Let’s take a moment to set the scene: It’s 2006, I’m fifteen – but I’ll be sixteen in July. This is a detail that’s always important until you turn twenty or so. No matter what age you currently are, it is important to highlight the age that you will be next (as if the person you’re addressing can’t count). I don’t have sex, my friends and I don’t talk about it – we weren’t “the type” (which is a definition I regret making between us and what I assumed of other groups). I think I maybe, possibly knew some girls who had probably had sex. I did, however, think about it. A fair bit actually. That, however, didn’t make it any less nerve wracking knowing that being a year ten student, I, along with my peers would be forced to complete a compulsory education unit simply known as “Health”.
Health, as the broad nature of the term implies, was a subject that was fairly all encompassing, but before the semester even began, all I knew was that this is the class where I’d be expected to put a condom on something vaguely phallic. In our case it was a plastic penis that lived in a plastic banana casing and looked like it had been used twenty years earlier when my Mum attended the same school. Considering the class would occur twice a week for a full semester though, I knew there had to be more to the curriculum.
Our particular teacher probably wasn’t the right person to be leading this subject. She called us all her petals or drops of sunshine – depending on the day. She reminded me of Miss Frizzle from The Magic School Bus. I couldn’t wait for her to start talking about herpes. Actually, I could, because unlike 30-year-old Alicia, 15-year-old Alicia would blush like a tomato at even the implication of anything related to *sotto voce* “sex”. Especially in the presence of an adult (because, you know, they’d done…it). Having Ms Sunshine and Rainbows being the one who was set to dispel the rumours of whether you could get pregnant from sitting on a toilet seat that had cum on it (real rumour dispelled in that class) was certainly not looking to be ideal.
two images which demonstrate exactly how “15” I was at age 15.
With the gift of hindsight I could harp on for hours about all the ways that the class should have been presented differently, about the really important things we missed (like how sex should be pleasurable for both parties and guidance and strong emphasis on navigating consent, and about diversity in sexuality, just as a start) but I’m here to talk about the good stuff – however weird it was.
So, as I said, if the initial hints weren’t enough to indicate that perhaps we had the wrong person leading us on our journey to sexual discovery, confirmation came in the form of a television trolley with VHS player attached being wheeled into the classroom. “right petals, today we’ll be learning about the challenges that a young person might face should they choose to have unprotected sex” what she didn’t mention, as she struggled to locate the play button as she peered over her thick glasses, was that the example that we would be viewing was from 1987. Nineteen years later the world was a very different place, perhaps she could have selected something more appropriate? I’d later reflect back and know that she had, of course, made an excellent choice.
The sound of a peppy theme song filled the room and three words that would shape my personality for years to come filled the screen; “Degrassi Junior High.” On the outside I hoped that I seemed indifferent (because I knew that actually liking the show intended to educate us about sex, however poorly, would seem totally uncool) but as we were introduced to the characters, I was enthralled.
I immediately fell head over heels in love with Spike, whose storyline lead gave us the key take away message that our teacher was too jittery to directly voice (don’t have sex). I’m not sure what it was about her that first drew me to her, maybe it was her hair or her style (which I went on to replicate for the next few years) or maybe it was the way she pronounced the word ‘about’. Who knows what it was that first caught my attention but I watched on with bated breath as she navigated her first sexual encounter and, at age fourteen, after, may I repeat, only having sex once, she falls pregnant and eventually kicked out of school. Next thing I knew I was watching her baby daddy Shane try LSD and fall off a bridge, suffering irreparable brain damage. It was a lot to take in but it served its purpose; I dodged teen pregnancy and to this day I’ve never tried acid, but most of all I found a TV show that I would love for many years to come.
From what I could gather, the reason we watched the episodes revolving around Spike’s pregnancy was that our teacher wanted to push for abstinence (a concept that I was familiar with after being asked to sign an abstinence pledge at age 11, but that’s a story for another time) but due to the curriculum couldn’t actually say that. She still ticked the boxes (in the most basic sense) in terms of all other sex ed, maybe if I’d paid more attention to those lessons, I wouldn’t have had to spend my twenties bulk ordering pregnancy tests in discreet packaging off of Ebay. But then again, no ‘Health’ class taught at an Australian public school in 2006 would have ever given me the mental resilience to not be constantly paranoid about the perceived shameful threat of getting knocked up, so maybe this isn’t all on me. Either way, all’s well that ends well; I still have (and watch) the collection of Degrassi DVDs that I went straight out and purchased (okay it was 2006, it took me a while to save up the money), I’m really good at comical Canadian accents and I totally dominate at Degrassi themed trivia so I am chalking this experience up as a win for me – and in turn all those who have met me since.