Most of us have had some sort of encounter with sexual education, whether it’s been restricted classroom discussions or too much information to the point of total confusion. And let's be honest: Most of it was super awkward.
But often the information we get about sex from our parents, friends and teachers is misguided. What’s more, it's also sometimes limited to a sexual preference or gender that we may not actually identify with.
Pioneering sex researcher Alfred Kinsey put it best: “The only universal in human sexuality is variability itself.” From attraction to the act itself, sexual encounters can take on many forms, but the sex ed we’re given as kids and teenagers doesn’t always reflect that.
Missteps in sex education
Although our desire for sex is a natural thing, openly discussing those topics can feel excruciatingly difficult. While there’s been some sexual liberalization over the last century, Western culture unfortunately still seems to clutch onto the idea that sex isn’t something to be discussed and talked about openly.
And that’s where our sexual education tends to fail us. Feeling comfortable talking about sexuality is so important, especially for teens and young adults who are exploring it for the first time. But when they’re given misguided information or broad assumptions, they’re more likely to take unnecessary risks that can leave them vulnerable to STIs, unwanted pregnancies and issues of consent.
Even though it’s always been a routine part of teen education, many classrooms aren’t offering the full story about sex. Some sex ed classes favor an “abstinence-only” curriculum that tells teens to refrain from having sex at all. Others focus on embarrassing tasks like fitting condoms on a banana or scare tactics like watching graphic birthing videos. While some classes do discuss contraception and preventing sexually transmitted diseases, they often use shame to drive their message home. And very few actually cover crucial details like consent and sexual preference.
Changing the conversation
The thing is, many teens are going to have sex regardless, so how do we deliver better, relatable sex education? Instead of trying to instill fear and embarrassment, we need to equip students with a healthy, informed attitude about sex. One that teaches them to understand and appreciate their own desires, and engage those desires positively. In other words, we need to address the psychological aspects of sex as well as the physiological logistics.
Teens are surrounded by sex—on television, in movies, in various works of art. But they’re rarely given insight into elements of “real sex,” such as who we are as sexual beings, what makes us sexual, and how we navigate sexuality. There’s a modern maturity in authentic sex education that’s missing in our society.
Research consistently shows that people who openly discuss matters of sex not only have more satisfying relationships, but are more careful with the prevention of diseases and unwanted pregnancies.
So let’s throw away the textbook-style lectures and encourage a more down-to-earth, approachable discussion of sex. In doing so, we can hopefully help younger generations enjoy intimate, deeper, intelligent experiences within their own sex lives.