This is What Sex Ed Looks Like in My Queer Feminist Utopia

A Louisiana Bill proposed by state Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, is causing quite a stir and has been for about four years. Why? It actually speaks some common sense about sex education in public school. Smith told Baton Rouge-based newspaper The Advocate that withholding factual information about sex is tantamount to child abuse: “It is important that we give our children medically factual information so that they can make the right decision.”

Though her personal language might appear incendiary to those who want to keep us in the dark ages, the wording in House Bill 369 is far from controversial:

The legislature finds that sex education promotes healthy attitudes concerning growth and development, body image, gender identity, dating, relationships, and family life and provides students with the information and skills they need to develop positive values, make good decisions, and respect the important role sexuality plays throughout a person’s life. Effective sex education instruction is part of a broader instruction program preparing young people to reach intellectual and emotional maturity.


Proposed law requires public school governing authorities, including those of charter schools, to provide instruction in sex education each year to students. Specifies that such instruction be medically accurate and developmentally and age appropriate and include the following:

(1) Information about human sexuality as a normal and healthy aspect of human development.

(2) Information stressing that abstinence is the most reliable way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

(3) The health benefits, side effects, and proper use of contraceptives approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prevent unintended pregnancy and of FDA-approved barrier methods to prevent sexually transmitted infections.

(4) Information which helps students develop skills necessary to form healthy, age appropriate relationships.

(5) Lessons to help students develop skills in critical thinking, problem solving, decision making, and stress management.

(6) Emphasis on encouraging students to communicate with parents about sexuality and intimate relations.

There are still a few glaring omissions — the bill does state that no part of sex education shall advocate or support abortion, and you’ll notice that basic human anatomy isn’t on there either (which is a thing we, as a country, clearly need) but that could be lumped into the first item. There’s a ton of wiggle room in these very basic tent poles of what makes good public health information — is a discussion of rape culture included in item 4? We might never know, or we might only know when there’s a giant to-do about it later (supposing they can even pass this bill).

pregnant and die

Still. I am a huge fan of baby steps rather than no steps, especially when you consider that even this basic mandatory sex education is a) better than no mandatory sex education that includes contraceptives and b) an emergency measure at this point. Louisiana ranked 8th on states with the highest rates of teen pregnancy when it was last counted in 2008. That’s not really a list you want to be high on, as teen pregnancy accounts for $11 billion per year of taxpayer money and more than half of teen moms drop out of high school, thus decreasing their statistical likelihood for financial stability throughout their lives. It’s a list you really really really don’t want to be high on when the CDC calls teen pregnancy a “winnable battle” that can be won through information about contraceptives.

The consequences of abstinence-only or no sex education are also disproportionately felt by the African-American and Hispanic communities — the rate of teen pregnancy for girls those two communities is two and a half times higher than their white counterparts and the rates of HIV infection among African-American teens, specifically in Louisiana, is directly due to abstinence-only sex education. And did I mention that Louisiana is number one in HIV infections in those aged 13-24? I wonder what’s causing that problem.

So you see, anything, anything is better than what’s currently happening. But it did get me wondering. In my utopian world, what else would be taught in public school sex education?  Keep in mind that this is in addtion to what is mentioned above and that the only public school teaching experience I have is in teaching French.


Labeling These Pictures

Basic human anatomy is crucial—you need to know what you’ve got and what other people have got. Being able to talk cogently about the reproductive system is as important as being able to talk cogently about what’s in the rest of your body, and even a small emphasis on science in the public school system may encourage the next medical mastermind.

So the question becomes, can you label these pictures? Try your hand at labeling three different views of reproductive anatomy with exercise one, exercise two and exercise three at McGraw Hill. This is probably a thing you want to try in the privacy of your own home and not in a strict work environment (unless you’re in medicine, then probably go for it).

