What Teens Really Want to Learn in Sex Ed
From as early as elementary school, I learned about sex. But the education I received growing up was neither comprehensive nor useful when it came to real life situations. Sure, I had more than one health class from elementary school to high school, but the truth is a lot of questions that I and other teens have remain unanswered. For example, how do we maintain open, honest communication about the sexual experiences we’re having with our partner(s) without hurting their feelings? How do we know the right kind of condom or lubricant to buy? How can we get other methods of birth control and which would work best for us? May is Sex Ed for All Month, which is exactly what needs to be discussed: sex.
The health curriculum in some schools does a good job of covering the basics (think about the condom over the banana demonstration or cut and dry factual discussions of periods) but the place we come to learn is the place that lets us down the most when it comes to talking about sex. By the time I got to middle school I knew what a condom was and what it’s for, so why was I, and the rest of my knowledgeable classmates, continually forced to learn the same information?
Here are some different topics that schools could implement into their curriculum to address questions that teens actually want and need answers to:
Different Types of Sex
In high school, there’s a lot of emphasis on oral sex among teens, something rarely discussed in health class. For some, oral sex can be a way to experiment with a partner before taking anything further. For others, it’s the only type of sex they may currently be interested in, either way it should be addressed and acknowledged in the classroom. Discussing all forms of non-penetrative sex in general would not only be informative but allow everyone to have a better understanding of what sex really looks like, straying from the penis-in-vagina type sex taught in most American high schools. Non-penetrative sex can include, but is not limited to, dry humping, using sex toys, oral sex, sensory play, and mutual masturbation.
Questions teens may be asking: How can you make someone orgasm without penetration? How do I tell my partner that I feel comfortable/want or uncomfortable/don’t want to perform oral sex? How do I talk to my partner about trying a different type of sex? How do I introduce kinks or fetishes to my partner?
When I learned about masturbation in school, the content focused primarily around boys. Growing up, I learned all about male anatomy but surprisingly found out nothing about the way my own body worked or how it differed. I quickly learned female masturbation was more of a taboo topic that teachers tended to stay away from for whatever reason, which eventually lead to discomfort even just talking among friends about the subject.
Questions teens may be asking: What do different sex toys do? What’s the best way to orgasm through masturbation? Is masturbating too much unhealthy?
As we grow older, we may start questioning and exploring our own sexuality. Most sex ed curriculums focus on relationships between a cisgender man and a cisgender woman without any information on LGBTQ+ relationships. However, according to a survey done by the CDC, 1.3 million teens reported identifying themselves as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Schools should be able to implement a more diverse and open curriculum to give students the support they need.
Questions teens may be asking: What do you do if you’re questioning your sexuality? Who can I talk to? How do you come out? What do you do if a loved one doesn’t accept your sexuality?
These subject and questions aren’t exhaustive, of course. But here are a few other questions that teens may have that aren’t covered by many of sex ed classes:
- How do you build up enough trust to ensure everyone included is going to be ready and have a good time?
- How do you initiate sex? What do you do before? After?
- How much do you shave/how do you shave properly?
- How do you get over body insecurity/feel comfortable with your own body?
These kinds of questions are all things that many teens think about, but why shouldn’t we learn about them in school? Teens and young people need more guidance and support when it comes to learning about sex.
Anna Labarca is a senior at Walt Whitman High School in Maryland. She writes for the student newspaper, The Black and White. She plans to study journalism in college and is interning at Power to Decide to learn more about the role communications has in campaigns.