heard that."
"Maybe if you never take 'em out," I offered.
We both giggled, then. I talked her through the tampon thing and then she said something that surprised me:
"Thanks, Mir. I knew you'd know. I could never talk to my mom about this stuff."
Even at 13, I thought that was one of the saddest things I'd ever heard. Debbie and I never ended up best friends, or anything, but she was always kind to me, even sometimes when other people weren't.
You know, my daughter's 13, now. She's the one sitting in health class, now, rolling her eyes at what her classmates don't know. I like to think that with Google and YouTube and everything, kids can become better informed, more easily, even if their parents don't talk to them… but I hope their parents talk to them. I think being in Debbie's situation—or one like it—must kind of suck.
Knowledge is power. The more you know, the more informed choices you can make. Everyone seems to agree about that until it comes to human sexuality, and then some people seem to believe that mystery is the best option. I don't get it.
Did your parents talk to you about this stuff? Do you find it hard to talk about, either with your kid(s) or others? How do we make these conversations easier?
(read more Mir here)