Gender Diversity, As Well As Sexual-Orientation Diversity

In my utopian world, the above wouldn’t be taught as strictly “male anatomy” and “female anatomy” because though the majority of the population is cisgender, that isn’t always the case for every individual student (and the cool bit is it looks like those McGraw Hill quizzes don’t really have gendered labels on them). In a world where we even gender pens, this might be asking a little much. But teaching beyond the binary — teaching a spectrum of genders and, most importantly, not separating a classroom based on perceived genders (because you don’t know! Only that kid knows and maybe they’re telling and maybe they’re not.) — is a major part of my sex education utopia. This is one of those things where everyone should be getting the same wealth of information — girls, boys and everyone in between should know everything their peers know because, y’all, they’re just gonna talk about it to each other anyway. You may as well have a trained teacher give everyone the accurate information instead of instigating a game of sex ed telephone. Plus, according to the Tasmanian Department of Education, schools that address diversity in gender and sexual orientation are making a difference — gender- and orientation-based bullying decreases when those differences are addressed. So why let Australia have all the good sex ed? We would like it too, please.


How To Find a Doctor For Your Private Bits, And Also Actually Speak Words To Them

I would have been one million times less terrified when I went to the gynecologist for the first time if I’d known what was coming. Hell, I’d have been one million times less terrified if I’d known how to talk to my doctor, or that I really was supposed to get all-the-way naked for the exam (I left my undies on, I dunno, I was shy at one time). I would have also loved information on how to find a great doctor (though I just went to my mom’s, and I lucked out because my mom’s doctor is awesome). Finding and speaking to a doctor seems like a really adult thing, but not when you consider that some gynecologists recommend young adults aged 15 to begin going. Part of sex education is how to take care of your body with contraceptives, so I don’t understand why we don’t teach a bit of medical literacy to back that up.

sex education


If young adults don’t know that sex is supposed to feel good yet still get the messages our society sends that they should be having sex, well then. What the fuck kind of sex are they having? Leaving pleasure out of the equation means that our next generation only know one of the “whys” of having sex (reproduction, and only in some cases) and almost none of the “hows.” To my mind, that leaves them open to being coerced into activities they don’t want to do and/or being unable to communicate to a partner what they want. That makes for some pretty unhappy adults. Dan Savage and Dr. Jocelyn Elders agree, so does the New York Times.


Rape Culture and Assault

I don’t think that sexual assault is sex because consent is absent, but I do think resources for dealing with sexual assault have a place in sex education. Mostly because where else is the upcoming generation going to learn about it? You know what else should be taught (to all genders) during sex education? What rape culture is and how to combat it. Enthusiastic consent. Period. End of story.

Abortion. For Real.

Abortion is a constitutional reality and a practical reality that many people face. So why aren’t we advocating for our right for it to be a thing that exists? Or even talking about it as a practical option in a classroom? Here is how my high school handled it and how that informed my opinion growing up:

We had two speakers come in to our health class during our junior year of public high school (a little too late, in my opinion, as peers were already struggling with these decisions). One Planned Parenthood sex educator and abortion provider who talked about the realities and specifics of abortion, and one anti-choice educator with no credentials other than that her and her mom disagreed with abortion and had horrible abortion experiences and so started educating with an anti-choice agenda. The anti-choice educator forgot to show up and had to reschedule. The pro-choice Planned Parenthood doctor showed up on time, answered all our questions with medically factual information, had a presentation based in science and still stressed that even though she agreed with abortion being legal and available, that it isn’t the best option for every patient she sees. She was level-headed, could answer everything we asked and shied away from no questions.

When we could reschedule the anti-choice presenter, she could not answer all of our questions because she had no real credentials and no science background. None of her presentation was based in science and even the bits of her presentation based in morality were anecdotal at best. There wasn’t a “better” anti-choice speaker available, because all other science-based humans were pro-choice. Many of my classmates, having been on the fence or anti-choice before, were pro-choice after that.

So. Address it, is all I’m saying, even if classrooms want to give both sides of the argument. Go for it. Maybe then when the next generation takes over, they won’t try to fuck over women nearly as horribly as the current set of lawmakers.

Body and Sex Positivity

Christ. You’re normal. I’m normal. We’re all normal, as long as we are having sex in ways that are consensual, risk-aware and injury free. Our bodies? They’re normal too. Beautiful, even. That should be the core concept in any comprehensive sex education, in my opinion. Everyone’s bodies look a bit different, everyone’s sex looks a bit different, but dang it we are all normal.

