I got better sex ed than most kids.
Or, at least I believed this because my sex ed included a good overview of how bodies work and a brief demonstration of how to apply a condom to a banana from a Planned Parenthood volunteer. That is a lot more than most people get.
Plus, I had the internet. But I didn’t realize how totally inadequate my sex ed was until I began a sex ed website for adults and started connecting with sex educators and other experts.
I got schooled.
Frankly, when I realized what I had been missing, I was pretty pissed.
Sex isn’t everything, but it’s hardly nothing. A simple Google search of the term returns 3 billion results. Clearly, sex is something many people care about. It’s certainly something I care about.
Our sexualities are a personal and fundamental part of who we are.
When I became a part of the sex-positive community, I became immersed in a world of things that I hadn’t learned and that, frankly, I should have known a lot more about. Here are a few of things I missed.
1. Consent is more than just saying no.
If you’ve thought a lot about consent and what it means and how we should be talking about it and how we should be teaching kids about it, well, major props to you. I began my journey in sex ed with a basic understanding of what consent was, but I didn’t spend any time really thinking about consent until I was 30 years old.
That is pretty late in the game.
Of course, I had always learned that I could say “no” to sex, but I had never really considered how important it is to say “yes” as well. And, just like anyone else, I was susceptible to the messages all women get about sex, that subtle undercurrent suggesting that there are times when you shouldn’t or can’t say no. What I missed is what I’m getting now: full, rich conversations about consent and what that means and how to make sure our partners are willing participants when it comes to physical contact. Learning how to treat sexual partners shouldn’t be a radical idea.
It’s part of how to be a decent human being.
2. Sex toys can actually be dangerous for your body!
Whether you’ve ever used a sex toy or not, you might assume that if you buy one in a store, that probably means it’s safe to use. Unfortunately, the sale of sex toys sits in a sort of regulatory limbo that calls the simple assumption of product safety into question. What that means is that many sex toys on the market still contain toxic chemicals and may even cause irritation and burns.
When you consider where you’re sticking them, discovering that toxic sex toys can be sold is pretty shocking.
Isn’t it the government’s job to keep unsafe products off the shelf? Well, yes, but getting politicians to advocate for sexual health is tricky business, particularly when sex toys are still seen as taboo – and are even still illegal in a few states.
The good news is, once you learn that some sex toy materials are unsafe, you also get to learn that there are lots of awesome, responsible sex toy manufacturers making toys out body-safe materials like silicone, metal, wood or glass.
3. It’s a lot harder to not be a jerk than you might think.
Running a website that aims to be a safe space for people has taught me that true inclusivity isn’t just about knowing that other groups of people exist – it’s about making a real effort to make them feel welcome. I’ve learned to ask people which pronouns they prefer and to keep an open mind about different people’s experiences, stories, and lifestyles.
That isn’t rocket science, but looking outside your own circle and experience and not making assumptions takes practice.
And you know what?
I still make mistakes.
Partly because I’m human and partly because, frankly, this has been a steep learning curve for me. I’m not alone. LGBTQ and gender identity are topics that are getting more play in the media these days. That’s a good thing.
But only nine states have a sex ed curriculum that includes any mention of LGBTQ issues. I have often heard the phrase that compassion breeds understanding, but I think it’s actually the other way around; understanding breeds compassion. In order to care about someone else, I have to know about them.
Now that I have a broader understanding of this beautiful, diverse, complicated world, I can do better to ensure that I’m not denying people the sense of comfort in their bodies and identities that I often receive as a matter of course.
Seems fair, right?
4. Body image is a constant battle to cultivate.
I didn’t grow up with good role models when it came to body image and, as a result, often struggled with my own. Plus, female bodies, in particular, are subject to a lot of expectations – and criticism when those expectations aren’t met. I also often hear from people who are unhappy with how they look, are worried about their weight or are ashamed of their bodies in ways that affect their self-confidence – and their sex lives.
On the flip side, I’ve also heard from and met many people who are totally in love with themselves, inside and out.
Body image is rarely mentioned as a key part of sex ed, but it should be. The best sex happens when you are present. It happens when you’re feeling sexy and empowered. It’s a lot less likely when you’re stressing over what your body looks like or how your partner perceives it.
That sense of body shame and hatred can extend to our genitals too. Women, in particular, are rarely taught to love and accept their bodies and all their body parts. I certainly wasn’t.
Fortunately, in recent years, the conversation around beauty and bodies is shifting in important ways. More different body types are being acknowledged and embraced and self-image has become an important issue. Watching that shift has helped me tune into the way I perceive my own body – and tune out other people’s perceptions and comments about it. Just the simple act of examining the way I viewed myself and my body has helped me get a better place in terms of self-acceptance.
It still isn’t easy: Loving your body as it is is still a radical political and social act in a world where self-improvement still rules.
But it sure beats the alternative.
5. Everything changes when you learn to not give a single fuck.
If there’s one really important lesson I’ve learned from the sex-positive community, it’s to give far fewer fucks.
I mean, truly, sex educators, sex bloggers and other people working in sexuality take the prize when it comes to “you do you.” They work in an industry that is still seen as taboo, and publicly discuss and write about topics that most people would consider too embarrassing to even mention. That shit is hard. And they do it anyway because they think it’s important.
They’ve learned not to give a fuck.
This is a lesson that is worth applying to your sex life. Many of us spend a lot of time giving fucks where we shouldn’t. We worry about what we like (or who we like). We worry about our appearance. We worry about our performance. When you bring all that to the bedroom, it doesn’t make for good sex. Give fewer fucks. Tell your partners who you are and what you’re into. Celebrate your pleasure. And feel free to apply that philosophy to other areas of your life as well.
That’s a lesson I wish I’d taken to the bank a lot earlier.