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"Sex Is Like Glue, Jessica": The Absurd Myths I Got from My Texas Sex Ed

It took me five years of therapy, a divorce and more to erase the “benefits” that abstinence-only education gave me.

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“You don’t want to be Mrs. Tampon do you?” my mother asked, her eyebrow raised. I stared at the white tile in the middle of the drug store, embarrassed, confused. I shook my head no while gripping the blue box, refusing to take the package of spongy maxi pads she was pushing toward me. “Tampons would tear your hymen and take your virginity,” she explained, “that’s how sex works.” I grudgingly placed the box back on the shelf as she tossed the bulky, wingless pads into the shopping cart.

Last week, when curriculum from the abstinence-only education program in Texas was made public (comparing non-virgins to used toothbrushes and tape that had lost its adhesive ability after being passed around the room, for instance), it was another reminder of why shaming students into celibacy doesn’t work. Texas is the fifth highest in teenage pregnancies, after all. But for me, it was a reminder of my past, growing up in a one-stoplight town in North Carolina two decades ago with my Baptist Colombian mother and my Irish Catholic father. Despite their best intentions, I was raised to be ashamed of sex — and it wasn’t until I was 17 that I found an adult who had the courage to simply tell me the truth about what was going on.

“Sex is like glue, Jessica,” my mother said, demonstrating her point in the living room, after we arrived home. She held up two sheets of construction paper, the white presumably representative of me, and the red “your husband,” she said. With glue, she pressed the two sheets together and twisted her palms. When she pulled the sheets apart, a rip began in the middle and by the end, there were only tatters of paper abundant with holes, frayed red throughout. “See,” she said, holding up the sheets proudly, “bloodied, damaged and destroyed.” I was horrified.

I was home-schooled from first grade until high school, and my classroom was my kitchen. My sexual illiteracy began at home. “Mom, what is sex?” I asked soon after my shaming in the middle of Aisle 6. Her response, “Sex is only for marriage, to make babies.” I nodded and prodded, “But what is it, exactly?” She rummaged through her drawer for a pen and pad. Minutes later she provided a diagram, arrows pointing to ovaries, looping around to a uterus. “This is where the sperm goes,” she traced her pencil along the page. No mention of what sperm was or where it came from. “But how do boys have sex with other boys?” I asked, hoping she would expand. “They don’t,” she answered quickly. “OK, enough for today.” She was finished.

I went back to my room and buried myself under the covers, my head aching with endless questions. I couldn’t go to my father for answers. He refused to acknowledge sex, or dating, or the simple fact that I was a girl. My two brothers must have been just as clueless as I was, but I never asked, fearing they would tell on me for talking about S-E-X.

My knowledge went as far as kissing and holding hands, what I’d witnessed in our home. “You can think about kissing boys when you’re 16,” my parents always said. But on my 16th birthday, the approved age of making out was moved to 17. “Kissing leads to spooning, and spooning leads to forking, Jessica. It’s a gateway to sex.” She imparted these gems upon me with such sincerity, such confidence in its correctness that I kept my knees together and listened.

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