The banana (or cucumber) penis prop in sex education has got to go. I think it’s an outdated euphemism that helps adults (not young people) feel more comfortable talking about sexuality. Shyfully skirting topics only reinforces the mechanisms of shame around sex. It creates an environment in which certain question can’t be addressed. Hence ignorance perpetuates. At it’s core, the banana is a symbol of non-pragmatic, fear-based sex education.
Character ‘Jonah Takalua’ from Summer Heights High getting schooled in sex “practicalities”.
Like so many Americans, my sex education in high school was minimal. It was covered only once in the entire four years during a single, out-of-the-blue gym class. Topics were rushed and general. Looking back, I realize how heterocentric and cis-genedered sex ed was simply by the way information was presented and what was intentionally absent. How to use a condom, however, is the most vivid lesson I remember.
Us 14 – 15 year old boys and girls were instructed to sit on the basketball court floor and watch our gym teacher (a bleach-blond nutritionist who always wore L.L. Bean fleeces) pull out a single condom and banana from her canvas sports bag. “Now, who will volunteer to help me put this on?” She cheerfully asked us.
Of course, no one raised their hand so she picked the student who was talking under his breath to another student. “Brad, come on up and show the class how to use a condom.”
This was discipline.
Brad stood in front of the class with a grin and demonstrated how to open the condom wrapper. He handed the wrapper to the teacher in exchange for the banana. Then holding fruit in one hand and latex in the other, he placed the condom over the top and vigorously struggled to pull it down the, um, shaft.
“No no no!” blurted the gym teacher. “You’re skipping a very important step. You must make sure not to trap air in the top hat.”
Brad struggled trying to simultaneously pitch the tip and roll the condom down one-handedly. “Here, let me help you.” The teacher reached for the banana’s shaft and said, “You hold the hat while I roll,” and started to inch down the condom.
The awkwardness and humor of it all distracted me from actually understanding how to put on a condom. If anything, it seemed far more complicated because it required more than two hands.
How about suggesting to practice by one’s self? To masturbate with a condom? Or discuss ways partners can put condoms on together? Or ways to negotiate condom use? Or the variety of condom options that are out there?
Practical, matter of fact approaches are much more effective at equipping young people to make informed choices.
I think a penis or dildo model should be used instead of these foody phallics. Moreover, a dildo is great for including information about queer safer sex and toy sharing. Condom use does not only apply to penis!
Hymen myth, sexist magazines, pleasure-shame: obstacles which have helped build my dream of opening a Sex+ Sex Shop. May it one day be normal to celebrate sex!
That awkward first sex talk.
Plenty of kids seem to share the same dreadful story about their parents or teachers stumbling through “the birds and the bees” speech.
Sometimes you come across a few folks who have learned the ins and outs of sexuality from peers instead. Mostly this information is collected from whispered conversations amidst giggles in bathroom stalls. Or late at night during sleepovers in which the details of how to perform perfect oral are spewed out for all the untrained friends gathered around.
I remember one of my partners and I spent hour’s Googling how to make women orgasm. He even drew me a diagram of where he figured my clitoris must be located (he made sure to describe it as ‘a little man in a boat’). I guess that means to some people that clitoral hoods look like boats?
He tried so hard to learn about sex the only way he felt comfortable. This meant turning exclusively to the internet. Needless to say, that was one lesson that would have been nice to learn from someone we trusted instead of turning to random wikihow articles. Wikihow your partner to multiple orgasms! Conversations regarding sex and sexuality ultimately mean more when they are done so face to face. This holds true despite the awkwardness which will undoubtedly ensue once you begin to imagine your parents or children wrapped up in deliciously compromising positions.
There was one time he did have a conversation with his parents about sex. This occurred when they washed his jeans and found a condom wrapper in the hamper. He summarized the gist of the conversation, with his dad issuing a stern warning about the dangers of pregnancy during premarital sex while his mom cried on the couch. Off-putting to say the least. Nor was it the least bit helpful or practical. A conversation about sexual health shouldn’t be focused on dread and fear. They need to begin to describe the creative, diverse ways that sex can be had, with whom you can have sex, and the ways in which each individual will enjoy(or not enjoy) different things.
