Last year, ABC News ran a report about how sexually transmitted infections are on the rise “at an alarming rate”. And it’s not just here in Australia, it’s happening all over the world in other developed countries, too. It caused me to wonder, “Did they go to Catholic schools, too?” Because when STIs go up, it comes down to two things – complacency and a lack of education.
I spent my formative years at a Catholic girls school, and while overall, I found it to be a great experience, I’m going to be honest with you – they taught us sh*t all about sex.
To top it off, my parents weren’t much better either. Until the age of 15, I thought a “hooker” was someone who hung curtains.
It all started after I saw Pretty Woman at way too young an age. There’s a line in the film about Julia Roberts’ character being a “hooker”. When I asked my dad what the word meant, he told me to ask my mother. (Classic dad move.) Mum freaked out and told me it was someone who hung curtains, and my young, innocent mind didn’t think to question her.
It was only in high school when I told my friends we had a hooker coming out to our house to install some new curtains that I found out the truth. I turned bright red and my friends understandably spent the rest of the day laughing at me.
I think I was in Year Nine when we had our first sex ed lesson at school.
"The only safe sex is abstinence," started our physical education teacher.
"Having said that, we're going to watch a video..."
The video was graphic. It was a real-life recording of a teenage girl, not much older than us at the time, giving birth. I can still remember it vividly. I can remember her screaming and writhing around in pain, while her boyfriend - a 16-year-old with a greasy mullet and a wheezing cough - sat in the chair next to her bed eating hot chips.
And then the baby came out. At this stage of my life, most of what I knew about childbirth had come from Hollywood. Generally speaking, a woman with a full face of makeup and perfectly coiffed hair would let out a couple of screams and moans, before a perfectly clean two-month-old baby was placed in her arms.
There would be tears of joy, and her handsome movie star husband would plant a sweet kiss on his wife's forehead and tell her how "proud" he was of her.
This was no such video. For one, the girl's boyfriend seemed way more interested in his chips than he did in what was happening around him, and if I'm being honest, I'm not convinced he stuck around long after the birth.
Also, the girl's parents seemed kind of p*ssed. Obviously they were supportive of their daughter, but they had an air of, "We can't believe you screwed up your teenage life so epically," about them.
Once the baby came out, I thought that was generally the end of the birthing process. Little did I know just how wrong I was. It turns out the placenta comes out, too...
By this stage, I was already feeling queasy, so when the girl was told to push again after the baby had come out, I just assumed she was having twins. Then a couple of nurses ran over with a big bucket, and that's when I blacked out.
"Demeter, you're looking a little grey. Why don't you go outside and get some fresh air?" the teacher instructed me.
I half walked, half crawled out the door, and then spent the rest of the afternoon rocking back and forth while hugging my knees to my chest and mumbling about the placenta.
There wasn't much of a discussion after that video, until Year 10, when we got part two of our sex education.
It was one of the last days of school before summer holidays, so everyone was feeling especially excited and upbeat. Lulling us into this false sense of security, the school arranged an "excursion" to a local church hall, where we were all instructed to sit down at makeshift desks. We were just happy to get out of classes for an afternoon. Little did we know...
Next thing, a screen dropped down from the ceiling and we were given a rather enlightening slideshow of STDs. Huge images of infected genitals were projected onto the screen in front of us, as our teachers gave us a rundown on what each STD was.
After that, we were each handed a plastic banana and told to remove the lid. Lid? It was a weird banana-penis hybrid. Literally half a banana, half a penis. We were then each handed a condom and taught how to put the condom on the plastic penis. I didn't eat bananas for six months after that.
And that was it. That was the extent of our sex education. Basically, fear tactics in the hope we'd only approach the opposite sex with a crucifix in our outstretched arms.
Obviously, it didn't work, because after high school, lots of the girls went completely boy crazy. Something I can only chalk up to years of repressed sexual energy.
Also, much to our teacher's horror, plenty of the girls pocketed handfuls of free condoms following our banana exercise. So despite our school's best efforts, clearly they planned on having sex at some stage in the not-too-distant future.
"Help. My 2yo is humping the couch." Post continues below.
When I think back on this stage of my life, most of my sex education came from the American Pie movies, which is problematic in itself, and mainly taught me no one should date teenage boys. Ever.
Talking about sex with kids is awkward - there's no denying it - but it's also a completely normal and natural part of life.
I think not talking about it, feeding kids false information or trying to scare them out of ever doing the deed can often end up being more detrimental.
Talk to your kids, educate them, and empower them with enough knowledge so that they can safely choose when and with who when the time comes. (And it will - no matter how many STD slideshows you play for them.)