Adult Sex Ed

What I Didn’t Know About Sexual Health When I Was in College

Ironically, I grew up in Grosse Pointe where the book and movie The Virgin Suicides took place.

I was dating this guy during my freshman year in college in 1983. We were sexually active. He wore a condom, but he hated wearing one and was still paranoid about getting me pregnant. He really wanted me to go on the pill.

I talked about this with one of my best friends. I told her that I wanted to go on the pill, but I didn’t know if I could afford to do so. I only worked part-time while I went to school full-time at a local university and lived at home. I was on my parent’s health insurance plan, but there was no way I could go to a gynecologist on my own. I didn’t want my parents to know why I wanted to see a gynecologist. I only thought women went to see a gynecologist was when they were pregnant or needed a hysterectomy. It was the only time I heard the women in my family talk about going to see a gynecologist. And, of course, the message I got from my parents and every adult in my family is that sex was for married people only. None of them used the word “vagina”. They called it “down there” in hushed tones like the way they talked about Hell being “down there.”

My friend suggested that I go to a clinic where I could pay what I could afford.

After calling a few places, I found one.

What I didn’t realize was that “women’s clinic” was a euphemism for abortion clinic. I couldn’t get through the parking lot without one of several picketers approach me and tell me that I had options. Nonetheless, I got to see a gynecologist.

The doctor gave me an exam, but told me that she couldn’t put me on the pill since I had Type 1 diabetes.

The doctor also told me something that kind of frightened me at first. She told me that I had a yeast infection.

“A yeast infection?” I asked. “Is this something I got from my boyfriend?”

The doctor assured me that I probably didn’t. She explained that yeast infections naturally occur in women, especially in women who have high blood sugar. She wrote me a prescription for Monistat, which was a prescription drug at the time, and sent me on my way.

So that explained the itching I was feeling “down there”. I just assumed that it was a normal but annoying female problem. Women in my family talked about “female problems”, but never said what they were or how they treated them.

She didn’t even suggest that I could consider an IUD, not that I knew what it was at the time anyway. In hindsight, I assume inserting IUD’s was something this clinic didn’t do. Or maybe I burned up her time with the $40 I paid for my visit.

It turned out that Evan and I broke up shortly after I told him I couldn’t go on the pill. It was a deal-breaker for him.

Looking back, I’m horrified of the lack of knowledge I had about sexual health and  access I had to sexual health services when I was a young adult. I didn’t have access to the answers I needed except from a friend who knew as little as I.

I suppose things would have been different if I were 18 20 or 30 years later with the Internet. I would have known about Planned Parenthood, which probably would have been a better fit for the circumstance I was in. At the time, I thought Planned Parenthood clinics were abortion clinics based on the picketers I saw swarming around the local clinic on a regular basis and the stories I heard about Planned Parenthood on the TV news.

If I knew Planned Parenthood offered a wide range of sexual health services, I probably would have learned that being on the pill alone wouldn’t have been the wisest option to have sex with a guy I had only dated for a few months.

I didn’t start going to a gynecologist on a regular until after I had to get a blood test in order to get my marriage license when I was 20. It was then I learned my vulva wasn’t called a uvula. Embarrassing, I know. I only knew that the outer lips of my vagina was a word that had U’s and V’s.

I wish my mother was a lot more forthcoming about sexual and reproductive health. I guess you could say that she did the best she could. However, I later learned that she did see a gynecologist on a regular basis. Regardless, I was at an age when I should have been going to a gynecologist on an annual basis. I can only assume that my mother never suggested it because I wasn’t married or having sex at the time.

We can complain until the end of time about the poor quality or lack of sex education in our schools, but parents have a big role to play, too. I have friends and have heard too many people say, “There’s no way in Hell my daughter is going to have sex before she’s married.” Who in the Hell are they kidding? Even if their daughters haven’t had sex yet, there’s more than a 90% chance they will before they get married. Is imposing purity values and withholding information about and access to sexual health services doing teenagers who will become adults in a blink of an eye any good?

Oh, Hell no. Keeping young adults clueless and ignorant about sexual health and responsibility is not what I call responsible parenting.

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