10 Things I Wish I Had Been Taught In Health Class

In my school system we started taking health classes at age 11, and they went on until about age 16. Despite this, I feel like there were some major gaps in the education we received. Here is a list of things I wish I had been taught when I was growing up that might have made a difference. (Sorry it ended up being really long)

1. What to say if a friend comes out to you.

Coming out of the closet is an extremely important moment for anyone who is gay or is just questioning if they might be. I wish someone had explained to me that a friend telling you they are gay shows how much trust they have in you, and how much they value your relationship because they wanted to tell you in person, not just let you find out eventually. They need to know that you accept them for who they are, and won’t treat them differently. Kindly ask them if it is okay to come to them if you have any questions about it, and seek to understand what it is like for them.

2. What it means to be transgender.

My middle/high school health classes never explained what transgender means. I didn’t even know it existed, and was very uncomfortable with the thought of it because I didn’t understand. When I first heard about it, I had a lot of questions, and didn’t know who to go to for answers. I wish someone had told me even something as basic as “they feel like they were born in the wrong body”. I was also worried about how to address someone, so I wish someone had said that if someone asks you to refer to them as female or male, or by a specific name, that is the respectful thing to do. They are still the same person you used to know, they are just presenting themselves to the world in a way that they feel is right for them. Nothing else has changed.

3. What cutting is, how to tell if a friend is depressed, and what you should do if you suspect they are suicidal.

I feel like this is a huge gap in my health education. I knew people who were cutting when I was 13. And yet no one ever really talked about it openly, or said that it is right to try to help someone who is depressed by suggesting they talk to someone. And if someone is suicidal, you need to tell someone who can get them the help they need. This might involve telling an adult, even if they ask you not to. If telling an adult is a breach of trust that saves their life, it is worth it. This topic is particularly close to me because I have seen it many times. And everything I went through with Sarah was very close to me. As well, people knew she was suicidal, but after the night where she actually tried to kill herself (you can read that story here), I never told anyone about it. I think that was a big mistake on my part.

4. Gay people have sex too.

I think teachers are afraid to talk about this because they worry it will encourage young people to participate in homosexual sex acts. This is a ridiculous thing. They told us that this is how a baby is born, but I was left with a lot of questions. Like, what if there isn’t a penis and a vagina? And more importantly, what are the health risks of homosexual sex? How should gay people protect themselves? This is important knowledge even if you are straight because you never know when someone you know will need this information and be too scared to ask about it, and therefore not have safe sex.

5. Not all drugs are equally bad.

When I was in grade 7, they used to split us up for health classes by gender. The guys learned all about drugs. The girls, instead, learned about getting your period. I vividly remember my teacher holding up a pad for us, noting it had “wings”. How exciting. But we never talked about drugs. I didn’t know that marijuana is largely harmless and not addictive, but that some drugs can get you addicted after only one use. I didn’t know what they put in drugs, and that lots of drugs are cut with harmful substances. As well, I think they should have told us that although smoking cigarettes is legal, it is much more dangerous than marijuana. People who smoke weed aren’t all deadbeats with no life goals. And if you are smoking weed you shouldn’t be driving.

6. Rape isn’t just done by creepy old men who attack you when you’re walking alone late at night.

For a long time I thought the only way people can get sexually assaulted is a girl getting attacked by a strange man because she was alone at night. I didn’t know that women can rape men, men can rape men, and women can rape women. I didn’t know that sexual assault can be as simple as someone touching you where you didn’t want to be touched. I didn’t know that it is rape if one person ever does not agree to the sex (such as a wife doesn’t want to have sex that night and tells her husband “no”). And that if you say no, they do it anyway, and you get pleasure from what is taking place, it can still be considered rape. This one can lead to extra confusion and guilt for the victim.

