My One and Only Sex Education Class

In 1958 during my sophomore year at Tullahoma (Tennessee) High School, every boy in the school was ordered to the gymnasium bleachers with the male teachers for a sex education talk by a local physician, Dr. Ralph Brickell. The girls were sequestered in the auditorium with the female teachers for a similar talk by a nurse.

“You’re all growing boys, many of you maturing rapidly into men. Your voices are changing, you’re growing hair under your arms and elsewhere,” Dr. Brickell began. “So today we’re here to talk about those things relate to human reproduction. You’ve probably been wondering about the feelings you get when you’re with a girl you like. Those feelings are natural. But to follow through on those feelings is dangerous. Syphilis and gonorrhea are two of the serious diseases you could contract.”

Me and some of my high school pals out on the town

We rolled our eyes, smirked, and poked each other in the ribs as Dr. Brickell relentlessly circumvented the subject at hand and rambled on for what seemed like an eternity.

“It’s important that each of you abstain from sex until marriage,” Dr. Brickell continued. “It’s the moral thing to do, and it’s the intelligent thing to do. The last thing you’d want is to get your girlfriend pregnant. You may think that condoms will protect you, but they’re not reliable and have frequently been known to break. And if that happens, the outcome could be tragic.”

Dr. Brickell cleared his throat and persisted. “Let’s make this clear: Sexual intercourse is for reproduction—making babies—after you’re married. How does that work? Let’s start at the farm. As you know, some animals, such as hens, lay eggs that have been fertilized by roosters. Animals such as cows mate with bulls, and their offspring develop inside their bodies where they’re sheltered and cozy. That’s the way humans do it too.”

Gene Branch, a country boy, waved his hand eagerly. Though he would almost instantly regret it, Dr. Brickell responded. “Yes, son, do you have a question?”

“Well, Dr. Brickell, I was wondering if you could tell us,” Gene said, “what happens when a man mates with a sheep?”

Convulsive laughter mushroomed throughout the audience. Dr. Brickell’s face turned a deeper crimson than I’d ever seen before . . . or since.

Tommy Whitaker, an assistant football coach, immediately called the session to a halt and ordered Gene to the principal’s office. Gene stood up with a big smile, took off his outer shirt, waved it like a matador’s cape, and said, “Looks like I’m going to have to go tame the bull.” (The bull being our principal, “Big Tom” Garrison, who stood six-four and weighed over two hundred-twenty pounds.)

No further sex education classes were held while I was at Tullahoma High. So I look back in gratitude for the Playboy magazines we pilfered from Fred Hollenback’s dad, though the Playboy Advisor advice column still left my comrades and me with gargantuan gaps in our knowledge of sex and birth control.

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