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23 October 2014

Sex education was too little, too late in Ipswich – we’d already been down the US air force base

Suzanne Moore’s weekly column, Telling Tales. 

By Suzanne Moore

On a school trip to Belgium, a very quiet, pale girl from the other class kept complaining of period pains.

“Nonsense! Have an Anadin,” said Miss Shipp, our teacher. The pains appeared to get worse and the girl started whimpering. Miss Shipp took her up to her own room in the hostel for a telling-off.

When she came down she herself was pale and she told us to get on with our French vocab.

The girl had had a baby, a premature baby.

This was why, when we were about 14 or 15, it was decided that we should have sex education.

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This was the Seventies and to say it was too little too late is something of an understatement. Most of us had had sex or near enough. The most sophisticated girls were regularly down the clap clinic, which was the real rite of passage.

Gonorrhoea and all kinds of other STDs were big in Ipswich. We were surrounded by American air force bases and the guys we used to see had brought back all sorts of mutated forms of clap from Vietnam.

So we used to sit in the clap clinic in our school blazers while our teachers gave us lectures about never, ever talking to boys in our school uniforms.

“I’ll just take mine off, miss!” I said. God, I was hilarious.

Not only did we know about sex, I had never not known about it. My mum was very open and I remember at about six telling all the other kids the vital information in the playground. Knowledge is power? At that age I merely got a good clump for it.

Though I had the basic facts of life down, the technicalities, as ever, were beyond me.

“Your mum and dad lay back to back and do it with their bums,” I informed my sceptical audience.

Anyway, after the unexpected birth in Belgium my official sex education started. It consisted of our deputy head, Miss Short, who lived with our headmistress and wore brogues, storming into Biology and suddenly yelling at us: “What is the purpose of sex?”

There was a girl in my class who did everything first, as there is in every class, and in mine she was called Annette Went. Really.

Annette never answered questions or noticed teachers, but she put her hand up.

“Pleasure, miss.”

At this, Miss Short had some kind of spasm and started screaming, “Get out! Just get out now.”

She was now an odd colour. “The purpose of sex is procreation and procreation only.”

We stared at our pencil cases.

“And the best form of contraception is a brick wall.”

We then had a film about babies who were born with syphilis and died. The baby that was born in Belgium lived.