Sex ed

Wednesday, 8 January 2014 08:50 pm[personal profile] elettaria
elettaria: (Sloth debauchery)
One of the things which I sometimes end up lying awake thinking over at unholy o'clock is what I think sex education should be like. Mine was somewhat mixed. My parents didn't really bother, unless you count my mother muttering a few things just before I turned 22. My school was a case of "blink and you miss it", and I think I was off ill that day. I got most of my sex education from the uni LGBT society, which meant that I had a great knowledge of safer sex but knew squat about contraception. It also resulted in my sitting in the Family Planning Clinic, looking up at all those leaflets depicting a woman gazing up soulfully at a man, thinking, "That's a bit heterosexist...oh, hang on."

Most of what I've learned about sex has been since then, from reading on the internet, talking to friends, and the experiences I've had with partners, both good and bad. There's no substitute for really widespread reading and lots of good conversations, but I think that a lot of the things I've learnt should have been covered at school at the basic level at least. So here's my wishlist, in no particular order.

1. Talking about pleasure, not just the mechanics of sex and pregnancy, and working to counteract the guilt culture still so common in our society. Masturbation, sex toys, that sort of thing. And also talking about the realities of sex, how it's not really like it's portrayed in the media, how people have arms going dead or get entangled in hair or fall off the bed or suddenly stop because they think they've left the oven on, and how all this is absolutely fine and doesn't stop sex from being sexy. You should be able to laugh during sex!

2. Talking about all the different forms of sex, not just PIV sex, and making it clear that they're "real" sex.

3. Also making it clear that it is OK to take sex as slowly as you like, including spending a few years moving from kissing to taking your clothes off if need be. And that this continues to be true when you're out of your teens, and after you've had your first sexual relationship. And that, in fact, it can be great fun, and can even work out better. On the other hand, sometimes people have sex with someone they've just met, and we need to be talking about that too, instead of leaving it untalked about as something vaguely shameful. Different people have different things that work for them, and will probably go at different speeds at varying points in their life.

4. Debunking the construct of virginity and working with more useful terms such as "sexually active".

5. CONSENT. Consent consent consent consent consent. This should be a massive topic, discussed with people of all genders, and not presented as the responsibility of only one gender. There's an image I've seen on Twitter where the slogan "Consent is sexy" has been replaced by "Consent is fucking essential". Talking about different ways of working with consent, and getting comfortable talking about it. My current partner asked my consent repeatedly when we became involved sexually. He's got a policy of asking consent every time he and a partner do something new together, in a way that's casual but still easy to say no to, and generally if he's in any doubt, he asks. When we talked about that recently, he said, "Doesn't everyone do that?" I'd never even heard of anyone doing that. I was still used to the concept of consent as a one-off for The First Time You Have Sex Together, and while of course I knew that was problematic, I didn't have a clear idea of the best solution. This shouldn't be rare. It should be the norm.

6. Introducing the idea that you should talk about sex with your partner, including before you do things, while you're doing things, and on a continuing basis, and discussing all the ways in which this is a great thing to do. Really, this shouldn't be a radical idea in this day and age. Far too many people are so afraid of stopping to talk during sex that they're afraid to ask about condoms, let alone lube, let alone what they want to do. Banishing the myth that you "ruin the moment".

7. Rape, sexual assault, rape culture, slut-shaming, incest, power balances, all that sort of stuff. Challenging sexism and rape culture. Bearing in mind that some children will have already experienced sexual assault, and that many will go on to do so, or to commit it. Talking about how all genders can be victims or perpetrators. Talking about what to do if you see an assault happening, or are worried about someone. Talking about how less privileged people tend to be at much higher risk of sexual violence, including people of colour and disabled people. Being realistic about how our society treats victims - don't just tell people to assume that the police will sort it out, when less than 1% of rapists end up behind bars, and don't assume that families will be sympathetic either. Talking about how film etc. tends to promote bad relationship models, how rom coms frequently present stalking as the ideal, how Twilight is not a good model.

