Introducing yourself as a sex educator is usually met with a lot of different responses. I get a good mix of positive responses, comments on the quality of person’s sex education and dirty jokes but mostly I get a lot of questions. “What does that entail?” “Do you have to do the condom on a banana demonstration?” And my favourite – “How did you get into that?”
Simple answer is because I knew these topics were important and I wanted to facilitate discussions about them. If the person has more time, I will launch into one of the following stories about why I care about talking about sexuality.
I have one clear memory of my sex education when I was in high school. We watched a video of a water birth. Nothing had terrified me more about sex and pregnancy than that video. I remember little else of the content of the lesson, but distinctly remember screams, crying and bodily fluids. I remember the boys in the class blowing up condoms and hitting them around the classroom, effectively ending all discussion and wrapping up our lesson.
What stands out to me now is not remembering a mention of consent, apart from maybe learning about age of consent laws. There was no mention of masturbation, particularly that women can masturbate. In fact, a lot of my understanding of sex when I was young was not framed by the idea of pleasure. There was no mention of queer sex, or what sex would look like for those with disabilities.
Teaching these topics is an important task and are pivotal within the development of adolescents. I know that is quite a burden for teachers to take on, particularly if this is not a subject they are comfortable talking about or know the most about. However, my takeaways from that lesson should not have been a fear of giving birth or trying to avoid getting lube on my school uniform. As an adult, I often reflect back on this lesson and how much 14-year-old me did not know about sex and relationships, and how ill-equipped she felt communicating about these topics.
Another defining moment was when I was doing my undergraduate degree in science, I took a course in reproductive physiology. We had one lecture on STIs. Not to be dramatic, it was a life-changing lecture for me. It was sparked my interest in sexual health and my passion to improve education on the topic of sexuality.
What terrifies me the most about that lecture was how much I learnt. There was so much in that one lecture that I didn’t know about, that as a 20-year-old I really should have known. I heard about congenital syphilis, that the removal of genital warts was purely cosmetic (it doesn’t get rid of the HPV virus), and the practice of female genital mutilation.
This new information made me think back to what wasn’t covered in my sex ed and whether sex ed had improved since I finished high school. It also made me realise that a lot of what I learnt about sex was health related, and even then it didn’t provide me enough information to be able to label a diagram of a vulva or know that untreated STIs can lead to infertility. It was this spiral of thoughts that actually led me to pursuing my masters.