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5 things you should have learned in sex ed

By Gabrielle Kassel, Contributing writer

Ask someone of any age what they learned in sex-ed and they’ll either ask “what sex-ed?” or look at you with a smirk, amused by the idea that they’d learned anything of value. Considering that most people will have sex in their lifetime, this is hugely problematic.

Here, we’ve rounded up 5 things you should have learned before reading this article, but will be useful to you long after you close it.

1. It is normal and healthy to masturbate

Masturbation is not just expected by boys and men, but encouraged. Yet, common cultural narratives tell girls and women that masturbation is dirty and wrong.

Here’s the thing: Nothing could be further from the truth. For people of all genders, masturbating is both normal and healthy! Benefits of masturbating include: reduced stress, boosted mood, and increased self confidence long term. And beyond being healthy, masturbating also feels good, which is absolutely reason enough to partake!

In summary: You should have been taught that masturbation is healthy. Further, you should have been encouraged to touch yourself in whatever locations, using whatever pressures, at whatever speeds, for however long, and however often you want. 

2. STIs can be transmitted during oral sex

Despite the fact that many sex education curriculums rely on fear-mongering (blue waffle, anyone?) few programs acknowledge sex acts other than penis-in-vagina intercourse exist, and therefore do not touch on potential risks of such acts. Like, oral sex for example.

From fellatio and cunnilingus to analingus, oral sex can bring Big Time pleasure for the giver and receiver alike. Still, important to know the potential risks. Ready?

While the risk is lower than it is during vaginal or anal intercourse, an STI can be transmitted during oral sex from a mouth or throat, to a penis, vagina, vulva, or anus — and vice versa. That means that, yes, an STI can infect body parts other than the genitals.

When oral STI symptoms do appear, they may include: sore throat, pain during swallowing, sores around the lips, sores and blisters in the mouth, and swollen lymph nodes. But as is true with STIs located elsewhere in the body, the most common symptom of an oral STI is no symptom at all. And that’s why it’s so important to get tested for oral STIs, between (oral sex) partners or once a year (whichever comes first). Oral STI testing involves a simple mouth or throat, and treatment typically involves an oral antibiotic or prescription mouthwash.

What can you do to reduce risk of STI transmission during oral hanky-panky? Glad you asked. With a partner who’s STI status you don’t know or who has an STI , you can use an external condom or dental dam to reduce risk of transmission.

3. PReP can be taken by all genders

PReP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a daily oral medication that can be taken by HIV-negative people to greatly reduce their risks of contracting HIV, if exposed to the virus. Highly effective, PrEP is one of the best additions to the sexual health space…ever.

While there is more that can be done to spread awareness about PReP to all people, cis-women in particularly tend to be less likely to take PReP. The problem is that people of all sexual orientations, genders, and genitals are susceptible to HIV, if exposed to the virus through sex, intravenous drug use, contaminated blood transfusion, or pregnancy. In fact, globally more than half (52%) of HIV-positive people in the world are women.

No matter your gender, to figure out if you’re a good candidate for PrEP read the federalguidelines put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) and/or talk to your healthcare provider.

4. Sex is not supposed to be painful

No, not the first time you have it. No, not during anal sex. No, not postpartum. Pain is the body’s way of telling you that something is wrong — and it’s a message worth listening to.

Sometimes pain during sex is a sign that you need additional lubrication or that your not-yet aroused-enough for what’s happening. In these instances, slowing down and adding lube can turn your sex session from “ouch” into “ooh!”.

When sex is consistently painful, however, or you experience these symptoms outside of sex (for example: while urinating or inserting a tampon) there may be an underlying condition. Pain during sex is a common symptom of conditions like hypertonic pelvic floor, endometriosis, vaginitis, vulvodynia, vaginismus, and pelvic inflammatory disease.

If you’re experiencing pain during sex, stop. If you want to continue having sex, try slowing down and/or add a store bought lubricant. If the pain becomes more chronic, bring it up with your healthcare provider or seek out the guidance of a trauma-informed pelvic floor specialist.

5. Consent is an informed, ongoing, and enthusiastic agreement to engage with someone that can be withdrawn at any time

As of 2020, only 9 states required consent be taught in sex education curriculum. That means that a whopping 41 states don’t teach students the importance of receiving “Y-E-S”, nor validated the decision to say “N-O” at any point during a sexual encounter.

The failure of this absence becomes obvious when looking at the responses from a recent survey of people ages 18 to 25. In it, 53% admitted that they didn’t realize that consent can be withdrawn once someone is already naked (it can!) and just 13% said they’d feel comfortable discussing consent with their sexual partner.

While the staggering sexual assault statistics cannot be blamed on any one thing — curriculums widespread avoidance of consent certainly isn’t doing anything to help reduce the number of people who are assaulted.

If you’re reading this and haven’t yet learned about consent, take the time to read The Consent Checklist by Meg-John Barker and/or Beyond Yes & No by Kai Werder.


Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
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