When I was younger, my parents didn’t really talk to me about sex.
Sure, I got “the talk,” which essentially consisted of my parents telling me about the insertion of the penis into the vagina (followed by many cringes on my behalf), and about pregnancy. I didn’t get sex education at my high school, so, to put it lightly, there were some holes in my knowledge about sex.
I didn’t learn about birth control, or about STI screening processes, or about non-hetero sex, or about consent, or about my own sexual agency to stop an interaction that didn’t feel good. These gaps did not go without consequence. For a long time, I put up with painful sexual situations because I thought I had to be polite. At 19, I was unexpectedly pregnant. I had a lot of unprotected sex without having conversations with those partners about their STI status, and although I never did get an STI, that was a statistical miracle.
Too often, I fear, sex education fails to give the essential tools to those whom they are trying to educate. Too often, sex education primarily serves to fear-monger kids and teens about STIs and pregnancy. It doesn’t address the pragmatic options of how to prevent or deal with either of these situations.
Here’s what I wish I would’ve known about other aspects of sexuality: consent, pleasure, and communication, to name a few.
I wish that somewhere along the line I’d had a conversation about what consent is and what it isn’t. I wish someone had shown me how to go about asking for consent and ensuring that all interactions are consensual. Now I know that sexual interactions can involve all sorts of different elements—body touching, oral sex, anal sex, just to name a few — and that it’s equally as important that you ensure consent for these different types of interactions, as you would for all other sexual encounters.
Birth control comes in so many forms these days—there is the pill, condoms, IUDs, implants, shots. If one doesn’t work, there are other options. For instance, I know that the pill made me feel emotionally unsteady and it was also difficult for me to remember to take it daily, so I then realized that there are other methods. Birth control shouldn’t be considered a taboo, it instead should be one more example of how you can exert agency over your own body.
STI screens are an important part of sexuality; I wish someone would have told me this in a straight-to-the-point kind of way. It wasn’t until after being sexually active that I learned that you can get an STI screening from your OB/GYN, at a Planned Parenthood, or a local health center. Any time you have a new partner, it is important to A.) talk with your partner/s about their status before having sex (oral, vaginal, or anal), and B.) get screened for STIs. Informed consent is another term I learned when learning about STIs, and it’s now something I prioritize because simply having the conversation around STI status can help contribute to informed consent among sexual partners.
To all of the people who have vaginas: we deserve pleasure too. When I was younger and having hetero sex, I thought it was all about the male pleasure. The interaction ended when he came. I have since unlearned this notion (thank goodness), and have begun to learn about vaginal pleasure! To learn more (and be inspired), check out artist Sophia Wallace’s project, Cliteracy. This knowledge went hand-in-hand with learning that masturbating was really fun, and also really important. I wanted to know my own body — what feels good and doesn’t feel good (I, personally, love clitoral stimulation, while a lot of my friends prefer clitoral with vaginal stimulation.) Knowing these things about myself, in addition to knowing my masturbatory fantasies, has been really exciting because I now know my sexual preferences better for when I’m with partner/s, and can express those preferences and fantasies.
This is just the the tip of the iceberg of what I wish I would have learned about sex and my body, prior to having sexual relationships. So, don’t stop at “the birds and the bees”—keep actively learning. If you need a good place to start, check out Laci Green’s YouTube channel, which has numerous videos on sex and sexuality.