They were out on the snowy white lawns of the legislature with their signs: MATH NOT MASTURBATION and WHAT’S NEXT SAFE … ANIMAL SEX?
My wife said, “Someone should make a sign that says ‘MATHTURBATION,’ and stand beside them.”
They were protesting changes to sex ed in Ontario—because seventeen years of it never changing wasn’t enough.
Despite these protests, the new sex-ed curriculum will soon be realized in Ontario schools. This is great news for my kids, but it came about ten thousand years too late for me.
I remember my first sex ed class, which wasn’t even called that (it was called—is still called, maybe?— “Health”). It was Grade 8, Dixon Grove Middle School, late spring, 1976. We gathered together after lunch: a hot press of twenty ridiculous boys whose bodies were changing every day, moulting out of our exoskeletons into something strange, formless and new. Our baby fat disappeared, replaced by stiff, new muscle, and bone that was once soft and pliable had hardened and forced itself into joints that didn’t quite fit. There was very little harmony to the pace of growth. We were all FrankenBoys of floppingly large feet and clamshell ears and necks that suddenly popped out of our shoulders. My nose swelled where the rest of my face did not and my lips bloomed as my chin retreated into my skull. Together, my friends and I jumbled about like bags of sticks and rocks, willing ourselves towards a maturity that seemed as if it would never come.
Mr. Yokamira was our gym/health teacher. He was a good guy who never lost his cool. That day, he stood at the front of a classroom high with the odors of boyhood and the sounds of kids coughing a word—“loser, homo”—into their sleeves, then laughing as if it was the greatest joke ever. There was a screen and a projector and some transparencies collected in a folder.
Mr. Yokamira placed one of the sheets on the projector tray and a schematic of the male reproductive system appeared on the screen: more howling; more “homo, cock, balls” coughs. Mr. Yokamira pointed at the penis and testicles on the screen with his finger, then he stopped. He shook his finger as if ridding it of some radioactive gunk, then reached for a pointer near the blackboard.
“Now, this,” he said. “This is where the, um, semen, is produced.” He tapped the drawing of the ball bag with the pointer: tap, tap.
“Don’t, it hurts!” yelled one of the kids.
Our beleaguered health teacher shouted like I’d never heard him shout before. The kid was sent to the office and the lesson creaked forward.
Whatever I knew about sex—or sex ed—I knew from James at 16 or the episode of Family where Kristy McNichol gets pregnant (at least I think it was Kristy McNichol) or the lurid, and awesome, story I’d read in Hit Parader about how Nico taught Iggy Pop how to perform cunnilingus, a word I had to look up in the dictionary.
There was the occasional peak at a boob or a woman’s parts in a film I’d seen at the drive-in, and there was City TV’s “Blue Movie,” which played, at 11 pm on Saturdays, mostly low budget Canadian movies where a down-on-his-luck hoser found himself in bed with a down-on-her-luck tavern waitress. I remember one movie, I saw it at a friend’s sleepover, where a hoser tore open a woman’s shirt to get at her boobs. For a single, dangerous moment, I assumed that this was how sex was done.
I wished that Mr. Yokamira’s health class had set me straight on these matters, but the content never extended that far. Instead, it was Lance Kerwin and his girlfriend in a sleeping bag “doing it” that showed me another way. But it didn’t show me much, and there was still a lot to learn.
Using a teachers-only instruction manual as his guide, Mr. Yokamira talked about masturbation, which, like any kid my age, I thought I was doing too often and would probably—no, certainly—maim me or leave me dickless.
He told the class: “Now, listen, I know you’re all worried about, you know, beating off,” (another fear: mental derangement as the result of self-pleasuring) “but, it’s okay,” he said, “you’ve got plenty of sperm to go around. You’re not going to run out,” he continued, tapping at a drawing of the vas deferens, which, I thought, would be a good name for a punk band.
Then, whatever educational properties his talk might have possessed were obliterated.
“Another thing you should know is,” he said, “you’ll eventually get bored of touching yourself and you’ll stop. You just will. Trust me.”
Having, over the years, proven his theory wrong, I’m pretty certain Mr. Yokamira wasn’t doing it right.
That day, our teacher talked a lot about male parts—and a little about female parts, until it all proved too much for him (and us)—but there was very little in the program about the act of sex. There may have been an awkward “insert penis here” moment of pointer-tapping, but there was no way he was getting into anilingus or blumping or the Dirty Sanchez, to say nothing of French-kissing (was this something you did in France?) or the rusty trombone (at a concert?) or spooning (in the kitchen?). There was as good a chance we’d be taught consent and birth control as we would the building blocks of Sanskrit.
When it came to sex, or the understanding of sex, we fumbled in dark, both figuratively and literally. I took a girl on a date once and we both sat there in the movie (The Blues Brothers at the Albion Mall) like two magnets facing one another: repelled by the chasm of the unknown despite waving out a relentless desire for contact. We said almost nothing, and hardly even looked at each other, atrophied by ignorance. I remember dropping her off at her home. She quickly thanked me, and walked inside, closing the door. It was probably the last time we ever spoke.
I didn’t go on another date for years, terrified by my feelings, and by what had or hadn’t happened.
Eventually, sex ed ended—Mr. Yokamira was let off the hook, and we burst from the classroom into the daylight more confused than we’d been before—and I don’t think we had another “Health” session until high school. By this point, guys I knew had done stuff with girls, girls had done stuff with guys, and there was lots of knowledge out there. Well, maybe not knowledge. More like stories with fake endings and wrong beginnings and made-up middles and the only way we were ever going to know anything about sex was if we started doing it ourselves.