Photo by Kimberly Williams (C’17)
By Rachel Chu
At my all-girls high school, our athletic director and the school counselor taught sex-ed. They were not allowed to talk about condoms or birth control. They were not allowed to talk about sex other than for reproduction. They were not allowed to talk about health care options or realistic experiences with the female body. They did not tell us who to ask about period cramps or STDs. They showed us diagrams of the uterus, but they didn’t tell us that most girls experience vaginal discharge almost daily. They didn’t tell us that this was completely normal, and that our genitals weren’t gross like boys said.
They didn’t tell us to see an OB/GYN every year after we become sexually active or that if we chose to be sexually active, we should get tested for STDs every year or every time we have oral, vaginal, or anal sex with a new person.
They didn’t tell us that we could get an STD just from giving a guy a blowjob, so we all thought condoms were just for vaginal sex.
They didn’t tell us that some STDs don’t have any symptoms, so we thought that as long as our bodies didn’t look like those pictures they showed us of STD breakouts, we’d be fine.
They didn’t tell us that if we got chlamydia, we would not just be told by our gynecologist, we’d have to specifically ask for STD tests.
They didn’t tell us that some STDs are curable and all are treatable, they only told us how disgusting it could look or how harmful it could be.
They didn’t tell us that if we somehow contracted chlamydia, it wouldn’t be from a one-night stand, it could be from someone you loved.
And they didn’t tell us that the treatment for some STDs isn’t expensive at all or that the nurses wouldn’t judge you or that 1 out of 3 college-aged people will have an STD some time in their lives. They didn’t tell us that chlamydia, that word that sounds like death that no one can spell, just a bacterial infection, can be cured in a week if found, and that you’d be clean and rid of it after one pill. It is only if left untreated or unnoticed for long periods of time that it could lead to infertility.
They told us about how men experiencing orgasms could impregnate women, but they didn’t tell us about female orgasms. They didn’t tell us that it could take 5 years of sex for a sexual partner to have enough patience to give us an orgasm, even though it was rare for them to not have one and rare for us to receive one. They didn’t tell us that a lot of people seem to think that when a man orgasms it’s the finish line of intercourse, but a woman’s orgasm is just a bonus round.
They didn’t tell us that sometimes both men and women don’t know how to respect each other, don’t know how to respect a “no,” don’t know how to process hesitation in a heated moment, and would rather continue with what they’re focused on doing instead of stopping when their partner says “stop,” twice. They didn’t tell us that we might just give in eventually, because even though we don’t want to, we don’t know yet that no one is worth just shutting up and letting it happen. And if no one stands up to them, they’ll think that a “no” is normal and expected before they can achieve a “yes.”
I remember in sex-ed, someone asked if they could see how to use a condom and our school counselor said they couldn’t do that. Although we giggled and acted like we didn’t want to learn about sex, we thought that at some point, we had learned all we needed to know. If our sex-ed had been better, if we had been taught how to use condoms, maybe my friends wouldn’t be getting STD’s or getting pregnant unexpectedly.
We shouldn’t have to ask for accurate and complete information about sex, but we do. Although Choices 101 included some sex-ed, I realized after that, and too late, that I thought I knew it all, failing to realize that I was given abstinence-only sex education. Consequences of this kind of education include illness, huge life changes, or even death. We must talk about sex and encourage ourselves and others to learn and share our knowledge. This cannot be a taboo topic anymore, we can’t block out our friends when they tell us we need to get tested or we could have an STD, we can’t just not use protection with a partner because they “seem clean,” we can’t just wait to teach teenagers about sex because it’s “too inappropriate” or “too adult” for anyone, we can’t keep giggling when people talk about sex or try to teach us about sex, we can’t keep thinking we know it all, we can’t be blissfully ignorant about the dangers of sex, we can’t give up our sexual satisfaction for the benefit of someone else’s or let our orgasms be secondary while our partners are expected – this is our safety, our bodies, our lives we’re talking about. And safe, consensual, enjoyable sex is our right.