Health

Silent STDs and 7 other things they didn’t teach you in sex-ed

By Sara Kloepfer

Classroom sex ed is kind of a weird time, at least traditionally.

Whether it is conservative, heteronormative, or even medically inaccurate...sexual education in schools is generally not comprehensive in addressing sexual health, never mind empowering or sex-positive.

Unfortunately, this lack of reliable information negatively impacts sexual knowledge and confidence at an age when people are exploring their sexuality. If sex ed focused less on avoiding pregnancy and demonizing STDs, and more on pleasure, consent, and inclusivity...there would be less confusion and stigmatization surrounding sex. 

Here are a few things you might not have learned in school: 

1. Penetrative sex should NOT be painful

Minor discomfort is one thing and will probably pass, but if sex hurts...stop. Unless you and your partner have agreed to inflict pain as part of BDSM play, sex should not be about grinning and bearing it. Contrary to popular virginity myths, blood (even during the first time) is a sign that something is probably wrong. If you are bleeding or are in too much pain to continue, see your gyno to identify any potential health problems. One of the most common reasons for bleeding or pain during sex is a lack of lubrication, usually caused by having intercourse before you are aroused. Which brings us to our next lesson…

2. Lube is for everyone!

Although often only associated with anal sex or sex toys, lube can be used in any type of partnered or solo sex to reduce friction and increase pleasure. Vaginal lubrication does not equal arousal, so incorporating lube can be a godsend when getting wet is difficult. Water-based lube is your best bet — oil-based lube can make latex contraception less effective, and silicone-based lube can degrade silicone toys over time.

3. Contraception and STD protection is not one-size-fits-all 

Sex ed is usually so focused on avoiding pregnancy that most teenagers don’t learn how to use protection properly in order to enjoy safe, pleasurable sex. Queer sex is often excluded from this conversation, but same sex partners also need to use protection.

Between male and female condoms, IUDs, the implant, the shot, the patch, and dozens of different birth control pills, there are many different options and combinations to choose from when it comes to practicing safe sex. The hormone levels in different types of birth control effect everyone differently, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about what’s right for you, and to be open to changing methods based on how your body responds.

4. You won’t always know when someone has an STD (even if it’s you, bb)

We are often taught about STDs in a way that makes them sound really scary or gross — itchy rashes, burning pain, or oozing sores. But some of the most common STDs show little to no symptoms, such as HPV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and herpes. Sometimes the symptoms, such as abnormal discharge or a burning sensation during urination, can be easily mistaken for other conditions, like a yeast infection. Condoms cannot protect against all STDs, since some can be passed simply through skin-to-skin contact. If left untreated, these STDs can cause serious health problems. So how do you know if you’re all good down there? Get tested.

5. Not everyone orgasms every time

In fact, for people with vaginas that’s quite rare (and lucky). People with vaginas can reach orgasm in a variety of ways, but most cannot achieve orgasm through penetration alone. For a variety of reasons — lack of foreplay, emotional stressors, or even ignorance of the basic layout of the vagina  — partnered sex, especially between heterosexual partners, often leaves those with vaginas unsatisfied. So how do we fix the orgasm gap? See our next point…

6. The clitoris is super important

Most people with vaginas reach orgasm through clitoral stimulation. The clitoris is the only human organ that exists solely for pleasure, with 8,000 sensitive nerve endings (double those in the head of a penis, just saying).

The clitoris is only partially visible, with only the clitoral head and hood located outside the body. The majority of the clitoris extends internally along the pubic bone, creating a wishbone-like structure. This internal erectile tissue (yup, vaginas get “hard” too) can be stimulated through different positions and angles.

7. Masturbating is good for you

Sex ed usually acknowledges that people with penises masturbate, but what about those of us with vaginas? Not only does it feel amazing (shoutout to the super-sensitive clitoris), but masturbating also improves physical and emotional health. Masturbation floods your body with endorphins and dopamine, helping to relieve tension and leave you happy and relaxed. It’s also a great way to figure out what you enjoy, so that you can turn solo fun into partnered pleasure.

8. You can withdraw consent at any time

Like, any time. The conversation surrounding consent is crucial in sex ed, but too often lacking in nuance. Just because you agree to something does not mean that you cannot change your mind once you’ve started. This can also include asking to change positions or go slower. Withdrawing consent should be treated the same as not giving consent in the first place, no matter how “far” you take it. Also, saying yes to an act once does not mean you are obligated to do it again. Remember that consent is explicit, ongoing, and mutual.