A later partner I discovered enjoyed anal stimulation. He was so ashamed by it because when he looked it up, all accounts made out that heterosexual men did not, should not, and could not enjoy anal stimulation.
He believed blogs written by anonymous sex gurus from Maxim and of course the piles of Seventeen Magazines and Cosmopolitans his female roommate kept in their adjoined washroom. The messages he received from these sources, from his parents, from his male friends and from what little porn he did confess to watching, made any encouragement of anal play useless.
The messages these individuals took so much to heart had an adverse effect on me as well. The person that I had sex with for the first time actually dared to question my virginity after we had penetrative sex for the first time. This, because of myths he had internalized about hymens.
Immediately after the act I was basking in the glow of it all. We had oral and manual sex so often that I was eager and ready for vaginal sex. Further, I had the delight of not feeling any pain throughout my first experience. I told him that I was happy, that it hadn’t hurt. I was smiling on the couch next to him, when I glanced up and noticed the shocked look on his face. Bothered, I asked,“did it hurt you? I am so sorry if it did!” Luckily, it hadn’t. Rather, his disturbance was due to the fact that I hadn’t bled. I told him I too, was surprised and relieved. He wasn’t satisfied with this kind of a response. He thought that virginity was very important and also had some misguided beliefs about having to ‘pop the cherry’ in order for the act to be legitimate.
Fortunately my relationship with sexuality was slightly more positive than many, but mostly because I was so curious that my parents didn’t even need to sit me down. I’d just come to ask whatever was on my mind; often to their embarrassment. Speaking of which, years after my “birds & bees” chat with my own mother, I gave her a phone call to share the exciting news that I had achieved my first orgasm with a sex partner. She had never known before that I was having difficulty, and I think she was shocked that I had called her to celebrate the occasion in the same kind of manner my sister often does about a job offer or an excellent mark on a term paper.
Now I’m not saying at all that my parents were shy about sex. My mother has become quite comfortable sharing details of her life with me that I think, unfortunately are quite taboo in many other parent/child relationships. However, what my point boils down to is that unlike celebrations over achievements or a lesson well learned, there was no celebration when we discussed sex.
I want that to change for everybody!
I can completely comprehend if some people feel uncomfortable teaching their own children how to put on a condom or how to properly use a dental dam. I’m sure the majority of parents are a little unprepared for a consultation with their offspring about what size packer looks most comfortable under their slacks.
This sort of unease is one of the main reasons I want to co-own a Sex+ Store & Education Centre. Our community members need a safe space to gather in which they can learn about sex, celebrate sex and enjoy themselves while exploring healthy sexuality. If there had been a place where I could have gone as a preteen to delve into birth control options with some sort of enthusiastic advisor I would have been all over that!
Unfortunately, the sex stores near my home weren’t all that inviting. Most of them had reputations as sleazy joints with back rooms full of pornography. Needless to say anyone under 18 wasn’t welcome inside the door.
Then there is the concerning number of young women I know who claim to have ‘suffered through’ their first few attempts at intercourse. If we all felt comfortable exploring our own bodies, asking questions, communicating openly with our partners about our desires, these kinds of things wouldn’t happen quite as often. We need to stop demonizing sex, especially sex amongst our youth, our elderly and the specially abled. Sex is natural, it is beautiful and if I ever have children I want a phone call, or HELL, maybe even a party to celebrate their first orgasms! Better yet, if children were encouraged instead of shamed when caught masturbating, couples would have far less trouble achieving orgasms with one another in the first place.
Owning a Sex Positive/Queer Positive Shop is my way of giving back to the community that embraced me and helped me bloom into a colourful sexual being. It is my way of giving all of the future (and past) generations a place to come and learn without the additional weight of secrecy or taboo. Our education systems will be slow to change their policies on Health and Sex education. I attend a Catholic University as a don and one of my forbearers was fired when he decided to distribute free condoms to his residents. This kind of injustice needs a grassroots solution. What better way to overthrow a stagnant heteronormative, anti-pleasure system than by creating our own affiliation-free safe spaces to explore sex.
Hopefully the entire world can eventually be a sex positive space one day, but we’ll take it one row paddle at a time in the right direction.