It’s the 21st century, and there are still states that don’t offer sex education at all. Those that do usually have archaic rules about what’s allowed to be taught and what’s not, like abstinence-only education. In fact, in Mississippi, teachers can’t demonstrate how to use a condom prompting a creative lesson about socks from one teacher.
Whatever little sex education that was offered when you were in school and what’s currently offered in most schools, it’s not enough. Many adults have gaping holes in their understanding of sex, consent, and diseases. Here are just a few things we all should have learned in sex ed.
Consent is Required
Most people would say that getting consent should be common sense or basic knowledge. It should, but in many cases, it isn’t. Because there are people who think “maybe” means “yes,” time spent educating students on consent would be helpful. The big lesson more people need is that consent should be enthusiastic and informed. Your agreement should be obvious, and you should know exactly what you’re agreeing to. An even more important lesson worth teaching: consent can be withdrawn at any point.
Sexuality is a Spectrum
Heterosexuality might be the majority, but it’s not the only option. Kids figure out fairly quickly whether they like the same sex, opposite, or both. Hearing that everyone has different desires, tastes, preferences, and things they enjoy would help more people realize how normal they are. Instead many young people grow believe they’re freaks or unlovable because they like something different than their friends. A good lesson for all of us: Almost every time you ask yourself, “Is this normal” about your own sexuality, the answer is “Yes.”
Masturbation is Good
Masturbation doesn’t give you hairy palms, make you blind, or send you to hell. Okay, maybe public education can’t really talk about heaven and hell, but normalizing masturbation would be a step in the right direction. It’s the safest way to feel sexual pleasure with no risk of disease or pregnancy. It’s also completely normal and natural. Masturbation isn’t just for lonely losers who can’t get a partner. How much better would we all have felt if we hadn’t thought we were the only one jacking off when we were younger?
Everyone Likes Different Things
While not advocating for kink education to minors, the admission that everyone enjoys different experiences in sex is a good lesson. Most adults still don’t get it. Sex toys as viable options for pleasure would be another valuable piece of information that none of us learned during sex education. A field trip to an adult toy store might be out of the question, but admitting that vibrators exist would be a positive step forward for everyone.
STDs Aren’t (Always) a Death Sentence
Students hear one of two things during the lecture on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs): STDs kill you or your life is ruined forever. In the 1980s and 1990s this might have seemed true. Today, with better drugs and access to medical care, people with an STD can go on to lead happy, normal lives.
Some STDs aren’t life-threatening at all, but they require medication, monitoring, and safe sex practices. Instead of scaring the next generation about disease, they should be educated about the realities. Part of the reason people don’t tell their partners is due to the shame surrounding STDs. If the shame and stigma is reduced, we reduce the number of people dying from diseases that don’t have to kill them.
Birth Control and Its Many Uses
Here’s what sex education needs to tell people about birth control: it’s safe and effective for the vast majority of people. Birth control prevents unwanted pregnancies. It can also be used to control health problems in women. These are just the absolute basics of what should be taught about birth control. Abstinence-only education doesn’t give girls and women the information they really need, and it makes everyone less safe.
What sex education doesn’t need is more lectures on how babies ruin lives. Give people the information to prevent pregnancy and the vast majority of them will use it. Refuse to share the information, and you don’t prevent sexual activity. Instead, more teenage girls become pregnant before they’re out of school.
You may think sex education belongs at home, not in schools. The reality is that we all need this information and most people never get it. High quality sex education leads to a better understanding of your body, your desires, and your sexuality. It also creates a more inclusive world where we understand each other a little better. Most people’s disgust or fear of other forms of sexuality or sexual desires comes from a lack of knowledge.