What Did I Miss?

Like I said—the only sex education I personally do is for, and that’s an adult audience. So what was I wrong about? What did I miss? Let’s talk about sex education.

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A.E. Osworth

A.E. Osworth is part-time Faculty at The New School, where they teach undergraduates the art of digital storytelling. Their novel, We Are Watching Eliza Bright, about a game developer dealing with harassment (and narrated collectively by a fictional subreddit), is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing (April 2021) and is available for pre-order now. They have an eight-year freelancing career and you can find their work on Autostraddle (where they used to be the Geekery Editor), Guernica, Quartz, Electric Lit, Paper Darts, Mashable, and drDoctor, among others.

A.E. has written 542 articles for us.


  1. I can’t agree enough with the importance of teaching young people about the varieties of gender and sexual identity. The difference knowing that your feelings aren’t wrong or isolated, feelings that you don’t have a name for or a framework to place them into, can save lives.

  2. Oh god. I have a question that is probably going to get me laughed at, or make people roll their eyes. And make me feel pretty embarrassed.

    I am the biggest virgin to have ever virgin’d. I have body hang-ups (like what else is new, sit down self) that make me legitimately scared that, if i were to ever, by some miracle, end up naked with someone in a sexual manner, they would see them & back off in disgust. (See especially bad skin, pimples all over, that never gets better & is very bad right now. And other more embarrassing things that scare me a lot.) I’m also one of those stupid sensitive types who wouldn’t be able to just brush it off with a “fuck you.” So i guess on the one hand i want to know i’m supposed to handle that.

    But i wanted to ask about “enthusiastic consent.” Because i’m shy, & because i feel so undesirable, that i feel like i wouldn’t be able to give that even if i wanted to have sex. I feel like i’m so gross that no one would want to touch me; if they actually do, then i should let them make that decision. And because i’m so shy, & because i’ve never done anything sexual with anyone ever, i know i would be a ball of nerves & uncertain & scared, no matter how badly i would want to say “yes.”

    So my question then is, i guess, what then? What if i really do want to have sex, & this person is asking me, but i’m so hung up on things, & so nervous, that i can’t say “yes”? Are there other ways that i can say yes, that lets someone know they have my consent, without it having to be, i guess, blunt & enthusiastic? Because if someone were to then go, “Oh, you’re nervous, we should stop,” i mean, i don’t want that. I’m nervous because i’m nervous, if i like the person & want this thing to happen, i want it but i’m scared. How do i let someone know that it’s okay & that i want to have sex with them, even if i’m scared & showing it?

    …… now i’m going to go be embarrassed & i’ve written a novel & i’m so sorry

    • Ok, I am by no means an expert on this, so maybe I shouldn’t be adding my tuppence worth, but mostly I wanted to try and reassure you a bit.

      A lot of people feel shy and unsure when they are new to it all.

      It’s normal to be nervous. Whoever you end up exploring this stuff with though, you should talk about it first! Tell them you are nervous. If they are worthy of your time, they will want to do whatever it takes to make you feel comfortable and enjoy yourself. If that means taking time to get to know and trust each other first, then you should do that.

      I’m sorry that you feel the way you do about your appearance. You are not disgusting – I SWEAR ON ALL MY WORLDLY POSSESSIONS. Go back and read the bit about Body Positivity. Listen to Ali, who is wise.

      Have a friendly shoulder pat (with your consent, of course!). I hope the replies you get reassure you somewhat.

    • I am sending all my best body positivity vibes your way. It sounds like you’re having a rough time and I wish you the best enthusiastic sex when you’re ready. You wrote: ” Are there other ways that i can say yes, that lets someone know they have my consent, without it having to be, i guess, blunt & enthusiastic?” Some ideas that come to mind: let yourself vocalize (sigh, moan what have you) to indicate that things are going well (I know this can be intimidating too, though), ask them what they want, or just “is this ok?” to indicate that you are good and checking in with them. I also think a good partner would be totally ok with you expressing that you’re nervous. For me, if someone said something like “hey I’m a little nervous, this is kinda new for me,” I’d find that charming. I don’t know if any of this helps, but I hope it kind of addresses your question.

