The Styrofoam Cup: Sam Neely’s Story

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 7.48.57 PM

Series disclaimer: HA’s “Let’s Talk About Sex (Ed)” series contains frank, honest, and uncensored conversations about sexuality and sex education. It is intended for mature audiences.

Author note: Sam Neely blogs at Yes We Sam!


It was just a Styrofoam cup. But the man said to examine it, so I did.

I was fifteen years old, and was sitting in a classroom at the church building where my homeschool umbrella met. I passed the cup to the next guy in the line. I don’t remember who it was, but we had been segregated, boys and girls, so I know it was a guy.

I don’t remember who this teacher was either. He was an older gentleman, bearded, husky. He wasn’t the parent of one of my friends, like most of my teachers were… he was a guest.

The Styrofoam cup had made its way down the line, and the instructor held it up to us again.

“It looks normal, right?” he asked. We agreed, yes it did. Then he poured water from a pitcher into the cup. The water leaked out the bottoms and sides of the cup.

“Just because something appears sturdy,” he said, “doesn’t mean that it is.”

The message was clear: condoms have holes in them. Never mind that the difference in material between Styrofoam and latex makes the analogy useless. Never mind that the only reason the cup he used in his example only had holes because he put them there and intentionally made them undetectable. No, the point of the illustration was that protection doesn’t exist.

Another illustration used by this lecturer involved a gun. He brought a printout of a handgun as an illustration of “A good thing that can sometimes be used for bad”. Like sex, he said.

But why did his illustration have to be a gun? This was less than a month after the shootings at Columbine High School. (I remember this, because he said that was why he only brought a picture of a gun, instead of the real thing).

After his presentation, we traded places with the girls, and they presumably sat through the same collection of demonstrations. We had another lecturer, I believe she was a former nurse, show us a slide show of graphic STD photographs.

The message was clear: Don’t have sex.


So why does this bother me? I got this message all the time — at home, at church, even in a series of public service announcements on television. Why did it bother me here?

Because this was science class.

The biology class at my homeschool co-op divided the A Beka textbook into the systems of the human body, focusing on one at a time, but the course did not cover the chapter on the reproductive system. Instead, we had an optional (parental permission required) course called “Crossroads” where we were supposed to learn about sex. I signed up for it, assuming it would be the science that was left out of the curriculum.

But it wasn’t…

It was just the “don’t do it” lectures, with scare tactics and manipulation.


I’ve spent the last five days trying to expand this story into a deeper post. I’ve tried to tell stories of my sexual history, and how it was painted by certain experiences, how many of them come from purity culture, and how many simply come from my own bad luck, but the thoughts are too jumbled, and everything is too complicated. Instead, I’m left only with this anecdote.

It says nothing, and it says everything.

It is one of the funniest stories I tell.

It is also one of the saddest.

6 thoughts on “The Styrofoam Cup: Sam Neely’s Story

  1. Terahlyanwë February 20, 2014 / 3:21 am

    Oh geez. This is such a common story, and it still happens in schools. :facepalm:

    Still slightly better than my sex ed: my mother told me she’d give me a book on my wedding day. That extended to actually explaining puberty. She asked me if I knew how to use pads….two years after I’d started my period. I had no idea what birth control or condoms were until I started googling stuff to figure out how stuff works.


    • Aine Crabtree February 20, 2014 / 8:15 am

      Now imagine that you didn’t have unsupervised internet access until college.


      • Terahlyanwë February 20, 2014 / 10:11 am

        I didn’t. That’s why I snuck to the library. 😉


  2. Lauren February 20, 2014 / 11:29 am

    It’s as ridiculous as thinking that not teaching kids how their leg muscles work will keep them from jumping…


  3. Holly February 20, 2014 / 11:50 am

    This kind of s#!+ is taught in public school abstinence-only education, too, and it is why Bible-belt kids get pregnant and Chlamydia. Newsflash: condoms work pretty well if one knows how to use them! I could just slap all the fundies who teach this purity culture crap. Better yet, I should do a condom demonstration for them. Maybe they just don’t know how it works.


  4. Bryan February 20, 2014 / 8:22 pm

    Crazy experience! All I remember in my 5th grade sex ed class was the teacher putting a condom on a banana! Ohhh I also remembering i wanted to know what the girls were learning.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s