Let's Get Real About Sex-Ed

A retro comic style illustration of a couple kissing
A retro comic style illustration of a couple kissing

Let me start off by saying sex-ed in this country is a joke. Ask a classroom full of college students which topic they know more about; photosynthesis or the vagina, and I bet 9/10 of them would say the former. Actually now that I think about it, most of the guys in the room would probably feel inclined to say that they know all about the vagina, because they've been taught that a big part of their masculinity hinges on their sexual activity... but that's a different post for a different day. My point is: people are having sex all the time, every day (even at this very moment), yet it's something that we as a society are so ignorant and secretive about.

My first time learning anything about sex, sexual organs, puberty, etc. was in 5th grade. We had to get permission slips signed to even be allowed to learn about our bodies. Some kids' parents didn't allow it, so they had to go to a different classroom while the rest of us got to learn about the good stuff. We learned the words "penis" and "vagina." We learned that when girls go through puberty, they bleed, and that when boys get excited, they get erections. We also learned that boys can have wet dreams. That was it. That was all the good stuff. I didn't have another real round of sex-ed until my junior year of high school, which was unfortunate for me because I got my period in 6th grade. I tried to use a tampon for the first time in middle school and that's when I realized I didn't know where my vagina was. It took time, effort, and a big hand mirror to find out where it was and to figure out how I was going to stick a plastic tube up there. Don't worry, I can now locate it and use a tampon with ease. Anyways, in my high school health class, we went a little more in-depth about sex. We learned about STIs and how not to get pregnant, and we saw more detailed diagrams of a penis and a vagina. However, we didn't learn about the female orgasm, female masturbation, different sexual orientations, other forms of sex besides penis-in-vagina sex, rape culture, or gender identities. And by this time, many of my classmates were already having sex. That's not to say that what we did learn wasn't important, but these things should have been taught before that point so that students could have made more informed decisions about sex.

I've lived with my older sister and her husband for almost all of my life. They're my legal guardians, so they have taken the role of my parents. I had never really talked to my sister about sex growing up, but I knew that I wanted to be honest with her when I did start having sex. So when I finally did, I told her, and she responded with shock and anger. We never had a conversation about what a healthy relationship looks like, what a healthy sex-life looks like. We never talked about what I could expect with my body and my relationship with my boyfriend. I didn't feel like I could ask questions or share my stories or insecurities when it came to anything involving sex. We just argued about it and she told me that I shouldn't be having sex because I'm young and unmarried. And that was our whole conversation regarding sex, until months later when she told me that I could get birth control at Planned Parenthood (which I had already done by that time). I love my sister, but I share this story because I know I'm not the only one who has had this experience.

So if we don't learn much from school, and we can't talk to our parents, where does that leave us? That's where the media comes in. Most young people get the bulk of their information about sex and their bodies from movies, television, magazines, music, and of course, porn. The problem with this is that the way sex is presented in the media is so false, one-sided, and even dangerous. In almost all of these outlets, sex is between a man and a woman, and the perspective is almost always from that of the man. We learn that the man always ejaculates, and when he does, the sex is over. We are shown that it is more important to please the man. I don't know how many times I've seen magazine covers and online articles that brag about how they have the "Top 10 Sex Secrets That'll Drive Your Man Wild". We sensationalize rape. One of my professors today pointed out that when there's a rape scene in a movie, we always see the actors' bodies rather than the victim's face. Many boys and men rely on porn to teach them what to expect when it comes to sex, which is a problem for many reasons. Some of these being: not all women look like porn stars, not all women enjoy the same things that porn stars do, and for the most part, porn does not emphasize the comfort and intimacy that a lot of women need in order to feel safe and willing to have sex. Also, there is a lot of fetishizing of ethnic women in porn, which is not okay in real life.

I know that a lot of this is anecdotal, but that doesn't mean that this isn't the reality for many youths, and even adults, in this country. Many people don't learn the truth about sex and/or their bodies until they start actually having sex, and even then they might not learn everything. It's a shame that it's 2016 and we're still lying to each other about sex, even though everyone is having it all the time. It's time to demystify sex and all of its sub-topics. We need to get real, honest, and proactive about sex education, for the safety and wellbeing of ourselves and future generations.