A fancy queer femme interested in pop culture past and present.
When I was in high school, they showed us a slideshow of various sexually transmitted infections. All of the pictures were outrageously gruesome and their sole purpose was to scare us out of having sex. Everything was red and swollen and dripping and crusted and ew—because sex is dirty and if you have sex you’ll be dirty, kids! There was one in particular they called “Barnacle Bill.” It was a penis covered in warts—warts upon warts upon warts until it didn’t look like a penis anymore. Poor Bill was nothing but barnacles. We laughed but we also cringed. “Now who in this class thinks it’s a good idea to have sex?” The other day at work, I was leafing through a dermatology textbook. Right there, somewhere in “Infections and Infestations,” was old Barnacle Bill! It was the very same picture. Except this time, it had a caption. Human papillomavirus in an immunosuppressed patient. Patient suffered from dementia and was unaware of the progress of the infection. Oh. That changes the moral of the story a bit, doesn’t it? It’s no longer a matter of “this is what sluts look like under their slutty pants!” It’s more like “sometimes life is cruel for no good reason.” Sometimes life is cruel for no good reason, and then after you’re (probably) dead someone uses the most embarrassing picture imaginable of your body to lie to schoolkids and make them associate pleasure with filth. I’m sorry, Barnacle Bill.
This is why it takes every bone in my body to restrain myself when other youth-serving professionals tell me “You should show the kids pictures of STI’s that will scare them.” Sex education is not fear mongering medical extremes, it is about information and risk reduction. When a teacher shows youth pictures such as “Barnacle Bill” the images subtly imply that all STI’s disfigure a persons genitals. The pictures then perpetuate falsehood because many STIs have few if no symptoms and are unnoticeable to the naked eye.
In addition to the original author’s apology to “Barnacle Bill” I want to say sorry to anyone who had to undergo the shocking picture method of sexual health education. You deserved better from the adults around you, and they failed. I hope you take it (or took it) upon yourself to get reliable and sex positive information from people you love and trust.