    • *hugs*

      I think you just say, “I’m really nervous, but I want to do this. I’ll tell you if I change my mind partway through.” And you maybe plan for both of you to check in with each other occasionally throughout the sexytimes, to make sure you’re both still okay with what’s happening.

      If it makes you feel any better, I told my first girlfriend that there was a real possibility I would freak out and run away the first time we had sex. It still went okay, and I didn’t go running out of her apartment.

      • I did freak out and stop (though not run away!) the first time I tried to give my girlfriend oral. BUT BUT BUT! If you have a kind and respectful partner, like I do, they will be ok with it. They will understand. They will give you time. And hugs if you want them.

    • I think that communication is vitally important. I struggle with anxiety myself, and it took me a long time to feel comfortable enough to have sex. But when I did, it was with someone with whom I’d spoken about these issues and whom I knew didn’t judge me for them. If I hadn’t been able to talk openly with her I don’t think I would have been able to relax enough to enjoy it.

      I would try talking to your potential partner beforehand about how you feel, so that they understand that you do want to have sex and you aren’t feeling pressured, just nervous because it’s a new experience (which is totally normal, BTW). Yes, there are people out there who will have an issue with you being new to sex or with your anxiety. These people are not worth your time. You deserve a partner you can be open and honest with and who cares about you for who you are. Many, many, people are nervous about sex, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding someone who understands!

      • “I would try talking to your potential partner beforehand about how you feel, so that they understand that you do want to have sex and you aren’t feeling pressured, just nervous because it’s a new experience (which is totally normal, BTW).”
        I super, super, super second this.

        I mean, if a worry is “what if the other human thinks my anxiety means I want to stop and I can’t tell them yes even if I really want to” then you communicate beforehand about knowing that you looking anxious doesn’t necessarily mean you want them to stop. Then outline ways they can check in with you so that you can say or signal in some way that you unambiguously want them to continue, or want them to stop.

        And since this communication beforehand would also probably be anxiety-making, you could, say, type it up for them in advance, with a question at the end asking if they were okay with it and if there’s anything they needed clarified! Since it does seem like you’re at least capable of typing out things like this, sometimes! :3

        Best wishes <3

    • OMG sweetheart! You’re not disgusting because we’re all beautiful and wonderful human beings just like the people who have commented before me!! ♥♥♥♥♥ I think that being naked gives vulnerability a whole new meaning. It’s just you. You and all your intimate parts that only you get to see and know. But I also think that there is that one perfect human for you, only you…and they will not give ONE DAMN about how you look. So do not be sorry, sweetie. =)

      Communication is something we can never stress enough (really, it’s I think in almost all the posts in these how to sex post thingys) and while I know it can be hard..someone once asked me if it was okay not to moan etc…it’s what’ll help ease the situation. Talking before doing anything I think would help ease some tension..It’s perfectly fine to say you’re nervous/never done this before because a lot of people make assumptions and it’s better to not let those get in the way. I think that if the person genuinely liked you, they would go very slow and be gentle and all those wonderful things while taking into consideration YOU! =) Things that you want and don’t know..we should also keep in mind that it’s a learning experience. And if they think you should stop because of how nervous you are tell them it’s something you would really really like to do but just don’t know how yet.

    • Aaaaaaaaaaand I just wanna fucking hug you and hope you won’t feel that way about yourself anymore *HUUUUGGGGSSSSSSSS*

    • On the subject of consent, and in response to caitlin…

      Everybody has already given great advice and support, so I’ll just second everyone else, and agree that you definitely are beautiful and desirable and deserve to have sex, even if you don’t really see it at the moment. We are often our own harshest critics, but fortunately we don’t have to have sex with our inner critic.

      I’ll also point out that going from ‘biggest virgin’ to ‘not a virgin at all’ doesn’t have to be one giant single-step event. There are a lot of intermediate stops along the way, like kissing, fully-clothed making out, partially clothed making out, mostly naked making out, etc–the point is, you can do just one and then stop and come back to it later, or never. You can hold off on the part where you get naked until you’re more comfortable with being close to someone’s body and feeling all the things–vulnerable, loving, turned-on, a little sweaty, etc–that go along with that.

