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Wrong, try again

July 22, 2010

In 7th grade we had a sex ed unit in my health class (heh heh, unit). My teacher started off by giving us a short true-or-false quiz, which addressed facts and fiction regarding sex and pregnancy. After we took it, we went over the answers, scoring our own sheets.

I distinctly remember that one of the questions was “One way a woman can avoid getting pregnant is to jump up and down, turn around three times clockwise and stand on her head after sex.” I almost laughed out loud when I read this because it was so utterly ridiculous, and as I wrote a big capital F next to it I couldn’t even fathom how anyone could believe it was true. When we got to that question, my friend who was in my class looked disappointed as she put a slash mark on her paper.

“You got that wrong?” I asked, a little too incredulous.

She looked at me with wide eyes. “Any of those things could work!” I thought she was joking. She wasn’t. A year later, this same friend told me that I was going to get cancer for shaving my legs above the knee.

OK, so maybe I was a little too well-informed and precocious when I was 12, but my mom had been very proactive in giving me the sex talk during an airing of “Jaws” on TV when I was six (true story, and now I always associate “Jaws” with the facts of life). We had a set of Childcraft books that I’d read cover-to-cover multiple times, one of which addressed the issue of human egg fertilization all the way up to birth. When she started telling me about how the sperm and the egg get together, I jumped up and said, “I know what you’re talking about!” and ran to get the book and I told her how it went. Maybe it took me a little longer to get an idea of the actual mechanics together, but I knew the basic process. And my elementary school had a very progressive stance on sex ed, so by 7th grade, I knew about puberty, contraception, and all of that. As I quickly learned, however, my junior high peers (who had all gone to public school) didn’t quite get all that yet.

Just a couple of weeks ago, there was a hugely popular comment thread on Metafilter about the things that you were doing wrong. I’m not the only one who found it entertaining to read about what kinds of misconceptions people held well into adulthood. I think part of it was an aspect of downward social comparison. There were a lot of things in there that the average person could read and think, “Ha! Well, at least I am not that clueless. I am smart!”

Then last night I was with some people and the conversation turned to deodorants, of all things (well, get a car full of post-practice derby girls together and eventually someone will say something about the smell). One person mentioned not using antiperspirant because it causes breast cancer. Cue an (inner) reaction not unlike the one I had to my seventh-grade friend. I guess even though it’s been thoroughly debunked, not everyone’s gotten that information yet. Sometimes I forget that not everyone has seen the entire internet like I have (reminded of that again a few days ago when I saw a guy dressed like Pedobear on a train platform on my way to practice, yet nobody at practice had any clue what I was talking about when I mentioned it).

I also have a friend who forwards me all kinds of “woman in danger” emails about women being raped in Wal-Mart parking lots by men offering perfume samples or people getting stuck with syringes while pumping their gas. I stopped sending her links to Snopes a long time ago, because it didn’t deter her one bit. It’s kind of amazing to me what people will believe without any actual information. The thing is, how do you know unless someone tells you? There are so many things that we float through life believing, because we don’t have anything or anyone telling us it’s not so.

It makes me wonder if there are things I’m still getting wrong just because I don’t have anyone to tell me otherwise.

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