I woke up this morning and was thinking back over some memorable lessons I had as a schoolboy, since I’ve been teaching secondary school children of late. I went to a boy’s school and therefore the sex education lessons were directed to us as young men.
Our sex education teacher was Mr. V, later the head of the sixth form. He was a chubby and bald man with remnants of black hair. I can’t remember what exactly it was that he taught. I know he taught Theatre Studies in the sixth form, but have a vague suspicion that he also taught French. He was a disciplinarian and would move into fits of hysterical anger at minor things to be expected from young children. I didn’t like him, as he wouldn’t let me take time off from the last lesson of school for my first job interview with Pizza Hut and roundly criticized me for working during my GCSEs (such is white, middle class contempt for the working classes and their situation in school). More importantly, he didn’t help me with my application by getting into contact with the university when I got pooled at Cambridge, even though he was supposed to, as my head of year, and was supposed to try to get me in, like a previous head of year had done for a student who was the national champion at the high jump and had failed to get the requisite grades. Incidentally, Mr. V was also disliked by the general student body. On one of the desks at school, there was a homophobic message about him scrawled onto the desk, which also alluded to his red nose. There was also an incident once, for example, when his packed lunch was stolen and then flushed down the toilet in the sixth form block (all of the students from back then know the perpetrator of that crime now, of course – he confessed to it on Facebook). I will just mention that Mr. V. also told us one time about a pitch black night when he drove into a child outside school in Assembly – I can’t remember whether the child lived or died.
Sex education is a contentious issue. Some welcome it, some don’t. Mr. V taught us in class that it was important not to be a selfish lover. He stated that some women had complained that sex with a man was like being masturbated into by a man. Mr. V gave a practical word of advice for this situation. He told us that during sex it was useful to add together numbers so as to take the mind away from the activity and therefore prolong the act of sex without a premature ejaculation. It appears, and he was right, that abstract mental activity, while it costs some loss in sensation, can prolong the experience because it deflects bodily sensation away into thought.
While Mr. V.’s advice, so far, combined theory with practical advice, there was a flaw in his teaching methods. At the end of his talk, Mr. V. invited questions from the students. I put my hand up and asked, what I thought, was a reasonable question. I asked him what happened to the sperm that didn’t make it to the eggs inside the woman’s body. Instead of saying that he didn’t know and acknowledging his ignorance as to the concrete biology of the process, Mr. V. began criticizing me. He told me that a reasonable person would suppose that it didn’t stay within the body forever and there was some method of getting rid of it (is this correct? I still don’t know. It’s not entirely reasonable to suppose this, as a more effective method might be to recycle the extraneous sperm for some other purpose). He then suggested that the question was worthless as well as the issue. Yet, it would be my sperm and a part of my body, I would suggest, and surely it is a question of interest.
Even a teacher that one doesn’t like can teach us something in what they say and how they act because we always have the choice of being different. Mr. V. led the class from the front without much interaction from the students until right at the end of the lesson. He talked about important issues, but his presentation was old-fashioned and preachy. He didn’t get us to empathise with the woman’s point of view and that they might have had a different idea of what sex is supposed to be – he could have asked us our ideas of what sex is supposed to be and contrasted other interpretations. He gave some good technical advice, but could have gone more into how to be a good lover by referring to texts such as the Kama sutra, emphasising the fact that sexual partners should work to create pleasure for each other. Mr. V. should have celebrated curiosity from his questioners, especially scientific curiosity, and not used it as an occasion to attack them. Still, one lives and learns from each class. The most important thing is to remember what it was to be a student.