      And non-verbal communication counts, I think–taking someone’s hand and putting it where you want it to go is enthusiastic consent in my book, to answer your original question.

    • Couldn’t stay silent on this one – no, Caitlin lovely, you’re not disgusting, not by very very far. Pretty is a state of privilege, beautiful is a state of mind. And neither truly matters where a good lovely bit of hedonism, enjoyment and physical affection is concerned – because sex is an action not a social license towards an action.

      If we care about what media/society says:

      – only models and pretty office people can have non-disgusting sex
      – your best bet to be sexy is to aspire to be like them and the calvinist ethic of working towards it – so maybe if you’re lucky you can enjoy a bit of carefree sex when you’re 55 and you’ve finally reached your Hollywood dream.
      – My gf’s best bets are reincarnation or servicing the sexual kinks of her betters without asking for any affection she does not deserve.
      – My best bet is …let’s see, unholy nature, arrogance, pride, use of black magic and technology for deception, seduction and systematic betrayal of everyone… y’know for that list even reincarnation falls short, so i guess it’s to somehow break Lucifer loose from ice in 9th when i get there, profit from the takeover and have a harem of all the good upstanding women of now, raised as zombie concubines.

      Y’know – fuck that. Too much world-changing effort. Why not do the sane thing, acknowledge the beautiful and sexual beings in each other and enjoy ourselves?

      I totally relate about the ‘enthusiasm’ part working somewhat differently when you don’t feel socially entitled – your enthusiasm will be different from this or that wank high-school tv series celebrity – you are a different person. And would you even need a gf who only recognises one, media approved, kind of enthusiasm and feels she needs to follow some hip ethics book through bullet points DURING sex. Trust me then you’re in bed with her liberal arts teacher and tumblr buddies, not her. The point is don’t put psychological pressure on others to do sexual stuff and say fuck you very much if someone does it to you. We know what psychological pressure is, and that’s all we really need to know.

    • I just wanted to say…wow. How cool is it to read this post, and then see all the amazing encouragement, advice, and non-judgment that followed. Autostraddle is a pretty amazing place, and I’m grateful for it, and all of the beautiful people here.

      Caitlin, the very first time I had sex, I was so nervous that I actually stopped breathing. I had no idea I could hold my breath that long, actually. The person I was with though, noticed this, and asked me if I was okay. And I WAS okay, just suuuper nervous, like you’ve expressed. So I gave her a breathy, “Yes” and she said, “are you positive?” and I gave her another breathy “Yes” and she said “And you’ll tell me if anything changes?” and again, I just said “yes”. So, I mean, I just want to encourage you and let you know that you can express consent even if you’re nervous–as long as you have a partner who is on the same page.

      Best of luck to you! Also, I was a virgin until I was 23, annnnd I had a great time with my vibrator before that, and still do. Just sayin’.

    • What can also help is not having sex on the first date: spend some time hugging and kissing and getting to know each other emotionally and physically first. That way, you’ll be more comfortable with the person, already know each other’s non-verbal cues, and while verbal consent is still necessary, it’ll be less stressful to ask for/give.

    • Just a small thing to add to the other excellent responses…

      As someone who sleeps with women, and I can’t emphasize this enough, someone who is going to have sex with you is NOT going to care about those little things that you’ve pored over – bad skin, cellulite, the fact that your tits are slightly lower than they used to be, the scars you have….whatever.

      We’re told over and over by the media that if we’re not their version of perfect then we’re not good enough, and it simply isn’t true. I’ve had to give so many of my straight friends the same advice. If someone likes you enough to get naked, then unless you’re in fact a tower of toddlers under a trenchcoat then the likelihood is that it’s not going to make a damned bit of difference. They’re going to have their imperfections too, and you’ll probably look at them and think “god, those freckles are really cute”, or “I’d really like to kiss that scar”, not “EW, GOD NO”. It works both ways.

      In short, afford yourself the same courtesies that you would anyone else – you deserve them too.

