Sex Education

The other day, one of my friends send me a desperate message. She’s nineteen, and she doesn’t want to be a virgin anymore. To simplify drastically, she was asking me, “How can I lose my virginity quickly and easily?” She’s is tired of being teased, or as she put it, “not considered adult.” She feels like her “queer cred” is constantly in question.

As you can imagine, this led to a conversation on sex and virginity. Ultimately, it became apparent that she has no idea about sex. She admitted it herself. I’m not just talking about sexual position or how to be a good lover, this 19 year old college student didn’t know her own anatomy. She didn’t know that you could have an orgasm without penetration. She didn’t know that muscular contractions come with orgasm.

There is something wrong with this picture.

I don’t care if you think sex before marriage is the greatest sin one could ever commit. I don’t care if you are asexual. Everyone, by the time they a teenager, should know about their own body parts. This knowledge is necessary for your own health.

She explained to me that she never had a good relationship with her mom. She had no female, adult role-model to teach her these all important things. She was sheltered. She didn’t learn it in school.

This got me thinking. Where do we get our sex education?

I had very open parents. They were always asking me if I had any questions about sex or sexuality, but I never took them up on the offer. Instead, I rolled my eyes, and said “Ew, gross!” When they pressured me, saying, “But you must wonder about something,” I’d reply with a quick “I know what I need to know. Thank you very much.” I was a smart ass.

So where did I get my sex education, if not from my well-intentioned parents?

In 4th and 5th grade, I took “the class,” along with every other miserable 4th and 5th grader. We were separated by gender. I learned that because I am a girl, I have a vagina. This vagina can created babies, and thus, I’m going to get my period soon. I also learned that it’s going to suck and I’m going to smell. To make up for that, we were given a brown paper bag with a maxi pad sponsored by Always, deodorant sponsored by Teen Spirit, and a scary booklet outlining the changes I should be expecting.

I attended a small, charter middle school. During my 6th grade year, I remember extensive debate among our parents over what middle school sex education curriculum would be used. Someone had suggested the Our Whole Lives curriculum, apparently developed by the Unitarian Universalists and United Church of Christ. I wasn’t supposed to know that they parents were debating this, but I was a smart kid. I realized they didn’t want us to learn about masturbation, homosexuality, rape, and gender identity, so I went and looked all of these things up in the dictionary and encyclopedia.

They never agreed on a sex ed curriculum, so my math and science teacher presented a biology-based unit. I was absent the day of the lecture, but I do remember a list of 50 terms we had to look up in the dictionary and define in our own words. A few terms I remember: penis, vagina, ovaries, semen, gonads, puberty. That was a fun project for an eleven year old. I learned lots of words, but still had no idea how they fit together.

In 10th grade Biology, we also had a unit on reproduction. Once again, I was absent on the day our teacher lectured and they day we watched a human birth. I did hear that he drew a diagram of a penis and a vagina with an arrow indication how the former fits in the later. (Oh, so that’s how they interact!)

My high school was pretty liberal and wanted us to grow up to be responsible adults. One year, we had a “Healthy Decision’s Fair.” From that, I learned that I shouldn’t do drugs or I’ll end up like the burnt-out kid sharing his life story, I shouldn’t drink and drive or I’ll die, and I shouldn’t have unprotected sex or I’ll get some horrible disease. Technically, Florida schools can only present abstinence-only sex education, although my teachers told us in no uncertain terms that they assume most of us are sexually active and that we could go to the neighborhood health center next door for free condoms, as well as birth control and sexual wellness exams at low or no cost. So we went next door, got free condoms, filled them with water from the campus water fountains, and enjoyed some water balloon fights.

While I may have gotten more formal sex education than some, I tended to miss the important days. It took me a long time to transform my understanding of anatomy and biology into an understanding of how sex actually worked. How did I finally figure it out? The internet coupled with a healthy dose of HBO’s Real Sex on overnight school field trips.

