“Mummy, how are babies made?”
“Well, daddy puts his willy into mummy’s fanny, and then the baby grows in mummy’s tummy.”
And so at age 3, my sexual education began. It didn’t progress much further until about 10, when I came home to find a “Where Did I Come From?” book on my bed, gifted by Anon (mum). After a twenty minute read, I understood fairly well the technicalities of sex, and could comprehensively negate the stork argument. But it would be naïve to suggest that knowing eggs are fertilize by a penis ejaculating sperm into the vagina constitutes a well-rounded sex education.
The scientific facts are the teensy tip of an iceberg that encompasses so much more, from STI’s to contraception and abortion, pregnancy, birth, pleasure, fetishes, and LGBT+ experiences. These are all necessary knowledge for anyone in this society, whether sexual or not, because sex underlies much of a person’s societal experiences – our politics, our humour, our friends and relationships, our physical and mental health, and our ability to relate to our environment. And considering the relative importance of this vs Hamlet, you would think schools would take every measure to educate their students on the topic.
I went to a well-funded, progressive, single-sex NSW state school and had probably one of the best sex ed’s there is to offer in the country. We learnt every detail about contraception, how to use pads, tampons and condoms, and the teachers were willing to answer questions about masturbation, getting tested and “how do lesbians have sex?”. But here’s the thing – to get those answers, we had to ask. (Awkward!) Nowhere on the government curriculum was oral sex included, or even the word “masturbate”, let alone helplines for HIV testing (Thank god for the national HIV campaign, right?). As you probably rightly guessed, very few people were ever willing to ask “embarrassing” questions aloud to the middle aged PDHPE teacher in front on the entire class.
The result was that although the things I did learn in the classroom were very helpful, I – and I’m sure all my classmates – eventually reverted to the internet or to friends for all supplementary education (something unique to our generation, people currently in their 20s didn’t even have this kind of non-judgemental, open access and they’re only ten years older than us!). By supplementary education, I obviously mean the remaining 98% of sex ed that must be learnt. Some of it was funny, like the time I said very loudly “Eating? Ew, is that like a cannibal fetish??”, some of it less so – no textbook had ever told me what vaginismus is. It took me several years to understand what any sort of sex outside of heterosexual, monogamous vaginal intercourse was, and for LGBT+ students, that lack of information completely erases their valid and otherwise enjoyable sexual experiences, not to mention putting their physical health at risk by never mentioning how to have safe sex as a non cis-het person.
Hand in hand with the need to learn about these sex facts is an education about the social implications of living in a sexual society. Learning about rape culture and sex crimes, oppression in sex, and how to navigate fetishes or preferences are all essential to better sexual health and safety. I remember being thrilled to see a booklet being handed out in year 10 called “Negotiating Consent”, but it was followed quickly by disappointment as none of the scenarios had diverse characters, and some examples were even slut shaming or victim shaming. Apparently “Georgia” shouldn’t have gotten drunk at a party where she didn’t know many people. Even worse? We were all 16 by the time consent was mentioned and talking about consent at that stage is too late for some people. Essentially, even at the pinnacle of public schooling, education about the science, the sex and the social environment were horribly lacking.
It’s somewhat unsurprising that girls often feel scared about sex, and that boy’s think “jackhammering” is a normal and appropriate way to make women orgasm when you consider that there is no educational force correcting these porn-driven assumptions. Bad, or even just incomplete sex ed allows the inherently sexist, racist, ableist, homo and transphobic society that young people are brought up in to fill in those gaps with incorrect information and prejudices. Sex shouldn’t have to be something you “wait to see and find out” about, it should be something you engage in with complete knowledge of your body, your expectations and your boundaries. Ignorance doesn’t make sex exciting or counter cultural – it makes it dangerous, scary and unpleasant, and schools should be taking more of a part in preventing this.