“How many times did you and dad have sex before you made me?”
That was the horrifying question I posed to my mother after coming home from school one day locked and loaded with a well-meaning suggestion from Lois, my fourth grade teacher: “Go home and ask your parents about sex.”
Lois — a flowery fortysomething with a scrunched-up face that looked like she was always pooping — had just presented our class with her personal interpretation of sex ed. A two-hour crash course on genitals, reproduction and — incredibly — pleasure, it concluded with the following important message: Sex is only scary if you don’t talk about it. So, she told us, get out there and make some conversation!
At the time, I fully believed that my performance in fourth grade would impact whether or not I got into Harvard Medical School. And so, as a precocious 10-year-old, I was more than willing to misinterpret her gentle suggestion as the explicit instructions of an academic assignment. If she said to do something, I was going to do it.
That night, after finishing the lovely plate of Bagel Bites my mom had nuked in the toaster oven for me (*chef’s kiss*), I turned to the poor woman and, with massively misplaced confidence, proceeded to grill her about the time had procreative sex with my dad.
“How many times?” I asked again.
I didn’t know this at the time, but my mom had the upper hand in the conversation. She was sarcastic, loved to play pranks and was fond of testing my gullibility, so she decided to give me an answer that would a) deflect my probing; and b) give me something to ruminate on while she deftly changed the subject to something a little less creepy. Putting on her best “deep in thought face,” she tapped her cheek as if she was really parsing it out in her head.
“Well,” she said after a brief pause. “Come to think of it, it was about 37.”
I stared at her. Thirty-seven?! I was no expert, but even I knew that was a little rich. I was just about to demand a recount, but then, something stopped me in my tracks. It was her poker face — she looked so sure of herself standing over the sink with the Bagel Bite plate in her hands. Besides, this was my mom — she had far more experience than me. If she said 37, then it was 37.
I spent the next few years convinced that you had to have sex 37 times a day to get pregnant. Expanding on this further in my mind, I reasoned that there had to be some sort of no-pregnancy threshold you had to cross in order to reach Conception Zone — maybe anything below 25 was a dud, and anything over 40 was twins. I didn’t stress myself out with exact figures — I was sure I’d learn them in medical school.
It wasn’t until my second round of sex ed in seventh grade that I learned how absolutely insane of a thing that was to believe. But given the state of sex ed in this country, it turns out I got off easy. According to the CDC, less than 40 percent of high schools and fewer than 1 in 6 middle schools teach a sex-ed curriculum determined to be critical for young people’s sexual health, and only 13 states require the information presented in sex-ed classes to be medically accurate. Meanwhile, only about half of teens receive information about contraception from their sex-ed classes, and an abysmal six percent say their curriculum included any mention of LGBTQ+ sex at all. Thus, a lot of us are left to figure it out on our own, picking up bits and pieces of information about sex where we can (oftentimes with questionable results).
With that in mind, let’s see what sorts of other terrifying myths about sex that the rest of the MEL staff were taught growing up. I’m sure it’ll explain why we’re like this.
Babies Are Born Out of the Butt
Miles Klee, Staff Writer: Maybe this is pretty standard for an eight-year-old boy, but I definitely thought that babies were born out of the butt, and that, therefore, I had emerged from my dear mother’s butt. I knew that newborns had to escape from an orifice of some kind, and, having no conception of a vagina, I drew the only obvious conclusion (probably confirming it with a similarly ignorant friend at recess one day).
The visual alone caused me great anguish — had I fallen straight into the toilet? Yet, as an upside, it did allow me to exercise some empathy for those who endure childbirth. After all, even pooping could be painful, so how much did the rectum have to stretch to accommodate an infant’s head? Later I learned that I had the principle about right, if not the geography.
Unfortunately, I then saw the movie Junior, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a man who is artificially impregnated, and was thrown back into confusion that has persisted ever since.
Vaginas Are Basically Silly Putty
Brian Smith, Features Writer: As a gay boy with no sisters, my understanding of the female anatomy was — and remains — embarrassingly ignorant. I had a general understanding that sexual intercourse involved the penis and something called the vagina, though how I imagined the latter was deeply misinformed. My 10-year-old brain pictured Silly Putty, a favorite toy of mine at the time, and also the same color as my skin. So, to me, vaginas were essentially a wall of silicone that, when penetrated by an erect penis (which I definitely knew about), expanded into a woman’s body like a sheath. This also explained why newborn babies seemed to be covered in film, as they punctured the Silly Putty on the way out. Sex education in eighth grade corrected this misconception, but not entirely. For example, I only recently learned that women don’t pee out of their vaginas (mind blown).
