When I first started teaching, I hadn’t even had my first kiss. I joined the Teen Advisory Board (TAB) of my local Planned Parenthood when I was fifteen. We were a group of teenagers dedicated to becoming a safe resource for our peers to talk about sexuality. I taught my peers how to properly put on a condom (pinch the tip, you guys!) but the furthest I’d ever gone with a boy was holding hands in social studies while watching a video about Neanderthals.
I never did the stereotypical things associated with adolescence. My hometown had plenty of John Hughes movie potential, but I was shy, socially anxious and depressed. I’ve since learned that leaving your house is 99% more like to result in smooches than laying in bed re-watching Buffy, but volunteering for Planned Parenthood was the only thing that motivated me to leave my bedroom every week.
[bctt tweet=”Leaving your house is 99% more likely to result in smooches than re-watching Buffy.” username=”wearethetempest”]
I wouldn’t end up having my first kiss until college, but I spouted off knowledge about every available form of birth control. My friends knew I’d been trained as a peer educator in TAB, so they texted me with questions like where to find Plan B or whether you can get herpes from sharing drinks. Once, in the middle of English class, a male friend asked me “So… where exactly is the clitoris?” I drew him a diagram without hesitation.
A fellow TAB member joked that when I finally had sex, I would just start yelling facts about sexual health. She imagined my partner climaxing and me shouting “THERE ARE 200 MILLION SPERM IN EVERY EJACULATION!”
As volunteers, we had access to what was known as “the condom closet.” We’d stuff condoms into paper bags to give to our friends. Since most of my friends were just as awkward as I was, the condoms mostly sat in my backpack or room.
[bctt tweet=”Teaching sex ed made me feel empowered in spite of having no direct experience. ” username=”wearethetempest”]
My Mom would find them and skeptically declare “Why do you have these?” I can assure you, Mom, that as much as I would’ve liked to be A TOTALLY COOL TEEN WHO WAS DEFINITELY HAVING A LOT OF INTERCOURSE WITH ACTUAL HUMANS, I was not using them.
Except maybe on my thumb in my best friend’s car to test which flavor of a condom was the most disgusting. The answer is definitely banana.
Now that I’m a sexually active adult, I laugh about the fact that I considered myself an expert in sexuality years before I’d come anywhere near another person’s sexy bits. I felt like I could understand everything about the world just by educating myself.
“Communicate with your partner,” is advice I repeated often. It never occurred to me that the shyness that prevented me from going to parties as a teenager would not magically disappear once I started dating.
When I finally had sex at 23, knowing what I “should” do didn’t make it easier for me to communicate. I went from never having been kissed to casually dating in what felt like a heartbeat. Shockingly, my expertise on birth control and STD’s did nothing to alleviate my self-consciousness. Instead of directly discussing my emotions with my partners, I’d text all my friends to tell them what happened. I remember asking my best friend for advice about what I should text the guy I lost my virginity to.
Annoyed with my indirectness, she replied: “Send him an e-card!” Instead, we just sort of ghosted each other after five or six dates.
[bctt tweet=” Knowing what I ‘should’ do didn’t make it easier for me to communicate.” username=”wearethetempest”]
When I was a teenager, teaching sex ed made me feel empowered in spite of having no direct experience. It turns out that having his information didn’t necessarily help me make perfect decisions as an adult. It also somehow didn’t make me super amazing at sex. Still, my experience in TAB helped me understand how to talk openly with my peers about taboo issues.
By the time I finally started getting my smooches, I knew how to be vulnerable and open about my emotions and curiosity. In TAB, I found a safe space. I learned how to answer questions by first acknowledging their validity. My own questions were just as valid as the ones I had been trained to answer years before.