How Sex Ed Failed Me

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Here’s a question I’ve asked myself: Why, after no consumption of alcohol, was I doubled over in pain on my bathroom floor at 2 am on a school night, in the midst of exam season?  Although my sleepless night can technically be traced back to the sex I’d had the previous Friday, my path to misery began in 5th grade “Human Growth and Development” class.

I went to the same private school in Charlotte, NC, from 1st grade to high school graduation and entrusted the entirety of my sex ed to the same institution. In fifth grade, we separated our class into girls and boys and learned about anatomy and impending puberty. I was taught about Fallopian tubes, wet dreams, and tampons–but not sex. Thankfully, my mother had already covered the big “where babies come from” talk.  Seventh grade sex ed is a blur.  It lasted one day, and all I remember was the teacher defining “sexy” as “voluptuously sensual in appearance or demeanor.” I’m certain neither I, nor my friends, paid attention to another word of the lesson; we were all too busy giggling and mouthing “voluptuous” to each other.  Ninth grade health was supposed to be the year we were mature enough for a real sex talk, but my school left significant portions of the curriculum up to the discretion of the teachers.  Not only was consent not covered in my class, but we weren’t shown how to put on a condom, and our lessons on birth control merely consisted of writing down the names of every kind and learning that “only abstinence is 100% effective.” This harmed my classmates and me. I have friends who worried about pregnancy because they didn’t know how to put on a condom, friends who took 30 minutes to watch condom video tutorials with their partners, and friends who didn’t realize that what happened to them qualified as sexual assault.  Personally, I felt lucky. I did good research on my own, learned about consent from online videos, had a mom I felt comfortable talking to, and had access to birth control. But my high school’s sex ed had failed me, too, as I found out my third week of college, when my bladder felt like it had been lit on fire.

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In my ninth grade health class, I learned about every part of the brain, about macronutrients, about the dangers of alcohol, about the mechanics of pregnancy, and about every drug under the sun. My gynecologist and my mom taught me about safe sex and hormone imbalances, and Upworthy taught me about consent.  Not one of these sources mentioned the importance of peeing after sex to prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs).  So, at 2 am on the Monday of my first college exam, I was sobbing in the bathroom, sure I was dying. I can’t begin to describe the pain of a UTI and I won’t try, but suffice to say that I was pretty angry at myself for letting it happen to me.

Upon further reflection, how to avoid a UTI is something people should be taught in their health class. Sex isn’t evil, and if it’s safe and consensual, there’s no need to be punished for it 48 hours later with the sensation of giving birth to Satan. My health teachers did go into the lesson with a bias against premarital sex, or at least one against teenage sex, so they didn’t see a need for their education to extend beyond preventing disease and pregnancy. Sex should be more than just not life-ruining. Sex should be fun. I’m not saying that sex ed teachers should be discussing technique with their pupils, but basic, practical  information should be covered. Everyone learns what a male orgasm is, but how many high schoolers learn that women have clitoral and vaginal orgasms? How many high school boys actually know what a clitoris is? How many high school girls believe the myth that sex has to hurt the first time, and that a giant rush of blood will accompany it?  And, for the love of all that is holy, how many girls know that a UTI, the third most common ailment in women after the cold and the flu,  can be prevented by by peeing after sex?

This post was written by ZA.

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