8. Negotiating sex in relationships on a continuing basis, including short relationships, including marriage. Domestic abuse. Not only how to spot it in your own relationships and your friends', but also talking about how living with parents who are in an abusive or generally bad relationship messes with your models of how relationships should be conducted.

9. Disability and illness, and how that affects sexual relationships in various ways. Some of this is about consent stuff, some of it's about prejudice, some of this is about creativity. Even if you're in perfect health now, you could become disabled later, you could have a disabled partner. You are certainly going to be affected by a health problem that is relevant to sex at some point in your life, whether it's a cold, a sprain, depression, a chronic pain problem. Speaking of pain, it's very common for female-bodied people in particular to experience problems with painful sex at some point in their life, and that definitely needs to be discussed.

10. Safer sex. All sorts of safer sex. Putting a condom on a banana is not the be-all and end-all of safer sex, and frankly, who ever got an STI from a banana? Also addressing the problem of people trying to pressure their partner out of using condoms. There was a great campaign I saw at the Family Planning Clinic with posters suggesting ways in which young women could respond to young men trying to talking them out of condoms. And not pretending that all condoms are all perfect for everyone, either. Lots of people are going to hit problems with them, and need to know that there are options for dealing with those problems. Sizes, materials, and have I mentioned lube yet?

11. A really good discussion of contraception, using the typical use stats rather than the perfect use stats, and avoiding the blame culture of "well it's their fault if they got pregnant" in favour of a more practical approach (if you're unlikely to use a method successfully, you need to learn to recognise that, rather than just being guilt-tripped about it). I came out of school with the impression that condoms were 99% effective, and was startled at how many broke in my first sexual relationship. They're actually 85% effective in typical use, and those stats aren't broken down by age. Younger folk are more fertile and less experienced, which raises their risk of a condom failure. LUBE, for the love of all things holy. A proper discussion of side-effects and such, and definitely a good discussion of all the methods out there. This includes the wonderfully effective long-term reversible methods which really need more love (well, apart from Depo Provera, which is evil, and which they are thankfully no longer handing out like candy), and the less effective methods such as withdrawal which some people will try anyway. Different methods suit different people, which also needs to be acknowledged better.

12. Sexual orientation. I grew up when Section 28 was in force, and it still casts a long shadow. This should be covered very thoroughly, and schools need to be damned well aware that plenty of their kids will turn out queer, that those kids (and some of the straight kids) will experience homophobia, that homophobic bullying is still very common in schools, that there's a horrifyingly high teenage suicide rate due to said homophobia, that some of the kids are being raised by same-sex couples or will find out that a parent is LGBT, that they will definitely know people who are LGBT. How it's OK to be gay or bi or straight or somewhere in the middle, how it's OK to dither over your orientation and that it may shift over the years (and I don't mean trying to force gay kids to be straight), how to have safer sex, support resources.

13. Gender identity. It's a rarer issue than being attracted to your own gender, but that doesn't let schools off the hook, especially considering that gender dysphoria is very hard to deal with and transphobia is appalling. Going beyond the gender binary, so that it includes being transgender, being genderqueer, being intersex. How even cisgender people often find themselves struggling with gender constructs that they're being expected to fit into.

14. Asexuality. Also rare, but perfectly normal, and again, subject to all sorts of myths.

15. Polyamory, and while we're on that subject, monogamy and trust and negotiation and cheating and all the issues that occur around humans not all conveniently behaving in a predictable way here. I'm monogamous by nature, but I've learned a huge amount about sensible relationship behaviour from reading articles on polyamory.

16. The emotional aspect of sex, and how that isn't going to be the same every time, not even with the same partner. Some people find that casual sex is a joyous thing for them. Some people find that doesn't work for them, they need to be in love or at least in a relationship that seems to be going that way. Many people find that their needs change in this respect. Even with the same partner, sometimes you want sex that's all about the emotional connection, sometimes you want sex that's all about the fun.

