Friday, September 16, 2011

A Sexual Education: VD Day

In Everything You Wanted to Know about Sex But Were Afraid to Ask, Dr. Reuben thoughtfully included an entire chapter on venereal diseases—they were the kind of thing one caught, after all, when indulging in prostitution, homosexuality, and S&M. After they'd given me ample time to read and absorb the information within, my parents quizzed me so thoroughly, and so often, that it got to the point I could identify a corkscrew-shaped bacterium from twenty paces.

“With sexual freedom comes sexual responsibility. Your penis is not a toy,” my father intoned while I turned red and tried to pretend I wasn’t in the room, but somewhere else, a quiet, safe place lacking well-intentioned parents who wouldn’t mention the P-word so casually. “Now. Tell me again the symptoms of gonorrhea.”

One of my mother's contributions to my sex manual stash was a late-1950s volume for women. It was called, if I remember correctly, What the Modern Bride To Be Needs to Know About the Facts of Marriage. The preface burbled on about the joy of eternal wedlock and of everlasting love and the beauty of babies in their cradles in spring. It was a bit sick-making. In the introduction's last paragraph, though, the prose took a turn: But do you, the modern bride-to-be, really know how babies come about? You mother might have hinted at it. Your grandmother might have blushed to tell. The authors of this book will guide you through the process, its pleasures and its dangers, so that on your wedding night there will be NO SURPRISES!At last we were getting to the good stuff.

Or so you’d think. The well-meaning, crew-cutted and bespectacled physicians on the back cover were so circumspect about the entire act that they never referred to it in any but the most vague of terms. Ladies, do not fear penetration by the male member. Under many circumstances, the sex act can bring pleasure to both parties! was about as explicit as it got, before launching into a scientific discussion of fertilization and zygotes that could be fished out of any biology textbook.

But again, there was a chapter devoted to venereal diseases, as I remember—or rather, ‘social diseases.’ If your husband has served in any branch of the military, read the text, be sure to inspect his member on the wedding night for sores, abrasions, or other curious features, and refrain from sexual congress until a physician has appraised his manhood as well. He may have contracted a social disease during ‘shore leave.’

Everything You Wanted to Know about Sex But Were Afraid to Ask might have had the definite advantage in clinical explicitness, but What the Modern Bride To Be Needs to Know About the Facts of Marriage, with its half-told tales of lustful sailors on shore leave and of newlywed husbands importuning their new wives to stop assessing their members’ curious features and come the hell to bed already, certainly knew how to capture the imagination.

When I was in eighth grade, my middle school suddenly decided that it was vital to inform thirteen and fourteen year olds about venereal disease. We’d never had any kind of sex education classes before, though we boys were used to being dismissed for an extra-long recess while the girls being taken into the auditorium once a year for a mysterious movie. I still have no definite confirmation of what the cinematic mystery actually might have been, but I think the playground consensus among the boys was that it had to do with tampons ‘n’ girl stuff.

On the day of our venereal disease seminar, our home room was separated by gender and funneled into conference rooms. The room with the boys was crowded. I remember the chicken-soup smell of our testosterone. I was sitting against the wall in the corner, on a stool, utterly bored. Although the educator had arrived from a local VD clinic with all kinds of visual aids, including a three-dimensional cross section of the male anatomy, his entire talk used the coy phraseology of my mother’s twenty year old Modern Bride book. VD was something that would affect ‘our parts,’ if we used ‘our parts’ with ‘woman parts’ to have ‘relations.’ ‘Our parts’ shouldn’t be used until marriage, of course, but if we used ‘our parts’ for ‘relations’ before then, we ran dire risks of contracting VD.

If there was any doubt about what he meant by ‘our parts,’ it was dispelled when he detached the half-penis from the cutaway model and brandished it like a dog’s chew toy.

The man proceeded to launch into a description of the two venereal diseases we could get, in phrases that never actually used any biological terms for body parts. What I mostly remember about the session is the heat of the conference room and the dullness of the man's droning, and of thinking, My mother is going to shit a gut when she hears about how bad this lecture was.

“You!” said the man, singling me out with a stubby, pointing finger. “You’re not paying attention.”

He was absolutely right, but I wasn’t going to let him know that. I flushed red and denied the charge.

“Okay then, smart guy,” he sneered, glad to have someone to pick on. “What are the symptoms of syphilis?”

I hated anyone condescending to me like that, when I was a kid. (I still do.) I especially hated the phrase smart guy. “Syphilis is caused by corkscrew-shaped bacteria that produce visible sores on the penis, vagina, lips, mouth, or rectum,” I droned. This was easy stuff. I’d been tested by my dad, a tougher inquisitor than this guy. “The sore or sores are at the point of sexual contact and may disappear shortly after they appear. Secondary symptoms, which may surface months after the primary sore has healed, include a rash on the palms or soles of the feet, a fever. . . .”

“All right, all right,” he snapped. "Don't be such a show-off." His face was redder than mine, from being outsmarted. “What about gonorrhea?”

With unnerving accuracy and more than a little anger, I rattled off the symptoms, making sure to emphasize certain words as I said that it began with a burning discharge from the penis or vagina and that while symptoms were more common for men’s penises it could often go undetected in the vagina. All the other boys were giggling uncontrollably at the words we’d been avoiding for over an hour. The instructor whipped his head at them, disgusted that he couldn’t find anything wrong with my answers. “This is a serious matter. It could be life or death! You should all be paying attention to what I say!” he said, making it plain with his glance that meant me, specifically.

