I took sex-ed in Northwest Arkansas in what was, at the time, a small town. I consider myself fortunate that I come from a family that never pressured or shamed me to wait to have sex until marriage. I was somewhat educated about sex long before taking this course at the age of 12 or 13 in seventh grade.

Still, sex-ed made it seem like I could get pregnant at any point in the month. Every month. Ever.

It led me to believe that I was fertile at all times and that the mere thought of sperm would be enough to get me pregnant. If I didn't use protection, sex would cause one of my eggs to be fertilized, and that embryo would immediately implant and lead to a successful pregnancy. Every single time. 

woman holding a peeled banana

But what about the hormones that cause ovulation? When are you most likely to ovulate? What causes you to get a period? How long is an egg viable for? How long after fertilization does implantation occur? At the very least, I took away that I was born with all the eggs I will ever have. That much is true and accurate, and I was left wondering about the rest.

I also remember my teacher, let’s call her Ms. Keller, saying that premarital sex leads to unwanted babies, as if married couples were immune. I remember thinking, "What about married couples that have an unwanted pregnancy?" I don't remember if I had the gall to actually say that out loud. If I did, I probably would have received a curt response such as, "There is no such thing in a marriage." 

I remember thinking to myself, "Why, religion aside, do you have to be married in order to have children?" Growing up in the South in the early 2000s also meant that LGBTQ family-building was never recognized as an option or brought up in a positive light. 

It wasn't until I was in my thirties that I finally learned how ovulation works. I had always imagined it as an egg rocketing out of my ovary and flying down my fallopian tube at lightning speed. Before that, I only understood that a period meant that I was not pregnant. Which I have now been reminded of every month since March 2020.  

You would think that educational programs surrounding pregnancy prevention would, at the very least, provide the basic mechanics of fertility and pregnancy. Instead, we are taught about sexually transmitted diseases, basic anatomy, how contraception fails, and why having premarital sex makes you equivalent to chewed gum, used shoes, or any number of less-than-encouraging metaphors. 

glue container with glue running down the tip

Don’t get me wrong; STDs are a crucial and important topic to discuss. However, to use them as a scare tactic and fail to mention the numerous ways they can be avoided is ignorant at best and harmful at worst. While I don't remember if they ever showed us any graphic pictures of infected genitals, I do remember making a parody of a Britney Spears song about Gonoherpasyphilaids thinking it was peak creativity. A true classic for the times. 

I don't remember much of the discussion about birth control. The efficacy rate was completely glossed over. We were told the success rate was 99.9%, but it was emphasized that merely looking at your partner's genitals meant you could be in that .01%. (And yes, this also includes dry humping). Ms. Keller always emphasized, "Remember, the only safe sex is no sex." As prolific as that might sound, it didn't even make sense to my seventh-grade self. 

When learning about anatomy, I remember our teacher showing us anatomical pictures of the penis and vagina, having us label them out loud. Naturally, when you give seventh-grade adolescents full permission to say "penis" and "vagina," they are going to say it as loudly as they can.

I also remember actively wanting to participate in the role-play of how to reject a proposition for sex. While I can't recall the exact dialogue, I'm pretty sure the "proper" response was that we were saving ourselves for marriage because it was "the cool thing to do." Never a simple "I'm not ready." It took me well into my adulthood to realize that you don't owe anybody an explanation on why you don't want to have sex. "No" is a complete sentence.

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cucumber wrapped in a measuring tape

While telling a story about a random made-up girl, Sally, and her boyfriend, Mark, my teacher held up a paper heart. Tearing it piece by piece, Ms. Keller told us about the horrible day Sally had after having sex with Mark for the first time. 

Her shoe broke on the way to school. She got mud on her jeans. She saw Mark with his arms around another girl's shoulders. Each time something bad happened to Sally, Ms. Keller would tear off a piece of the heart, with only a tiny piece remaining by the end of her demonstration. "See?" Ms. Keller beamed. "This is what happens when you have sex before marriage." Never mind the fact that Mark is a d-bag. Nope. It's the sex. And it's Sally's fault. Do we ever hear the story where these roles are reversed? 

Fast forward to many years later, and I'm playing by all of the rules. I'm married and doing everything Sex-Ed told me would get me pregnant without a problem. Yet, here I am, still childless two years later with zero pregnancies. Tell me, Ms. Keller, where is my baby? 

Stephanie Reyes is a military spouse navigating the world of infertility. She has become passionate about sharing her story and the knowledge she has gained on her fertility journey. You can visit her blog at www.ivfyou.com