Spoiler alert: Sex is supposed to be fun.
The first sex-ed class is a milestone in which we get answers to questions we didn’t even know we had. While reactions often involve quite a bit of giggling, the way educators handle it can determine how we perceive and relate to sex for the rest of our lives.
Unfortunately, most existing curriculums cover little more than mechanics and the biological aspects of sex–what goes where and how babies are made–and usually focus on the risks involved, even when they’re not openly abstinence-only.
And while some schools, and even parents, are exploring more comprehensive options, if you weren’t lucky enough to have such adventurous teachers (or a super honest YouTube channel at your disposal), here are six things they probably didn’t tell you in sex-ed.
1. Sexual health is about more than STIs.
Sexual health encompasses much more than disease prevention. It’s about being physically, emotionally, mentally and socially healthy when it comes to sexuality, meaning that your sexual experiences are always safe and pleasurable.
2. Not all birth control methods are made equal.
Sex-ed classes rarely explore all birth control options and even if they do they don’t go into all the little details about them. Did you know condoms are the only form of birth control that protects against STIs? How about the IUD that practically makes your period disappear? And the one that can make it heavier? What if hormones are not your thing? Talking to a physician you trust is the best way to figure out what’s right for you (and checking out our birth control basic for guidance!).
3. Sex should *always* be enjoyable.
Here’s a bomb they didn’t mention in sex-ed: SEX-IS-FUN. So much fun.
Enjoying sex is easy–all it takes is respect and trust!–so if you or someone else isn’t having fun, consider discussing why. Remember there’s nothing wrong with stopping if you don’t feel comfortable, and respect it if someone else doesn’t.
4. There are many kinds of sexual relationships.
Sure, people can have sex when they “really, really love each other,” but they can also do it when they only love each other a little, or when they don’t love each other at all. People can even have sex when they don’t like (or even know) each other. Some people like to have a lot of sex, some choose to abstain altogether. Some people start young, and some people wait for marriage. Some people pick one person and stick with them, and others prefer variety. Discuss your sexual preferences honestly with your partner to make sure you are on the same page, and be honest with yourself about your desires. As long as everyone involved is happy… it’s all good!
5. Sex doesn’t determine your value.
Depending on your age, gender, and social circle, “virginity” may be a source of pride or shame, and the same goes for the number of sexual partners you’ve had.
But whatever you have heard, been told or even believed in the past, someone’s “number” has nothing to do with their self-worth. It doesn’t make them any more or less generous, loving, brave, honest or respectable. Judging people by their number of sexual partners, whether it’s zero or sky-high, only perpetuates a cycle of shame.
There’s nothing inherently negative or positive about having sex, and thinking so leads to more and more people who have an unhealthy relationship with it. Living and letting live is the way to go.
6. Sex isn’t just intercourse.
Perhaps because of the emphasis society places on virginity as the absence of previous penis-in-vagina penetration, the word “sex” has become synonymous with “intercourse.”
However, sexual activity can take many forms–ranging from mutual masturbation to anal penetration, to sex toy play, to oral stimulation–and happen between people of all sexes and genders. Some people in the LGBT community or with pelvic floor conditions may not ever have penis-in-vagina sex, which doesn’t necessarily make them lifelong “virgins.”
Recognizing these expressions as authentic and autonomous forms of sexuality, just as legitimate as “traditional” intercourse, is essential both for the inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community and for a wider understanding of what safe sex means.
Talking about sex is healthy and important, and the more open we are about it, the faster we can address the issues that arose from decades of silence and shame. So take it all off! (The shame, I mean.)
Header image edited by Marcy Gooberman