The recent Channel 4 programme Sex in Class has got lots of people thinking about the quality of their sex ed at school. What was yours like? And what do you wish you’d been told?
Haven’t seen Sex in Class yet? Allow me to explain: Goedele Liekins, a Belgian sexologist, is on a mission to try and revamp sex education in the UK. She thinks our sex ed classes are dry, sparse, and not particularly helpful to young people. So what does she do? She positively explodes into a classroom armed with enthusiasm, pictures of pubic areas, and a giant purple vulva puppet. Say what you like, but she gets your attention.
I have to admit to a certain amount of bias here, because while I agree with her that there are plenty of things we could do to add to the sex education curriculum, she’s working on the slightly misguided assumption that all sex education is the same. While there are definitely some schools that give cursory overviews of reproduction and miss out some important lessons, there are plenty of educators who are doing sterling work trying to give kids more than just the very basics.
She’s got a point about pleasure, though: at school were you ever taught that sex is – and should be – something you enjoy? Perhaps in an awkward, shuffling way. But for me sex was presented as something dangerous. You might do it for babies or because ‘everyone else is’, but if you’d asked me after the first sex ed class if I expected it to be something I’d enjoy, I’d have laughed you out of the room. Now here I am twenty-odd years later enjoying it so much I made it my day job.
So. Without further ado, here are three things I wish I’d been told in sex ed class:
1. There is more than one type of condom.
Remember the lessons where they handed out weird plasticky nob things, along with condoms to roll down onto them? Some lucky souls got cucumbers, or even bananas, injecting a bit of fruity pizzazz into their contraceptive class. Not at my school: we got a sterile-looking smooth plastic stick. Which would have been fine and all, only penises don’t tend to resemble smooth plastic sticks, so all our condom-rolling practice was for nought.
Not only would I have liked to have a more realistic-shaped penis on which to practise (something like this dildo, perhaps) but I would also have liked someone to take me to one side and let me know that the standard Durex condoms they give you for the demo are but one tiny drop in an ocean of excellent condoms. I like variety.
2. You can have sex on your own. And it won’t make you go blind.
We didn’t really talk about masturbation in sex ed. When we did, it was usually in reference to the boys. In year 6 (so aged about eleven I think) we were split into two different groups: boys and girls. The girls got a lesson on periods and menstruation, while the boys got a lesson in wanking.
I assume they weren’t dealing with technique, but still. To this day I remain outraged that the teachers either genuinely believed that girls didn’t masturbate, or that we’d prefer to have heard about periods. Realistically, my adult life contains both of these things – and one is done far more than the other.
3. The best way to get laid is to ask for it.
OK, OK, I know. It’d be a stretch to imagine that my old form tutor could perform the same kind of services as a dating coach does. But there’s a serious point here lying beneath my simple desire to get boys to shag me silly. As teenagers we were a total mess of hormones.
One minute I’d be heartbroken because Adam hadn’t invited me to his party, the next I’d be panting with lust because Grant had accidentally touched my boob in maths class and I wanted to hump him immediately. During that confusing time, it would have been nice if someone had had a quick word with all of us about how best to get sex. Not only would it have stopped us forming weird ideas about playing hard to get or having to hint at horniness with body language, it’d also have given us a valuable lesson in consent: the best way to know what someone wants is to communicate with them. And the best way to get what you want is to talk about it.
So there you have it: my top three sex ed wishes. What are yours?