Risky Lessons: Sex Education and Social Inequality

Risky Lessons: Sex Education and Social Inequality

Risky Lessons: Sex Education and Social Inequality

Risky Lessons: Sex Education and Social Inequality

Synopsis

Risky Lessons brings readers inside three North Carolina middle schools to show how students and teachers support and subvert the official curriculum through their questions, choices, viewpoints, and reactions. Most important, the book highlights how sex education's formal and informal lessons reflect and reinforce gender, race, and class inequalities.

Excerpt

When I entered seventh grade in Connecticut in the late 1970s, school felt like a minefield of sexual pleasure and danger. I flirted with boys in the hallways, wore sparkly lip balm to class, and gathered with friends in the girls' bathroom to check that no hairs or scents were out of place. As a pretty-enough white girl in a school dominated by white students, popularity was within my reach. Popularity promised protection from the assaults that started early: every morning in homeroom, boys called out that they “smelled fish” when they walked past the girls—a not so subtle reference to the possibility that one of us was menstruating. One day the social studies teacher called the girls into a classroom to watch a puberty video that offered no help on my most pressing question—how best to respond to the boys' taunts. I yearned to be older, desirable, and free of middle school. When a handsome gym teacher signed my yearbook, “If you were older and I were younger, what a time we would have,” I blushed with fear and delight at the attention.

While I fantasized about growing up to date handsome gym teachers, I watched my young and newly divorced mother reenter the dating scene. Pop songs, afternoon soap operas, and fashion magazines offered us advice for navigating our respective minefields. A more reliable resource was the now famous Our Bodies, Ourselves (Boston Women's Health Book Collective 1973), a well-worn paperback that my mother stored on a bookshelf in the living room of our modest apartment. I pored over its images—photographs of women giving birth, line drawings of bodies in various developmental . . .

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