I’m lucky that I was a smart kid. I had access to a computer and I was able to separate accurate information from total crap. I found useful sites like Scarleteen. I got a lot of my questions answered through the columns on woman-friendly, queer-friendly sex toy shops like Babeland and Eden Fantasys. I read a bit of erotica and figured some things out through internet kink communities.  I also had smart friends, were, as a whole, were pretty comfortable talking about sex. I finally knew for sure what sex was, and my thoughts on in were pretty positive and pretty open-minded.

As for my practical sexual education, that gets a bit more complicated.

My first sexual experience was at age sixteen. I had a girlfriend, and we were both terrified of our own bodies, let alone somebody else’s body. While we were intimate, I don’t think either of us knew what we were doing. It was a lesson in frustration and uncertainty.

After that relationship, I didn’t date for a while. I had enough to figure out, so I put sex and sexuality on hold. On my nineteenth birthday, my sexual desires kicked in to overdrive. I’d say that’s when I got my practical sex education. It wasn’t intentional (at least I don’t think it was…), but I discovered the joys of older women. They knew what they were doing. They were comfortable in their own bodies, and they made me feel comfortable in mine, not to mention sexy, beautiful, and confident. It might not have been the most “politically correct” thing, but I was legal (albeit barely) and they were legal, and we were consenting adults, and it was fucking amazing.

Back to the initial subject at hand, I managed to convince my friend that she need not go out and lose her virginity to prove anything to anyone. Although, I told her I could fully relate. I remember the desperate need to figure out my our own sexuality and sexual desires (it wasn’t very long ago). However, it seems to happen in it’s own time, when the time is right. And it seems to happen when you have the knowledge that you need.

That brings me to my questions for you: Where did you get your sex education, both theoretical and practical? Was it what you needed to know? Did you know it by the time you need to know?

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    • Katie
    • April 25th, 2010

    Oh man I meant to comment on this and I totally forgot! Sex education is a really interesting thing for me. When I was five, my parents caught me and a boy playing doctor. So I got the whole “sex is when a man loves a woman, don’t do it until you’re married, etc.” speech. I knew what it was. I knew a man stuck his penis in a woman’s vagina. I knew I wasn’t supposed to do it.

    In kindergarten (6 yo), the class was divided up by gender and they explained to us how our bodies would change when we grew older. I actually appreciate this, because instead of focusing on “you’re gonna bleed down there and it’s not fun,” they simply explained how our breasts would grow and where hair would grow. I remember thinking, “Why would we grow hair under our arms?”

    I was raised in the Catholic church and the school I went to was full of fundie Christians. My parents explained to me that things like masturbation are healthy and normal, but somehow I “knew” it was wrong because of these outside influences. Strangely enough, throughout elementary school kids frequently discussed sex and masturbation. I knew girls in 5th grade that shaved their vaginas for the hell of it. It gave me a very conflicted view of sexuality: “This is wrong, but it feels good and everyone is talking about it.” Delightful Catholic shame going on there.

    My mom was very supportive and informative for things like getting my period and learning to shave my legs. She had the misfortune of parents that said nothing. Her older sister thought she was dying when she got her period. 😦 My mom is also very open and supportive about sex and sexuality, which I really appreciate. My dad’s slowly becoming more open about sex with me (especially compared to my brother, but that’s another story).

    I missed formal sex ed completely in middle school, thanks to the timing of switching schools. In high school everyone else had gone through the wringer, so we skipped the basics and researched sex-related topics of our choice. I was pretty disappointed by this, but too embarrassed to complain.

    Most of what I’ve learned about the female body has been from myself, talking with other friends growing up, my ex-girlfriend, Wikipedia, and my ob-gyn. For the male body, Wikipedia and boyfriends. There were a lot of things that really surprised and startled me about male genitalia! It’s kinda weird watching balls move on their own.. like watching a sea creature or something. lol okay not trying to gross you out.

    I’d have to say, overall what I’ve learned about sex has been from people rather than formal educational sources. This, of course, can cause a lot of confusion and as a child there were a lot of things I didn’t understand about anatomy. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve figured things out and feel pretty content. I knew what I was doing the first time I had sex with either sexes.

    A lot of people find it bizarre that kids during my childhood masturbated and discussed it at a young age. I wasn’t sexually abused as a child but I did have sexual feelings. I think that frightens people. I don’t know. It’s just my experience.

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