Brenda Green and foreskin
My daughter rang me the other week to tell me she has become a condom rep in her university hall of residence. Apparently this involves dishing out prophylactics to anyone who hammers on her door at 2am clutching a can of Fosters, the remains of a pizza and the beginnings of a wistful erection. I'd rather she'd made it on to the University Challenge team, but she seems happy enough with her role. She has to demonstrate to other students how to fit a condom using a life-size plastic penis and a thoughtfully laminated instruction card, which sounds a lot more exciting than modelling a complex sentence using a whiteboard and an adverbial clause.
I am glad that our universities take contraceptive advice so seriously, because secondary schools rarely do. My own sex education was perfunctory at best, relying as it did on three drawings: two of the human reproductive system which I painstakingly copied from the board in Lab 3, and Brenda Green's hasty sketch of her brother's circumcised penis. I found the knowledge that boys would allow you to snip their foreskins strangely reassuring since I'd always rather enjoyed trimming my Tressy doll's hair.
More sexual enlightenment soon followed in the shape of a senior prefect. Her boyfriend worked at Burton the Tailor and had a three-button waistband and Sacha shoes, so anything she said was gospel. She explained to us the relevance of the soixante-neuf logo, which, after weighty consideration, we scribbled on the back page of our daybooks, next to the lyrics of David Bowie's Time. It took me years to realise that the 69 position is just a Buy One Get One Free marketing ploy to persuade women to try something they'd sooner leave on the shelf: like giving away a free chocolate gateau with every tub of Value natural yogurt.
After this, there was a figurative free-for-all. Every song lyric became a subliminal sexual metaphor: my best friend swore that Cockney Rebel's Come Up and See Me, Make Me Smile alluded to the fact that the hole in a man's willy became crescent-shaped when he ejaculated. What did we know? In the land of nascent teenage desire, the one-eyed man is a euphemism. Away from the bravado of the classroom we were beset by genuine fears. Do I lie on my side? Will it fit? Does it hurt? If I've ridden in a gymkhana, is my hymen intact? Thankfully, in those days girls' bottoms were out of bounds. Anal penetration seems to be a recent unwanted by-product of the internet, like cyber bullying, phishing and Kindles.
The final stage of my journey into sexual maturity came when my mum waved me off to uni with the cryptic advice "Don't go plodging without your wellies". Whether she was warning me against the dangers of unprotected sex or being insufficiently attired for inclement weather, I never could tell.
Today, faith schools are still in the dark ages when it comes to PSHE. Sex education for older kids is often delivered by evangelical theatre companies who use shocking narratives about abortion to say "Just Don't Do It" to the kids. The problem is that some of them already have. And while the sex might not ruin their lives, the way we react to it might. Fortunately, the company's acting is so bad that the message that pre-marital sex is a crime against God rarely hits its target. But it's always a relief in the final QA, when the kids don't ask the performers "Will the Lord forgive us?", but "Have you met Ant and Dec?"
Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the north of England.