    • Howdy Caitlin,
      I just wanna say, that everyone at one time has had issues with their body, everyone has felt ugly and undesirable and like they want to hide in a hole where no one ever has to look at them. So don’t feel alone or like you are worse than everyone else, you’re okay. You are understood. And you are goddamn beautiful even if you don’t see it yet. Now I want to ask you, have you ever noticed a person with an acne problem? Probably, but you may not have cared about the acne or any other “flaw” because you were to busy noticing the cute interesting person in front of you. Also, about your question about different forms of consent, for me clear communication is one of the most important parts of sex and my first judgement would be that you need to try to be more comfortable with yourself, but you know what? You do you, and so perhaps if you aren’t comfortable with a clear ‘yes!’ just make sure the other person knows that you’re a bit nervous, when they are about to back off because they are just not quite sure what you want, just grab their hand and pull them back, make sure that the person knows how you feel and in my world that would be enough clarity to know that you want to do this, you’re just a bit unsure. But hey, I’m totally willing to discuss this and be proven wrong or informed of a better way.

      So now I’m embarrassed because I just lectured you. Sorry. Ignore me. I see your novel and raise you one epic poem.

  3. I agree with all the points you made above but I think the most important thing isn’t what is being taught but how. The health classes I’ve taken in school have great information in them but they were so uncomfortable! Presentations in sex ed either talk down to students with cutesy pictures and diagrams or are boring. Neither of those ways actually get information across to students because both angles of attack shut teenagers down (yes some kids (generally the ones who are socially isolated and tend to be the least likely to be have sex as teenagers) get info out of this). I think many of the issues with teaching sex ed in classrooms come from societal expectations of how teenagers are supposed to respond to this information. But the teachers/district content directors need to come up with ways to make the classes work that fights against these social constructs so that the next generation won’t have such ucky feelings about sex education.

  4. Enthusiastic consent times infinity. It chills my blood how many people I’ve mentioned it to (during discussions of rape culture etc)think this is somehow ‘overkill’.

    Everything else in this article too! Great read Ali! If only I had access to such info on sexuality and gender as a child, I wouldn’t have found myself in such a pickle at my age.

    This desire by mostly white, old cis males to control people’s bodies ruins lives. Over and over again.

  5. It’s bad when you read a proposed law that states that any information in a sex ed class must be medically accurate and you’re relieved because so many states mandate inaccurate information (or simply allow it). Sheesh.

    Your guidelines sound great. The only thing I would wish for is a general curriculum that homeschooling students have to take. My parents were just clueless, not religious, so my sibling and I got our information online and from books, but it was pretty confusing and challenging to put it together for ourselves. (My mother still says that when she was in college there weren’t STDs…so not true.) I know this would cause huge outrage since so many families (unlike mine) homeschool in part so their kids won’t be exposed to sex ed (even with as bad as it is in some states!). But this isn’t about the parents’ preferences, it’s about the child’s right to accurate information at an appropriate age. If I’d had some information earlier, I’d have had a much better time as a teenager!

  6. 1. Just gonna point to scarleteen dot com for anyone seeking a lil sex ed of their own. It’s the best.
    2. I feel pretty uncomfortable with the citation of Dan Savage anywhere on Autostraddle ever because he is a known transphobic dickbag (and he thinks pit bulls should be banned which is one of the stupider things I’ve ever heard).
    3. Yay Representative Smith! …..this is so not gonna pass.

    • I felt the same way with the Dan Savage citation. I definitely side eyed a little.

    • Hello all! I can clarify my position on Dan Savage in this article right here. Yes, he has said problematic things and, at times, been an asshole. But he’s also really furthered a culture that normalizes sex, talking about sex and communicating about sex.

  7. “Hyperventilation: When It’s Not a Seizure” Which I in no way learned from experience.

  8. I cannot agree more with all of these points! We had a decent sex ed program, so when I hear of the lack of education or appalling lack of medically accurate information given, it blows me away.

    • Agreed. I actually ended up teaching my queer group on campus sex ed (based a lot on what Ali has written here) last year because the year before it was the same shit I learned in Jr High…and this was at a university! Apparently university students still have to learn how to put on a condom properly!? WE CAN DRINK BUT CAN’T USE CONDOMS!? WHAT!?

