6 things I wish I had learned in sex ed, but definitely didn't
There’s no doubt that the state of sex education is, well, depressing as hell. Around the world, but especially in the United States, students are met with sex education that is lacking, confusing, and often filled with misinformation — if they are given sex education at all. Currently, only 24 states (and D.C.) require sex education. And even when it’s being delivered, it’s not enough. “According to the 2014 CDC School Health Profiles, fewer than half of high schools and only a fifth of middle schools teach all 16 topics recommended by the CDC as essential components of sex education,” Planned Parenthood reports. “These topics range from basic information on how HIV and other STDs are transmitted — and how to prevent infection — to critical communication and decision-making skills.” Not only that, abstinence-only education is still being promoted in some areas, despite the fact that it has proven to be ineffective.
To be honest, I didn’t have terrible sex education. My New Hampshire public school gave me some basics. It taught me about sex, about STIs, about pregnancy, and — through some truly humiliating plastic boobs and testicles unleashed on a group of 14-year-olds — it taught me how to check for lumps. I’m grateful for it, but it wasn’t enough. At the vulnerable, curious, conflicted age, I — we all — deserved so much more. So here’s what I wish I had learned in sex education, because it’s about far more than just condoms and STIs.
1. That the female orgasm ...well, anything about the female orgasm
To be honest, any mention of the female orgasm would have been welcome. But what we really should have heard was that the female orgasm isn’t elusive, it’s not confusing — and that it’s just as important as a male partner’s. We should have heard about the clitoris and the 8,000 nerve-endings, that the vast majority of women need clitoral stimulation to orgasm, and that sex isn’t just about penetration and ejaculation. We should have heard that exploring and playing is part of the fun.
2. That you are not defined by the number of sexual partners you have
It was never said explicitly, but the implication — at my school and at countless others — was that more sexual partners were definitely a bad thing. There was a sense of being used. That sex was bound to happen, especially among teenagers, but that it should be limited. We should have been taught that having sex 100 times with one person doesn't do anything different to you that having sex one time with 100 different people — as long as it’s safe and consensual. We should have been taught that judging someone by their number was bullshit.
3. That sexuality is a spectrum — and it's okay if you're not at the straight end
If there was any talk about queerness in my sex ed, I blinked and missed it. I wish we had been taught that many of us might not feel 100 percent straight — and that it was OK. I wish we had been told that lots of people experiment and take some time to figure things out and that it didn’t have to be a big, defining point of your life.
4. That an STI doesn't make you dirty
There was nothing worse in my health class than STIs. They were the worst case scenario — they were what happened if you messed up, through being reckless and slutty. I wish we had been taught that STDs happen, even if you’ve only had one sexual partner and you’re in a monogamous relationship. I wish we had been taught that many of them are curable and treatable. I wish we had been taught that pretty much everyone has herpes, so we should all just ditch the STI stigma and start supporting each other.
5. That consent is ongoing — and crucial
If the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have taught us anything, it’s that we all need a hell of a lot of consent education and that it has to start young. I wish someone had told me consent is crucial, that it’s ongoing, that it needs to be enthusiastic and clear. I wish someone had told me that women weren’t fussy or prudes for saying no or changing their mind. I wish someone had told me that — and I really freaking wish they had told the young men who I was at school with.
6. That you can fuck for the sake of fucking
OK, I’ll forgive my high school health teacher for not pulling out the term “fucking”, but the point stands. There was no talk of pleasure, of fun, of being two consensual grown-ups going at it just for the sake of it. I wish they could have taken out the moral gravity and explained that some people will want to have more sex, that some people will want to have less, and that’s it's all OK. I wish I knew that it wasn’t weird for a woman to want to masturbate every day or to be able to have sex without always developing feelings. I did it anyway — but it would have been nice to hear it.
Sex education is decades behind where it needs to be. And yes, the first thing is to make sure we’re getting accurate information across when it comes to health and consent, but pleasure, relationships, sexuality — there’s room for all of it. These things shape our relationships and they shape our lives — and I wish I had been taught so much more.