While growing up in Cork the entirety of the sex education that I received can be summed up like this:
- Sex can lead to early pregnancy.
- Sex can also lead to various diseases.
- Sex is also a gift from God (was said quietly, and we weren’t given much explanation).
Although I was gutted about the first two I always had trouble reconciling the third one with such a severe consequences of the first two, but I assumed I’d eventually figure it out along the way.
I guess there are limits to what I could have reasonably expected my catholic teachers (and, I suppose, my own parents) to teach me about sex, but me and my eventual partners would have been much better served with a more well rounded approach.
Trust me If I could go back and rewrite the curriculum, I would include the following.
#1. Sex requires mutual consent
In this day and age its hard to imagine something like that would be missing, but the theme of consent and all it includes about respect, equity, communication, and partnership was nowhere to be seen during my sex education.
It simply, yet very conveniently covered the mechanics and then a little bit on the dynamics of trying to figure out when or if you were ready for sex.
On the playground, kids were warned for inappropriate contact. But we were never taught that the importance of that lesson applied to the rest of our lives. There should be no groping on the dance floor on a night out, not to mention that copping a feel in a crowd or as someone walks by rubbing their whole body with yours is not just inappropriate, but a form of assault.
It also would have been incredibly helpful to learn that consent can be withdrawn at any time because sexual activity is dynamic and it evolves, not set on a course like a rocket launched into space. That we have to listen to while being responsive to our partners at all times, oh and that we must both be comfortable throughout any sexual encounter.
Every school should have taught this to their pupil that the decision to have sex with someone requires mutual consent, throughout, and that there shouldn’t be a slightest doubt about whether it exists or not.
#2. Discussion about sex is healthy yet important
A big part of the consent picture is being able to talk to your partner about sex:
Are you comfortable?
Is this what you want to do?
What do you like and dislike?
What can I do to make you feel better, physically and emotionally?
What can I ask of you for the same?
Perhaps, in addition to a series of lectures on sex, with a handful of educational videos as aids, my teachers could have facilitated small group conversations with students about sex.
Would it have been awkward and clumsy?
But so are a lot of adult conversations about sex…
The key is to teach young people both the importance of talking about sex and the skills to do it. The goal should be to kick-start talking about sex, so that it’s not fraught with fear, anxiety, and discomfort.
So many of our sexual hang-ups could be worked through, so many of our mistakes avoided, only if we were better communicators about sex.
How many of my relationships would have been better if I’d been more able to talk through issues with my partners?
Well, pretty much most if not all of them!
#3. Pleasurable and satisfactory sex takes practice
Like our everyday life, we’ll make mistakes in our sex lives too. We will say the wrong things, we will do the wrong things.
I wish I had been taught that having a body that’s physically ready to have sex doesn’t mean you’ll automatically know what will make you or your partner feel good and satisfied.
Sex is something that requires a lot of experimentation, communication, not to mention the amount of trials and errors, to get good at.
It would’ve been tremendously helpful yet encouraging to know that no one is good at sex right away!
Some may say: Yeah, get good at sex by having more of it and technically that’s not entirely wrong, if you’re paying attention and trying to improve.
However, it would have been tremendously helpful yet encouraging to know that no one is good at sex right away. Young people are familiar with the concept of practice. They study and prepare for tests, they attend lessons for musical instruments, they go to endless practices for hurling, GAA, dance, swimming, etc.
It would have been nice to know that sex takes practice, too. That you learn along the way and get better at it over time. Understanding this also would have tempered expectations about our first sexual encounters.
Keeping exploration at it’s core
We are all different in terms of our likes vs dislikes when it comes to our pleasurable spots, seriously! therefore we all need to know and understand how our bodies work, what you find pleasurable might not be pleasurable for me so It’s up to us to know what we like VS what we’ll pass on, and to then use our communication skills to get that across to our partners, so communication skills are a must. Masturbation plays a huge role in this discovery process, but I’d argue it even goes beyond that.