I had the embers of righteous suffering burning in my eyes throughout the rest of the lecture, but it did me no good. At the end we were given slips of paper and directed to write down questions that might be easier to ask anonymously than aloud. I didn’t have any questions, but just for the sake of form and because it hadn’t been covered by the man’s talk, I wrote down, How long does it take for symptoms of VD to occur after infection?

The man started pulling out the slips of paper once we’d deposited them into a jelly jar. “How do you catch VD?” he read. “Jesus Christ, guys, we went over that already.” He reached in again. “How do you catch VD?” More dips into the jar, more of the same question. The man was getting more and more frustrated when finally he found a different slip of paper. “What is VD?” he read. “Okay. Who the h . . . who put in that one? Was it you?”

He was accusing me again. Several of the other boys were laughing, saying yeah, it was Rob, he hadn’t been paying attention, remember? I just shook my head, knowing that the slip of paper had been written by Orlando, the kid in our class with spina bifida. Seriously, did he think my handwriting could have been that bad?

“Well, I don’t like smart-asses,” he growled, glaring at me.

I don’t even remember the rest of the session, save that eventually we were let out into the cool air and allowed to go back to our classes.

All I remember is that I spent the rest of the day with my jaw tight, glowering at my classmates, wishing oozing sores and dripping urethras on them all.


  1. Oh man. Back in 8th grade sex ed on the day we were talking about STDs, I was running late to class because I had to talk with one of my teachers about something (I was a good kid and all). I, too, knew a lot about STDs...especially for a 13 year old. But I had already lost my virginity to a woman and had done some research. As you'll recall, my first time was not good, so I ended up reading a lot of things to convince myself that sex was something I never wanted to have again. All that knowledge, however, did nothing to prepare me for when I walked in and sat down at the only empty seat: The one right in the middle, directly facing the display the health teacher had put up showing the different sores and discharges caused by the STDs in both men and women. For an hour I sat there and wanted to die while everyone snickered.

    And only a little while later I was back to having sex. So I guess I got over it.


  2. Poor Ace! Hopefully that'll be as close to sores as you ever get, kiddo.

  3. You said it, Rob! Keeping fingers and toes crossed. God knows that is just what would happen with the luck I'm having these day. *eye roll* How about you and I make a pact never to go to jail. The syph is making a big comeback there these days.


  4. When I was in school it wasn't called Sex Education, but 'Family Planning'. And in high school the seniors were treated to a leture from a woman from Planned Parenthood on birth control. All I remember now was her taking out a condom and stretching it out to it's full length and holding it over her head in both hands for everyone in the room to see.

    I can still see that visual in my

  5. I remember a comedian in the 1980's giving her rendition of this same scenario. She went on to describe how all the girls were led into the gym and paper was put up on the windows so the boys couldn't peek in. Then the school nurse stood up and said, "Today girls we are going to discuss something that happens to all women. Something very natural. Something, BEYOND YOUR CONTROL! WATCH the transformation as young girls are turned into raging shrews!"

  6. I'm not sure that our 6th grade class lecture covered VD, but I do remember the jar full of anonymous questions. One was, "How does the penis get to the vagina?" I remember Mr. Huff, our principal giggling a bit and then gesturing with his hand around an invisible penis, thrusting his hips forward and saying, "Ya put it there". Then he cleared his throat and said, "Enough questions!"

  7. I love it when you post these memoirs, Breeder. You write so much better than most of the crap passing for gay literature these days. Or are you published and famous? You should be.

    -Gavin in Albuquerque

  8. Tom,

    That's pretty hilarious. What comic was that?

  9. JFBreak,

    HiLARious. Everyone's a comedian today.I kind of love Mr. Huff.

  10. Gavin,

    Hey, thanks for the kind words. I really appreciate that remark!

  11. Rob, I commented once before under a different name, this is my new account. You really need to be keeping this stuff for posterity. It's classic. Its better reading than books I pay good money for.


  12. Rob my friend,
    I love that post so much. II am glad that you answers his questions like that. He tried to get you good but you were a smart boy and giving him the answers that he didn't know you knew all of that. i always knew that you were a bright man and a very sexy one too.


  13. Mark M,

    Hey, thanks for the compliment. I'll always take your good money! Peace to you, too.

  14. Yves,

    You're very sweet. Thank you, my friend!

  15. I went to prep school. It was a sit down for a few consecutive days. I had the clearly butch math teacher womyn, and the butch as fuck football coach. They both looked miserable to have to say all the words out loud, and limped through the curriculum. It was 1 day of anatomy and physiology, 1 day of pus and sores, and two consecutive, climactic days of how not to get pregnant and interfere with your college education.

    They didn't cover anything about gender, consent, the abortion debate, the existance / rights of queers and homos, etc etc.

    It was clearly oriented for bright rich kids to connect the dots and know how to fuck without getting knocked up. Kids are gonna fuck anyhow, btw.


  16. MisterSpinnaker,

    How long ago was this, for you? That's a hell of a lot more than we got in school in the seventies.

    I agree with you. Kids are going to fuck, one way or another. Best that they do it with clear heads and open eyes.