Saturday, January 20

Shopping for Shame

I may have mentioned this before, but my school district had a comprehensive sex-ed program for which I am grateful to this day. In reading a few things recently about shame and embarrassment surrounding sex, I felt another wave of gratitude for the teacher I had.

One of the assignments she gave us involved filling out a table with information about various over the counter contraceptives. She told us that much of the information could be obtained from various sources, but that the form was designed to make it necessary to go to a store and look at the packaging in order to fill it out completely, and only complete forms would be given full marks.

A few years earlier I was dealing with menstruation. The first time I had to buy feminine hygeine products I was overwhelmed with embarrassment- a feeling that I picked up from my sisters, friends, and advertisements. I can also remember trying in vain to open the packing silently in the stall of a public restroom horrified at the idea that the tell-tale crinkling would give away the true nature of my visit to the restroom. (Incidentally I've heard that "Quiestest Packaging" is now a selling point for some hygeine products.) I also remember one day, simply saying to myself "Aw to heck with it!" From that point on I made a point of crinkling the wrapper as loudly as I could, then staring down anyone who dared to look at me. I made a point of smiling congenially and making idle conversation with the cashier of the grocery store when purchasing pads, almost daring them to try and make me embarrassed. That was a liberating change, and I quickly learned people just don't care that much, and the ones that do will be embarrassed by your brazen shamelessness leaving you in peace.

When completing my sex-ed assignment a few years later I was, once again, overwhelmed with embarrassment. I walked past the condom section two or three times, pausing slightly then rushing on. Finally, in the greeting card isle I had another "Aw, to heck with it!" moment. It was getting late, I had an assignment to do, and good grades meant a lot more to me than avoiding dirty looks from shelf-stockers. So I became as brazen as I was shy, and camped out in front of the condom display until I had finished my assignment. I quickly learned that, just like with pads, no one cared.

I realize now that her main goal in giving this assignment wasn't to teach us critical package reading skills, but to desensitize us to dealing with contraceptive items in public. In our "nod-nod, wink-wink, know what I mean?" culture, getting over the shame is a vital skill I think every teenager should learn. I still vividly remember that experience and call upon my those heartening memories any time I need to buy any sort of embarrassing item.