I was in eighth grade when the Catholic school I went to decided we were ready for sex education. They brought the cucumber and the free condoms, the banana and the free condoms, and cartoon videos of cats and dogs bumping uglies.
But they were late to the party since I had been doing independent research for three years.
I had learned all I needed to learn from older kids on the soccer field.
“You are not a man until you have sex. It doesn’t matter with whom. You just need to lose your virginity and pronto.”
I received supplemental lessons on the subject matter from my mom.
“If you have sex before getting married, you will make god unhappy; you will for SURE!! Get someone pregnant, you will have to drop out of school to raise cows in a backward rural town.”
She added the last part after I started dating a girl whose family raised cattle on a farm in a remote town.
She would stop for dramatic effect. Then add, “But the likelier scenario is that you will get AIDS and DIE! And obviously, you will go to hell.”
My aunt also stepped in because Hispanic families don’t believe in oppressive constructs like boundaries.
“Si te entre el rasquiñón, Ponte el capuchón.”
Which roughly translates to “If you get the itch, put on the cap.”
It’s cooler in Spanish because it rhymes, or maybe you had to be there to get it. I don’t know.
The advice was crass but pragmatic. The translation is imperfect because it makes it sound like you already had sex, were unfortunate enough to contract a Sexually Transmitted Disease, and now have to cover it up. But what it means is that if you feel the urge, just do it but with protection — it was her take on Nike’s motto.
It didn’t matter. My mom had scared me shitless — in particular, of raising cows. Nothing was worth that — not even my desperate craving to validate my masculinity.
Nevertheless, school kept on pushing their agenda on us that included advocating for extreme abstinence, the sacrament of whispering our filthiest thoughts through a small latticed opening to a man in women’s robes, and incessantly asking for forgiveness for our sins, especially the worst sin of all, which was being born or the original sin as some devout Catholics have come to refer to it.
On sex education, the school took a more academic approach by recruiting an outside specialist. I was perplexed when I saw my neighbor come into the conference room.
As luck would have it, she wasn’t only my obnoxiously devout Catholic neighbor; she was also a prominent local psychologist who moonlighted as a sex-ed speaker.
The workshop didn’t cover any biology or address the desires we were experiencing as part of growing up as healthy boys. Instead, it focused on the elements of a hard-to-forget PR presentation: images and limericks.
We spent the first twenty minutes staring in horror and fascination at what I can only imagine were the worst cases of all venereal diseases. The pictures were vivid. I saw enough pink, blotchy, scaly, inflamed, and destroyed skin to last me a lifetime. It was an assortment of Sexually Transmitted Diseases accouterments.
“So you were dreaming of a blowjob,” started the speaker after handing us the pictures. “Do you think you will enjoy elephantiasis?” She would ask us in a sweet, sticky tone.
“Elephantiasis is not even an STD,” we would retort.
“Well, does it matter?” she would ask us back in front of our teachers.
We knew there was no point in arguing, so we kept looking at the pictures she brought.
Glossy and laminated legal-size papers covered all of our desks. All diseases were invited. We visited up and close with our friend Herpes. Syphilis made a brief appearance. Gonorrhea was the most popular because its name was the funniest and also because that’s what we called troublemakers in school — ‘que gonorrhea!’
Sexual interactions were not the only target. Next on the list: masturbation.
My neighbor explained, “If you masturbate, you are a homosexual. And god does not like homosexuals; like all good Catholics know, of course.”
“How so?” we were genuinely curious.
“Simple: when you masturbate, you masturbate a man. When you masturbate a man, you are a homosexual.” It felt like a fallacy, but the logical form was irrefutable.
Right there, we understood we were in a room full of budding gay Catholic boys, and from the looks of it, we were all okay with it. I mean, it’s hard to argue that if you give a man a handy, you are homosexual. We wouldn’t give handies to anybody else. But it was also hard to stop giving ourselves hand jobs — being teenagers and all.
I spent many showers during my teenage years crying, asking God, “Why did I like myself, a man, so much?” What a sin!
Give a man a fish, and he will eat one day. Teach a man to feel ashamed about beating his fish, and he will never stop draining money in therapy and long showers.
The guilt and the shame are still there, even if faint, every time I lock the door behind me to take care of business. The good news is that I no longer cry anymore when I am done.
On the contrary, I have learned to harness and appreciate the power this homosexual act had on my growth as a person. It is because of this act that I never had to drop out of school to raise cattle because nothing is worth that, not even sex.
I am sure I still make god unhappy, but there is no way around that.