7. Bullying someone about their weight can have a lasting impact.

Insecurity is someone people learn, it isn’t inherently within them. When I was little, I never worried about the shape of my body or whether my nose is too big or if my freckles are ugly. It wasn’t until I became friends with a girl at age 10 that I started to question things. She was a dancer so she was very thin, and sometimes she would compare her body to mine. Things like “my belly is flatter than yours”, or “you’re developing hips! That will even out how you carry your weight in your butt”. I had another friend who learned from her mother the phrase “moments on the lips, years on the hips”, and said that to me when I was eating a piece of chocolate. I also remember the day when I was 15 that my friend (who was naturally very thin) won second place in a fashion show competition, and I felt so bad about myself in comparison that I started crying. None of these can really be pinpointed as a bullying incident, but they led me to many years of low self esteem and self hatred, and in some people this leads to eating disorders that can be fatal.

8. Alcohol can be enjoyed safely without ruining your life.

My parents didn’t drink much, except for maybe splitting a beer once a week. The only things I knew about alcohol were that if you consume it you will end up sick and dying and probably raped. For this reason I was largely afraid of alcohol for several years. I didn’t really drink much at all until the summer after my 19th birthday (the drinking age here is 18) when I realized that you can go out with people, have a few drinks, and be okay. I also was always worried about people around me potentially being alcoholics. It sounds ridiculous now, but when I had no concept of alcohol tolerance, I would avoid people who have had a few drinks because I thought they were alcoholics and might become violently enraged for no reason, because movies have taught me that alcoholics are very dangerous. I think it’s good that alcoholism was discussed, but it shouldn’t be all we learn on the topic.

9. Sex isn’t a bad thing.

With all that we had been taught about sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy, I found the conversation to be very one-sided. Sex isn’t a bad thing. It can be a healthy way to show affection to someone you love. It can be done in healthy ways that strengthen your relationship with a person. It can even be done alone to help a person figure out what they like. Everyone has sex, but no one is willing to talk about it. This just added to the negative feelings I had towards sex and people who have sex. One girl in my grade got pregnant when we were 16, and I found myself feeling all the things that I have been taught towards her. I thought she was stupid, a slut, and going to go nowhere in life because she makes bad decisions. In reality, a lot of people who have kids when they are teens are still able to lead happy lives, it is just a lot of extra work. I fully understand why they don’t want to promote such things, but filling us with fear isn’t a good way to go about it.

10. Your parents won’t always understand.

We live in a different age than our parents grew up in, and have been taught different values. We are exposed to swear words, nudity, and sexuality a lot more than our parents did. In a lot of ways we are more accepting, especially when it comes to issues like racism and other forms of discrimination. One of the things that bothers me most is that my parents could not accept me when I was questioning my sexuality. When I first told them I thought I might be bisexual, my dad said nothing, and my mom was outraged. While I was dating Sarah, I was convinced she didn’t love me. She still says bad things about Sarah every once in a while, and I still defend her, no matter what. One of my close friends is gay, and whenever I talk about her and the girl she’s dating, or her girlfriend, my mom avoids the conversation or says rude things about gay people in general. I think she is very closed-minded, and it makes me angry. My parents don’t understand a lot of the time, but as I get older they are starting to see me in a new light that is making it easier. Just because your parents don’t understand doesn’t mean you should change your mind. Be who you are, and eventually they will learn to accept you, even if it is hard for them. Underneath it all, you’re still their baby, and they love you.


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About janinerussell

The transition to adulthood; reflecting on the past to create a better future.

2 responses to “10 Things I Wish I Had Been Taught In Health Class”

  1. Olivia Wolf says :

    I agree with everything you’ve said in this post, especially the confusion involving transgenders. You’re lucky teachers spoke about periods with you and showed you what a pad was. I didn’t know how to use one when I got mine. The sad thing is that things haven’t changed that much, school education on health is still lacking and omitting certain important details.

  2. Jezebel says :

    Love this! I agree with this wholeheartedly. Especially the last one, although with my parents its more of me dating a boy who’s a different ‘religion’ (I say it this way as we are both christian, only he is catholic and I am protestant, although this is still a big issue where I am from (Northern Ireland)) Sometimes our parents will say things that just don’t seem right. Our generation is definitely more accepting.

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