When Sex Ed Excludes You
Posted by Neve Brown
May 11, 2020
I grew up in Southern California- home of 70-degree weather year-round, LA traffic, and comprehensive sex education.
Between my 6th and 9th-grade sex education lessons, I felt pretty well prepared when it came to discussions regarding sex. My teachers had walked us through each available contraception method, discussed the importance of getting regular STI checks, and assured us that our sexual debut was ours to define. We were not shamed into abstinence, nor misled by incorrect information- and yet, even in such a progressive state, so much was left out.
It almost makes me laugh that in 2 years of teaching us sex education, my teachers never dared to utter the word “clitoris.” We learned all about the burdens and pains of having a vagina, but never verged on discussing the positive aspects. Our class tiptoed around the idea of sex being anything but heteronormative, and pleasure simply wasn’t a part of the conversation.
The world told me that sex hurt as a woman, at least the first time. When I was 15, I’d spend many of my nights googling “does it hurt the first time?” scouring the internet for stories of women recounting blood, tears, and pain. I remember wondering to myself: how can anybody possibly enjoy this? How can I motivate myself to continue, if I first have to subject myself to so much pain?
Somehow, my health teacher had forgotten to mention that sex could be for ourselves, too. They neglected to mention the sense of obligation many young people feel, and the coercion that occurs in many teenage relationships. I wanted to be loved, and so, I vowed to push through the pain.
In hindsight, it’s no surprise that my first visit to the OBGYN was met with excruciating pain. As I laid there crying, I knew something had to be wrong. My body felt as if it was being ripped open, my cervix burning for days afterward- and yet, my doctor insisted that was simply the standard for sexual inexperience.
By this point, I was terrified of sex. The shame I felt hadn’t come from those teaching me sex ed, but my sex education still failed to counteract the sexual shame placed on young people every day.
As it turns out, I have vaginismus- a sexual dysfunction condition commonly caused by sexual trauma, shame, or fear. This means that when attempting penetration, my pelvic school muscles involuntary spasm, making things difficult, painful, and sometimes impossible! While it’s not the end of the world (you can eventually work through it) it does mean that defining intimacy looks a little different for me! And while that wasn’t covered in my health classes, that is perfectly okay.
Sex education is often presented in a one-size-fits-all fashion. While most people don’t experience pain during sex (sex should NEVER hurt- unless you want it to), many people do! Having difficulty is never something you should feel ashamed of, but it’s easy to feel that way when conversations straying from the norm are so scarce.
Truly comprehensive sex education means addressing sexual dysfunction and pain conditions, without shame or stigma. It means discussing alternatives to penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex and not assigning a lesser value to those alternatives. It requires LGBTQ+ relationships to be embraced without hesitation and reassures young people that there is no pressure for sex to look a certain way. As long as it’s consensual, it counts!
As we celebrate Sex Ed For All Month, we must remember the importance of inclusivity. Young people deserve sex education that emphasizes sexual liberation and challenges unrealistic standards and expectations. Sex looks different for all!