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Close Your Eyes and Think of England, and Other Cases of Sex Mis-education

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For most people, talking to their kids about sex is awkward.

For sex ed teachers, explaining “the birds and the bees” to someone else’s kids is even more awkward.

And for the kids themselves? Hearing adult authority figures talk about sex is extremely awkward…and more troubling, often filled with lies.

  Victorian Sex Ed — As Repressed as You Think It Is

The 1800s weren’t a good time for sex education, a trait best exemplified by Queen Victoria’s famous advice to one of her daughters on her wedding night: “Close your eyes and think of England.”

Of course, Queen Vic had nine children…so the implication seems to be that while she loved sex with her husband, it wasn’t seemly to talk about the mechanics of sex, let alone say that you liked it. Still, you’d think Her Majesty would be able to give her own daughter a little more direction than that.

Elsewhere in the world, the Americans were also spreading dubious information about sex. Health guru Sylvester Graham (yes, the same guy who invented the graham cracker) toured around the United States during the 1830s and told his audiences that masturbation caused sickness of all kinds, from constipation to mental illness. A year later, Reverend John Todd released a sex education manual that also decried masturbation, claiming that frequent ejaculation decreased energy and productivity.

  The World Wars Spark A New Era For Sex-Ed — Breeding a Army of Misogynists

If it wasn’t for World War I, the trend of offering vague, inaccurate or just plain useless advice about sex and masturbation might have continued. However, in1918, Congress passed The Chamberlain-Kahn Act, which allocated money to educate soldiers about syphilis and gonorrhea.

The government realized that they couldn’t risk losing the war because there were too many soldiers out of commission due to venereal disease. Between the events of the first and second World Wars, many propaganda posters were created that gave many GIs some of the first sex advice they had ever received.

Of course, what seemed like good advice decades ago seems pretty dated today. Whereas modern safe sex campaigns are careful to explain that both men and women are to blame for spreading sexually transmitted infections, these vintage propaganda posters verge on the misogynistic, painting all women in any port of call as evil agents ready to pounce on unsuspecting GIs and infect them. Wrapping your package is always a good idea, but spreading the idea that women are the ones who spread disease and not men is just plain dumb.

While the direct approach was being used in the Armed Forces, there was plenty of vaguely unhelpful information being spread around. In 1920, Lucy S. Curtiss wrote an influential article called "Sex Instruction through English Literature."

The ridiculous article instructed the few teachers in the United States who were teaching sex ed to use literary metaphors like Lancelot’s quest for the Holy Grail to explain the pitfalls of sex to their students, a move that provided very little practical advice to unfortunate students who needed advice about safe sex more than they needed another English course.

  And It Only Gets Worse

You’d think that, as time passes, we’d get more comfortable with providing clear and accurate information to kids and the bad advice and misconceptions would decrease. Sadly, that is not the case. Even during the height of the Sexual Revolution, says 59-year-old Janey S., there was plenty of useless sex advice being spread around.

“My immediate recollection is my mother’s best advice about such matters. It boils down to the famous, “In the Heat of Passion” speech. It was really no advice at all but more like a mysterious warning. ‘Janey, you just never know what will happen in the heat of passion.’ She was right, I had no idea at all what she was talking about.”

Today, the best of the worst sex ed lessons have been rounded up at the Bad Sex Ed Tumblr. One sadly confused bit of sex education featured on the site “The 7th grade teacher…answered the question about [whether it was possible to get pregnant] from oral sex. He said it was possible because some gets inside the female.”

And it just keeps getting better. Well, not better, exactly, just more unbelievable.

One of the most shocking tales of misguided sex advice comes from a reader who got sex advice that was so off-base, it could have killed him or his classmates:

“In grade school I had a sex-ed class that was taught by a teacher who did double duty as the librarian. She told us that AIDS was contracted from dirty library books. She said the only way to keep from getting AIDS was to make sure you never got a book dirty. I think this was her passive aggressive way of getting even… I was a smart kid, and my parents were teachers too. I told them about it and she had to go in front of the school board and justify herself. If I recall, she said something along the line of ‘well, we don’t really know HOW people get it, so I wasn’t technically lying, and I didn’t want to talk about how it actually spreads’. This was early enough in the AIDS epidemic that she was only a few years behind the time, but it was information we might have needed.”

  Bad Sex Advice is Still Out There

You’d think that with the Internet, it would be easy to clear up any bad sex advice you learned at school or from your parents. Sadly, it seems like the Internet is being used more often to spread bad advice, rather than debunk it.

Even popular print magazines like Cosmo have been called out for giving out sex advice that is weird or downright painful, such as the Frisky article 5 Sexual Tips From Cosmo That You Should Never, Ever Try Under Any Circumstances Ever (Ever) and Cracked’s 7 Sex Tips from Cosmo That Will Put You in the Hospital.

One of my favorite bits from Cracked’s hilarious lampooning of Cosmo’s often-misguided sex advice comes towards the end of the article. The writer quotes two examples of a “male reader’s” thoughts about what constitutes good sex, and then proceeds to debunk them in short order:

1. “It really sucks when a woman handles your manhood with care.”
No, it doesn't. There is no part of our body we want you to be intentionally negligent with. Even if it's our shins we're talking about here, handle them with care. And when it comes to our genitals, multiply that by one thousand.

2. “Ladies, our units aren't that sensitive.”
Ladies, go watch an old episode of “America's Funniest Home Videos”. See how the guy doubles over and nearly vomits when hit with a light, plastic wiffleball? Yes, our units are that f---ing sensitive.

It’s that clear and accurate information on sex is still not as widely available as it should be. Because, try as we might, it seems like we will never completely get rid of bad sex ed teachers, uptight parents, or goofy rumors about sex. Young people today, more than ever, need access to credible sex education to stay safe and healthy

What is the worst sex advice you were ever given by a teacher or a parent? Tell us in the comments below!


this is a great article!!! I wish I would have seen it before I gave a speech on Sex-Ed


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