Tube Socks Can Seamlessly Double as Condoms
Quinn Myers, Staff Writer: Years before being officially introduced to puberty in health class, my four older sisters and their friends would often sit in a circle around me, gleefully giving me lectures on everything from what I should and shouldn’t do on dates to the how’s, when’s, where’s and why’s of tampons.
Needless to say, I grew with a pretty advanced sex education — but for all their wisdom, there were a few blind spots in my sisters’ lesson plans. For example, it took me a very long time to discover that tube socks could not, in fact, be substituted for condoms. Somewhere along the line I must’ve learned about the efficacy of tube socks whilst masturbating and connected the dots from there.
I want to say I made it to sixth grade — though maybe it was eighth — seeing tube socks in a parking lot, a locker room or my parent’s bedroom and thinking, “Oh, maybe that was used for sex.” I’m not sure what that says about the sex-ed program in Ottawa, Illinois, though I do have a distinct memory of my CCD teacher, in the middle of the church’s abstinence-only sex-ed classes, telling my friends about his “friend who never even uses condoms because it doesn’t feel as good.” At the time, I was probably like, “Yeah, of course it doesn’t feel good — it’s a freakin’ sock!”
It must’ve been the following summer that my tube sock assumptions were finally laid to rest, thanks, in part, to some porn my friends and I found in the cemetery neighboring our Little League field.
You Can Get STIs from a Toilet Seat
Joseph Longo, Staff Writer: Going to a Catholic high school as a closeted gay kid meant my sex-ed class (so taboo we called it “health period”) was largely unhelpful. We were drilled with abstinence-only papal propaganda, and gay sex was never mentioned all semester.
So for years, I believed the many factually incorrect lessons us impressionable teens were told to ensure that we kept fearing our bodies and intimacy. In particular, we were taught that STIs, specifically HIV, are transmittable via public toilet seats. This was 2013. STI transmission via toilets or water fountains has long been debunked, but you couldn’t tell me otherwise. I believed this until about a year ago — if I’m being honest, I still pad every public toilet with three layers of toilet paper before I sit down. It’s a wasteful, unconscious habit, but that’s what Catholic school sex ed will do to you.
The class wasn’t a total loss, however. On Homecoming weekend, our teacher warned us against eating gummy bears at any party we may attend because they could be soaked in alcohol. Little did she know she’d accidentally given us the recipe for vodka gummy bears, which we successfully tested out just a few days later. I still use the recipe today.
Cheese Graters Are Effective Fleshlights
Andrew Fiouzi, Staff Writer: In 2003, I was 13 and so were most of my friends. Which is to say that most of us were at the ripe age of compulsive masturbatory excellence. We knew what we liked and what we didn’t. So you can imagine how gobsmacked we all were to hear that a kid in our grade decided — based on a joke or a rumor he’d heard — to use a cheese grater as a Fleshlight. When confronted, he owned up to it, telling us of how he had grated his shaft and that it felt “pretty good.” To this day, I’m not sure if he was lying or what. I do know that he became anointed “Cheese Grater” shortly thereafter — a name that stuck with him for at least the rest of his school days.
Condoms Are Alien Gum
Lauren Vinopal, Staff Writer: Growing up with a mom who was a high school health teacher, very few sex myths slipped through the cracks with a woman who brought her “question box” home with her to roast many standard myths at the dinner table — if you could get pregnant from a boner in a hot tub, if babies come from peeing in the vagina, if you’ll die from having period sex (you know, the basics). Not suprisingly then, she left a “Becoming A Woman” educational kit on my bed in third grade, complete with poster-size diagrams of the male and female anatomy (which I later hung up in my college dorm to be fun and flirty), long before the public school system could fail me.
Thus, most of my early sexual oversights were built around one myth alone: That my parents only had sex to make my brother and I, because any alternatives icked me out too much. It was a strangely conservative reaction to my mom’s frankness about sex in general, but I was so uncomfortable with the premise that they enjoyed sex “as part of a healthy marriage” that it spurred other myths. For instance, she told me that my brother and I were both conceived on waterbeds, which convinced me that waterbeds could get you pregnant. Otherwise, I’d have to consider my dad’s role.
I hit peak denial while snooping in the drawers of that same waterbed, where I found a box of condoms. Fortunately, I had seen the movie Coneheads shortly beforehand. In it, Beldar chews condoms as gum. As an eight-year-old, I didn’t get the joke. I vaguely understood that condoms were related to sex in some way, but it was easier to fathom my parents secretly chewing alien gum than smashing. On some level, however, I had to know that condoms weren’t gum because I didn’t try to chew one. Instead, I just put them back and closed the drawer of the waterbed that clearly had impregnated my mom.