the birds and the bees

There has been a lot of talk about sex education in schools lately, what with the new revamped curriculum in Ontario and all. I have no intention of making this blog all political (although for the record, I am definitely in favour of the new curriculum and wish it would come to Nova Scotia, too) but it got me thinking about what passed for sex ed back in the late 80s / early 90s.

And oh boy! Have I got tales to tell.

Our first brush with Sex Ed in School came in the fourth grade – would have been 1988 for me. The public health nurse came in one afternoon and showed us a jittery film strip (remember those?) all about menstruation. Ten minutes of a cutaway view of the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes, and when the red arrows headed briskly southward as the narrator dispassionately explained about “the monthly cycle” the kid who sat across the aisle from me actually fainted in horror.

Poor guy, he was woefully unprepared.

In grades five AND six, we were shown films that were supposed to give us reassurance? I guess? from both the male and female points of view. They were so terrible, I have never forgotten them, and I have often asked friends if they remember seeing them at their schools.

The answer was generally “no”. I guess in rural Nova Scotia we were pretty underfunded.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know what I’m going to say next.


First up, Am I Normal? I distinctly remember watching this in grade six and thinking to myself no, you are not normal. Normal people do not give public speeches about their penis to the girl they like. 

If you think I am exaggerating, well, crank up the volume and be prepared to awkwardly cry-laugh.

That poor, penis-obsessed boy. My god. He just never stopped thinking about his penis. And talking about his penis. And asking people about his penis. He learns about erections (note: not a bone! it can’t snap or break off! thank you, helpful narrator); about how masturbation will not turn you into a blind wolfman (there is a great cartoon illustrating this principle); and he even asks a zookeeper about penises. A ZOOKEEPER.

There is a bestiality joke in there somewhere, I’m quite sure.

The other movie was called Dear Diary, and despite my very best efforts I was unable to find any clips anywhere. You can borrow the VHS tape from the Stanford University library, though.

I recall that Dear Diary was more fraught with tension, and there was less laughing in the classroom. Menstruation just isn’t funny, I guess. In my fruitless search for clips I found several sites that discuss Dear Diary, and overall it gets more favourable reviews than Am I Normal.

And that was it! That was the last sex ed I recall until grade nine, when we all had a boiled egg “baby” for a weekend, and also practiced rolling condoms onto wooden phalluses in class one day (the phalluses were made by the seventh grade woodshop class, and no, that’s not a bad joke). In high school we talked about HIV and pregnancy, and how to avoid both – there were condom machines in the washrooms and we were encouraged to use them. By then, it was really too late.

At no point in any of this did we learn about consent, what a healthy relationship looks like, homosexuality, other STDs (lots about HIV, but apparently the clap was just a given), or much beyond the mechanics of the human reproductive system.

Certainly we came away from Am I Normal? and Dear Diary with many kids still believing that douching with Coca-Cola immediately after sex would prevent pregnancy, and I knew girls who had babies or abortions before we finished high school, so clearly the ten-year-old educational film approach didn’t work.

How did your school handle sex ed?


6 thoughts on “the birds and the bees

  1. I have a dim but I believe genuine memory from my first secondary school (I was ten) of watching a video of several different children talking about masturbating. For some totally unfathomable reason we watched this video in the FOOD TECHNOLOGY classroom. My second secondary school, probably when I was about fifteen, we did this weird exercise where everyone had cups of water with different food colourings in, and we went around pouring water into each other’s cups. And then were told we all had STIs. Unsurprisingly, many of my friends had abortions before they were 16.


  2. I don’t remember ever watching films, although it probably happened. I do remember we had a question box, and someone wrote “what does it feel like to have an orgasm?” To this day, I remember Mrs. Black turning red and awkwardly saying something about it being an intense feeling.


  3. I only remember the puberty talk in grade 4. and I think I remember vaguely some photocopies of the male and female reproductive systems in grade 7 where we had to label the various parts. and that’s about it. oh, maybe an STI talk in grade 10 or 11? I think I learned most by reading Judy Blume’s Wifey in grade 6.


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