17. Periods. Unless you're a person who does not menstruate who only ever sleeps with other people who do not menstruate, this is likely to be relevant at some point. Menstrual cups, incidentally, rock.

18. "No one wants their daughter to become a prostitute." Schools and parents will really hate this one, but some of those kids will grow up and choose to become sex workers, and some will choose to become clients. At the very least, talk about sex workers with respect.

19. Body issues relating to weight, and how that affects sex and self-esteem.

20. Expressing affection physically in a way that's not sexual, for instance with friends or family, and indeed with partners, and how boundaries work with respect to that. We need more hugs in the world, wanted hugs of course, and we need to stop telling men in particular that they shouldn't be physically affectionate with their friends in case people think they're gay.

21. Everyone changes their mind about at least one aspect of sex during their life. Chances are you'll change your mind about most of them. You'll agree with some of the info you hear, whether it's from your parents or from magazines or the internet, and not others. This is OK! It's bound to happen! Flexible thinking is a good thing!

22. Speaking of magazines and websites which are along those lines, they tend to preach an awful lot of rubbish. It's good to have some idea of where to turn for good resources, and it's good to have some idea of the more popular myths and what's wrong with them. These things can be another form of peer pressure.

23. Abortion. It's not a pleasant procedure for anyone to undergo, and we can make things better by improving access to good quality contraception so that there are fewer unwanted pregnancies, improving access to abortion so that it's quicker and safer, and reducing the stigma surrounding it. You may not agree with them, but some people, for whatever reason, are sexually active but would not be willing to have an abortion. It's all the more important to make sure that they have access to really good contraception, and are well educated about it. I know a young Catholic woman who is happy to be in a sexual relationship but would not have an abortion, nor is she in a good time in her life for having a child right now. She's been given little info about contraception, and when we discussed it, she said she couldn't be on the Pill as she lives at home and her mother would find out, she'd vaguely heard that IUDs cause abortions (nonsense), and wasn't really aware of any options other than condoms. She's an example of someone who really benefits from good sex education here. I have to say that while I'd do it if I had to (having children has never been an option for me), I'd dislike having an abortion, and that's why I've always gone for long-term contraceptive methods which are over 99% effective and have pretty much no space for user error, and have been lucky enough never to have had a pregnancy scare. I'm really glad that the Family Planning Clinic asked me on my first visit, "If you got pregnant, would it be something you could cope with, or would it be a disaster for you?" and then explained about various methods and their reliability. I'm really glad that I live in a world where I have that choice.

24. STIs, other health problems in that area including yeast infections and BV, and how to deal with them. Not to mention the importance of STI checks. Last I heard, chlamydia rates are through the roof, especially in young people, and Pelvic Inflammatory Disease following on from a long-untreated chlamydia infection is the leading cause of infertility. And most people haven't even heard of it. Far too many people think that the only thing to worry about is AIDS, and that it only happens to gay men, which is wrong on several levels.

25. How desire and libido vary over a person's life, some of the reasons for it, and generally reassuring people about it and talking about working through any relationship problems related to this. There are a hell of a lot of people putting up with sexual dysfunction rather than daring to ask their GP to try them on a different antidepressant or contraceptive, and it would be good if we had less of that. OK, this is unlikely to be a big issue for a 15 year old, but it'll probably affect them later in life, and it's good to have been warned about it.

26. The internet. Porn, avoiding computer viruses, staying safe online, sensible privacy, online dating, and good resources to go to.

The nicest story I've heard about sex education: how a friend of mine was sat down by his parents when he was a child so that they could explain that sadly, some people are homophobic. It says so much about where they were starting from.

The funniest story I've heard in a while: we were talking about this in the pub the other week. After reminiscing about the putting-a-condom-on-a-banana lesson, someone was talking about learning to put a condom on with your mouth. R (my partner, who is, for the record, a straight cisgender man) said in surprise, "But I couldn't reach!"
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January 2014

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