Thursday, 8 October 2015

Sex education

It was so simple. I thought that all girls automatically had tiny babies inside them from birth and it was only when you got married that they started to grow and then you actually laid them, like a hen laying eggs. The fact that this somehow only happened when you had a husband was due to the same kind of magic that enabled Father Christmas to get into houses without chimneys.

I remember jumping up and down one day and saying to my mum, “Oh, I hope I'm not making my baby feel sick!” when I was only about 7 or 8; just for a brief moment there mum may well have felt a little nauseous herself.  Anyway, when I got married, probably to the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Christopher, who had given me a clockwork helicopter for my sixth birthday, the baby would come out of my bottom and we'd all live happily ever after in one of those houses with the sticky-out windows that I'd seen on the way to Aunty Margaret's.

So it was all a bit of a shock when Elizabeth told me what really happened. Elizabeth was off school for a visit to the dentist that fateful day. It was a Wednesday, and on Wednesdays at 10 o'clock Mrs Williams took her class of 9-year-olds into the assembly hall whereupon she wheeled out the big television with wooden shutters on its tall stand and we spent the next half hour sitting on the floor cross-legged being educated and entertained, often by some rather excellent programme such as Merry Go Round. However, for some reason that Mrs Williams wouldn't explain, that Wednesday the routine was changed and we didn't get our usual telly session.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth, being a good, studious, little girl, thought she'd watch some educational TV at home anyway before she went to the dentist. Her mum was upstairs cleaning the bathroom and left her daughter to it.

When Elizabeth and I sat together on the Pudding Stone at playtime the next day she was a different girl. She knew. She knew all about how babies were made... she'd seen it on Merry Go Round... and she couldn't wait to tell me. It was shocking. “The man puts his thing right inside the woman!” “But howWhere?” I was aghast. It was hard to imagine Christopher putting his thing... well... you get the idea.

By the time I got to secondary school, just turned 11, I felt I knew the basics, but I was surprised to discover it was complete news to some of my classmates. We had to watch a creaky, unimaginative film about The Facts Of Life, all very cold and anatomical, and one of the Bagwell twins fainted. I don't think she even knew about periods, poor thing.  But later in the year we got the gory childbirth film in Biology and with all the blood and guts and umbilical cords I nearly fainted too.

Then there were those conversations on the way home from school. Sarah T revealed what her big sister had told her she'd done with her boyfriend... We giggled uncontrollably, titillated but uncomprehending. Gradually we notched up a bit more knowledge, like when Tracy P found a load of torn out pages from Playboy and Mayfair strewn around on the footpath behind her house (how did they end up there?) She brought them in to school and we pored nervously over the naughty pictures, in disbelief, unable to compare those pink bodies on the pages to our own not yet fully formed ones.. so much hair! much strange-looking flesh!...

I don't know what kids of that age know now, how much is taught or when, nor how much sense it makes to minds that may have already been exposed from infancy to the internet. There must be a fine line between a refreshing openness and too much too soon but, not having kids of my own, I've swerved that particular challenge.

Elizabeth went on to be a midwife, by the way.  And by the age of ten Christopher and I were no longer talking, so I wanted to marry Simon, who had a bicycle with gears.


  1. I remember precious little formal sex education at my school, though I do recall that, much like Tracy P's neighbourhood, the streets and parks of Walthamstow and Leyton in the late 1960's/early 1970's seemed to be awash with pages torn from porn magazines. Why was that? I also have vivid memories of a local paper shop whose entire window display was taken up with magazines so graphic that they would now only be considered suitable for sale in 'Private Shops' (come to think of it, do they still exist?). How times change.

  2. I think I've mentioned before that one of the places I lived in as a kid was, often literally, covered in old porn mags due to the proximity of a massive paper mill where the pulped stuff that had been banned or confiscated for whatever reasons. All our sex ed. started there. No wonder we were all so screwed up.

  3. Thanks both of you - your experiences (and mine) of window displays and mags on the streets all sounds rather unsavoury, but I guess it's nothing compared to what kids see on the internet. Perhaps we should count our blessings!?!