“A Proper Sexual Education,” by Tom McMillian

Dec 20th, 2010 | By | Category: Prose

Dad started acting crazy after our mother died. Little things, mostly. Awoke four times a night to check the stove. Enrolled my brother in women’s self-defence classes. Painted our basement yellow, then grey, then wallpapered it cantaloupe orange. 

Twice a week he’d call the school to check that there was fruit in our lunches. 

It all seemed harmless. 

Until the day Nathan and I celebrated our tenth birthday, when my father walked into the kitchen and announced that boys without mothers could not afford to fall behind in sexual education. 

Our family was a tripod, he said. We lacked the numbers to raise someone’s lovechild. 

So Dad baked waffles. He boiled homemade syrup.  He winked and peeled bananas. Then he set down three plates and began stripping mystery from the human form. 

“For guys, a thin tube above the testicle connects the efferent ducts to the vas deferens,” my father said between chews. “Interestingly, a similar system is found in sharks.” 

Dad’s nipples poked out through the collar of his bath robe. Nathan, that clever bastard, muffled his brain by counting chest hairs, but I just stared at the plate. I’d never heard an adult discuss semen colour before. 

“Don’t be embarrassed,” Dad kept repeating. “This is all perfectly normal.” 

Only it wasn’t. None of my friends learned that the urethral opening rested directly within the labium majora’s protective hoop. None of their fathers railed against the horrors of genital lice. 

Twenty minutes in, I began swearing oaths of lifelong abstinence just to move things along. 

Then the medical textbooks appeared. Things got worse. 

Those anatomical drawings — cartoon, photograph, two-dimensional black-and-white – branded into our brain stems. For weeks, Nathan had nightmares where his foreskin peeled away. Vaginas reminded me of a hairy, fleshy labyrinth. Everything looked so puffy, so pink. I feared getting lost inside. 

But Dad ignored our protests. He spoke slowly. He repeated complex words. And, when the lesson finished, he stacked the books, wiped both palms on his pants and asked for questions. 


Joely’s parents divorced when she was eight years old. Her father kept the ranch. Her mother moved to San Diego. Telling me this, she squeezed my wrist and stared into my eyes, like love was hell and pain just another thing we now shared. 

This seemed unfair. My mother wasn’t a plane ride away. I wouldn’t wake up to find her sporting fresh tan lines and grasping a boyfriend hoping to buy my love. I had a gravestone. I had tattered memories that felt more like resembled dreams. 

But Joely had cannons for breasts, so I just lowered my chin and nodded. 

“It can be very hard,” I mumbled, “losing a parent to Sea World.” 

Hoping to avoid further discussing parental abandonment, I began summarizing three years of family sexual education lessons. How I was one of two boys in school who understood the chemical basis behind urinary tract infections. How Dad bought a chalkboard. How he wanted Nathan and I to dress as ovum and sperm each Halloween. 

Maybe Joely had a thing for motherless men. 

Maybe my casual use of medical terminology aroused her curiosity. 

Regardless, on Monday, she walked me behind the track shed and thrust a wet tongue between my lips. 

Did it again on Tuesday. And Wednesday. 

On Friday, Joely nibbled my fingertips, leaned in, and suggested I remove her bra. 

The heart makes no sound when it stops. Only silence. 

I knew the intimate details of God’s sperm-to-egg-to-infant production line by heart. Blindfolded, I could sketch the vaginal cavity. But my father never discussed the complex physics of brazier removal. We never prepared for the terrifying pressure of picking that lock. 

Predictable catastrophe ensued. Using one hand failed dramatically, trying two worked no better. Pulling at the front got us no closer than fumbling around the back. My heart galloped. Joely’s nails click-clacked against the metal siding. 

Desperate, I finally grabbed both cups and pulled the entire apparatus over her head. 

Had the left breast almost free when Joely started shrieking.


Tom McMillan lives and writes in Ottawa, Canada. He once saved a horse’s life. It was not the least bit grateful.

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