Partnered sex is different in so many ways. The dynamic is completely different, and so too are the physical and psychological sensations. I wish I had understood that one of the greatest joys of sex would be learning what I find exciting and fulfilling for myself and for my partners as well.
Because sex is an ongoing dynamic human need that obviously means that our preferences will evolve over time.
So for example, back in the days when I received my sex education, I honestly thought and believed that I would not have sex until after I’ll get married. And that attitude and belief was grand… until I no longer felt that way, for a whole range of reasons.
Each one of us have a unique sexual identity, and that identity will evolve overtime.
Okay, if something isn’t working for you, try something else. If something sparks your curiosity then try experimenting with your body (within the parameters of safety and respect of course). Each one of us have a unique sexual identity, and that identity will evolve overtime.
What we fantasize about in our mid to late teens probably won’t be what we fantasize about at hitting 40. Just like our tastes in movies, food, culture, and everything else changes over time, so will our experience of sexual pleasures.
As we become more aware of our own ever-changing sexual dynamics, we must also remind ourselves that our partners will also have different desires. What worked and was pleasurable to one partner may not be welcomed by another. We each have our own sexual fingerprint, so to speak, and we must learn to respect and enjoy that.
Sex isn’t all about genitals
Although In my sex education classes, I learned about body parts and how babies are conceived.
As such, the totality of sexual intercourse was presented to me as erection, penetration, and ejaculation. Therefore this very approach left out the best part of enjoying the lead up to penetration and also any consideration of my partner’s satisfaction.
In terms of conceiving a child, I suppose I heard what I needed to. But that should have been labeled “human reproduction education” and not “sex education”.
True sex education would have included the importance of sensational touch, the existence of foreplay, and all the joys of sex as a full-body experience, rather than one just focused on our genitals.
Limiting our sex education to the mechanics of reproduction, not only they did hide many enjoyable elements about sexual experiences, but they narrowed the definition of what sex is and completely excluded LGBTQ experiences from the curriculum (yes those dark awful days). Oral sex is still sex, Anal sex is still sex and so is mutual masturbation.
Beyond the physical act, I wish I had learned about the intense, euphoric emotional bonding component of sex.
Acts like kissing, touching, caressing, hugging, and erotic massage should be mentioned, too.
Our definition and conception of sex should be expanded to include all the things that make up and are a part of sex, not just conventional penetration.
Beyond the physical act, I wish I had learned about the intense, euphoric emotional bonding component of sex but I was given the impression when two people love each other, they have sex (as basic as that sounds).
It would’ve been so much better to learn that, when people have sex, they can love each other more and strengthen their bond, sex does play a crucial role in sustaining relationships assuming spark is there and the feelings of love are present on both sides.
Conveying the emotional significance of sex would have helped explain some of the reasons that people have sex and why it’s so important.
Sex should be pleasurable yet fun
In addition to learning about the consequences of sex (like unwanted teen pregnancy and various diseases), it would have been good to learn about safe sex, how pleasurable and fun it can be.
Sex does not have to be something to fear but instead it’s something to be embraced and enjoyed.
Huge part of that enjoyment is making sure that the people we are having sex with are enjoying it, too.
My teachers could’ve been more helpful if they had explained, for example, that men and women experience sexual pleasure in different ways, As women our orgasms are different, but no less important and that we need to be respectful of our partner’s satisfaction.
Perhaps we wouldn’t have such a massive orgasm gap between men and women if everyone was taught as young people about the differences in sexual pleasure between men and women.
Instead of trying to figure it all out ourselves as adults, we could have learned early on about the realities of sexual pleasure, and how important pleasure equity is.
Teaching sex education without noting these differences is like teaching someone to drive without any mirrors what so ever.
As young people learn more about their bodies, and develop (and act upon) their curiosities, they need to better understand their own bodies and sexual interests.
They also need to take their partners “needs, desires, and wants” in account just as seriously as their own and most of all, they should understand that sex can be a beautiful, wonderful, fun thing that two adults act upon with mutual consent and understanding.
Now that would be a great place to start!