8 Things You Didn’t Learn in Sex Ed

Content warning: this article contains mentions and descriptions of eugenics and violence against Black and Brown bodies. 

It’s a truth nearly universally unacknowledged that much of the information we sex educators use day in and day out came from violence perpetrated by white people against Black and Brown bodies.

If this is your first time hearing this information, you aren’t alone. White narcissism made it so these incidences were conveniently and often purposefully hidden. Its tentacles run so deep that most sex education curricula and training programs leave them out. Even my graduate program in public health omitted or skimmed over much of this information.

So, without further ado, here are eight things you probably didn’t learn in even the most comprehensive sex education class.

Gynecologic treatments were tested on enslaved Black uterus owners

Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey—those are the only three names history has kept of the many Black enslaved people with vulvas that the so-called “Father of modern gynecology” experimented on without anesthesia or consent. At the time it was believed that Black womxn could not feel pain. The legacy of this work? To this day, there remains a well documented racial bias in pain assessment and treatment no doubt influenced by medical textbooks that list out sensitivities differences by race.

Science learned about syphilis by not treating Black people with Penises who had it

In 1932, the CDC wanted to better understand the course and progression of the diseases with the hopes of developing better treatments, as well as to show the need for a treatment program for Black folx. They enrolled nearly 400 men with syphilis. Researchers told the participants that they were being treated for “bad blood” in exchange for free medical exams, meals, and burial insurance. In reality, they never received treatment, even after the healthcare system adopted penicillin as the standard of care for syphilis. It took 40 years, a major new story, public outcry, and a class action lawsuit for the study to end. The last study participant died in 2004.

Henrietta Lacks has saved countless lives—but neither she nor her family were aware, never mind compensated for doing so

Thanks to a best-selling book and Oprah-backed biopic, you may know this one. While Henrietta Lacks was being treated with cervical cancer, the surgeon snipped a sample of her tumor for a research team down the hall. Hers were the first cells they had been able to keep alive outside of the human body—and they’ve since led to the development of vaccines, cloning, gene mapping, and many medical breakthroughs; saved countless lives; and, lined the pockets of many who aren’t related to her. Meanwhile, her name was intentionally kept hidden and her family didn’t find out until 25 years later when researchers wanted family DNA in order to map hers. Like Tuskegee, Lacks’ story contributes to the understandable and ongoing distrust of healthcare by Black people.

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