Things my high school sex ed class never taught me

My high school was ruled by an abstinence-only mentality. What that means is when it came to sex education, they believed that their job was to teach us not to have it. Sex was for married couples, not for high schoolers. While keeping this as a personal philosophy is totally valid, it’s not okay to force it on an entire class of students. Why? Because it doesn’t work. Teens have sex, and if you’re not educating them on how to do it, the more likely they are to encounter some issues.

I didn’t know what these issues were until I got to college, where we were given an informal introductory course on a range of sex-related topics, from STDs to contraception to sexual assault. All of these ideas were new to me. Even the simple lesson of how to put on a condom was first taught to me on my common room floor freshman year. As I learned these new things, it was like gongs were going off in my heart. I came to the realization that, had I known some of these ideas earlier, I would have been able to to better navigate my emerging sexuality. There were some crucial things that my high school sex ed never taught me, but I want to tell you them now so you deal with as little confusion as possible.

1. There’s more than just heterosexual sex.

When I walked into my health classroom, it wasn’t even a question: We were going to learn about one penis, and one vagina, and how they worked together (or rather, how they should never ever under any circumstances be near each other!). Either way, that was that. Anyone in the room who was LGBT—tough luck.

I was definitely old enough to know that there were sexual relationships that existed outside of plain old heterosexual sex, but not to understand that they came with their own health concerns, their own measures and methods of prevention, and their own mechanics.

If sex was explained, it was in the context of reproduction. Meaning gay and lesbian sex was never touched. Even resources on the Internet are limited when it comes to just how something like lesbian sex works. So let’s just let Laci Green answer that question straight up:

2. An abusive relationship doesn’t necessarily mean physical abuse. While any kind of physical abuse is unacceptable and grounds for getting help, there are other warning signs that also mean you’re in an unhealthy situation.The first is verbal abuse. If you’re being repeatedly put down, insulted and getting blamed for your partner’s problems, even if it’s just on “bad” nights, something is wrong.But sometimes it’s not as obvious. It’s emotional. It’s taking the word “clingy” to a scary level. Is your partner taking you away from your friends? Are they threatening things like suicide if you ever leave them? Are they paranoid about where you are when you’re not with them, constantly checking in on your social media, even reading your messages? They’ve gone too far.In any of these situations, it’s important to talk to a counselor or parent who can help you get out safely.It’s easy when you’re outside a situation like this to think that it’s something that you’d never let happen. But it’s important to remember that relationships like this are manipulative, for every bad moment there’s a happy memory that makes it hard to imagine that this person who you love could ever be bad for you.

3. Just because it wasn’t sex doesn’t mean it wasn’t sexual assault. 

For a long long time, I thought the only type of sexual transgression was rape, or when someone forces you to have sex when you don’t want to. But the things that come before sex, even things that seem small like where you’re being touched, are entirely your choice. If someone grabs your butt in the hallway, or tries to take off an article of your clothing when you’ve told them not to, all these things are sexual assault, and valid reasons for reporting somebody to your school or to the police.

4. Consent is 100% required and it can be withdrawn at any time. Any of these things, whether it’s full-on having sex or just taking off someones jeans, require a verbal and enthusiastic “yes!” before they can happen. It doesn’t kill the mood. Questions likes “Is this okay? Do you like this?” aren’t only compulsory, they also make the sex better because you’re being honest about what makes you feel good and what makes you feel uncomfortable.

But—and this is important—if you start getting down to business and realize that you’re not into it any more, you can stop at any time. You can take away that consent and say, “Hey, I’m not really feeling into this.” It doesn’t matter if you said yes earlier. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a relationship. It doesn’t matter if you had sex with this person before. You can say no now!

5. Pee after sex! The first time someone told me this I thought it was the weirdest thing they had ever said. Because my high school pushed so hard against sex, they didn’t give us any of the crucial information you need if you actually do it, like that urine is sterile so peeing after sex helps get rid of any bacteria that may have accumulated. UTIs (urinary tract infections) are not fun AT ALL, and bacteria from sex can be one of the big ways that they get started.

6. Sex doesn’t have to be a part of your life. Even in my abstinence-only class, it seemed like sex was the most important thing in the world. There was this focus on having it or abstaining from it, either way it was all about SEX. They made it seem like the norm was to be obsessed with it. But, in reality, you don’t actually have to think about it at all! It can be as much a part of your life as you want it to be, in fact it’s possible to identify as asexual, meaning you aren’t sexually attracted to anyone, regardless of gender, or to have a nonexistent libido , meaning you’re just not interested in sexual activity. This is a normal thing to feel. Sex is always a choice, and not choosing to have it at all is always an option.

If you do choose to have sex, it’s necessary to make things safe and consensual. I’m not a doctor, and the point of all this is that it’s information I was never formally educated on, so if any of these points are confusing or concerning to you, it’s important to take it up with a professional. But if you’re just curious, here are some really great online resources:

Laci Green’s Sex+ Video Series

An interview with someone who identifies as asexual

Planned Parenthood

The Trevor Project hotline for LGBTQ youth

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