  9. I think Ali should teach SexEd in the schools?

    Really good post, a lot of valid points!!! I think that sometimes the schools take too long to teach sex ed. I personally think that kids (DAMN I SOUND OLD) are starting to know more and more about their bodies and of others at an earlier age. And I think the schools should get with the times.

    Test scores? I got perfect for test 2. Failed the other two. How can I know more about penises than fertilized eggs!

  10. When they invent time machines I’m going to print this out and bring it to my 13 year old self.

  11. Yessssss. I live in Louisiana, and we never actually had any kind of sex ed (although we did have a short-lived “abstinence club” back in fifth grade, where this guy came in during lunch periods and told us some scary things about stds and that we should prevent them by never having sex ever). Seriously, just same basic period education would be nice, as I spent many years under the impression that once you started your period you had it constantly until you reached menopause. Once wifi became a thing and I was allowed to have my own laptop, I was able to educate myself fairly well with the help of the Internet, but honestly I’ve never even seen the above diagram of the ovary before now.

    And it wasn’t the lack of materials that prevented these things from being taught – there were definitely chapters in our textbooks, and I remember the boys shouting out their page numbers and giggling. But I can’t remember any sex/reproductive health being taught at all, aside from fetal development (which oddly seems to sum up my states position on sex rather well).

    • “as I spent many years under the impression that once you started your period you had it constantly until you reached menopause” I thought that too!!! But I started menarche when I was 10, and luckily my mom caught on quickly when I complained that I would have to wear pads everyday for the rest of my life because I didn’t know when my period would come.

  12. Went to public school in Chesapeake, VA- a relatively affluent suburban town. I did not know I was gay then, and I sort of wish that the sex ed teacher had mentioned that LGBTQ people even exist. Maybe the lightbulb would have gone off a little earlier and saved me a lot self-doubt.

  13. To be trust, I didn’t learn shit in my sex ed classes lol. I just thought like they wanted to talk about LBGT issues or same sex attractions

  14. In high school one of my friends had conversations with the health teacher often. She told me that one time they were talking about rape culture, she asked if rape culture education could be part of the class, he told her that “i really wish I could, but there ISN’T TIME”. I’m sorry there is ALWAYS time to make it clear that consent is absolutely fucking necessary.

  15. Good points but,
    1. You used a sentence saying “we are all normal as long as we are having sex in ways… etc.”. I would suggest changing that language because it is ace-exclusive, implying that asexuals are not normal.
    2. The anatomy-labeling thing- I mostly agree, but what about intersex folks? Human sexual anatomy is as broad and variant a spectrum/rainbow as human gender and sexuality, and there’s no way we can label every single beautiful variation. So how can we teach anatomy without excluding anybody? I’ve been pondering that question a lot lately, so if anyone has ideas absolutely talk about them!

    • 1-yes! :)
      2-I had sex at my local LGBT youth center, so rather unusual circumstances… Anyway, there when we talked about sexual anatomy we had three diagrams we looked at, a penis diagram, a vulva diagram, and one in between. We talked about the vast diversity in anatomy in penises and vulvas and how there was a wide range and how “cut off points” between which anatomy is which are often arbitrary. and there’s a vast middle. Not saying it was perfect but it was one way of addressing it.

  16. YES to information about gynecologists. I’m 23 and still trying to pep-talk myself into going–the whole deal is so intimidating. And I’ve never had sex, and kind of weirdly afraid they wouldn’t believe me about it? IDK, I just get anxious about any social interaction, let alone one where I have to get naked. Also (TMI time), my first and only pelvic exam took place when I had appendicitis, and the doctor decided to see if it was an ovarian cyst. So I associate the whole process with a LOT of pain, even though I know rationally that it’s not generally that bad.

    Also, I wish sex ed had included some information about different orientations, and the fact that not everybody WANTS to have sex. My school’s sex ed program basically assumed that everyone wanted sex and needed to be scared into Not Doing It until marriage. I never bought into the moralizing about abstinence, but that made it all the more weird when I continued not having sex even through college. It would have saved me a lot of feeling messed-up and inadequate if I’d known that a) asexuality is a thing and b) it’s totally fine to rarely or never be sexually attracted to anyone. (I’m not 100% asexual, but I tend pretty strongly in that direction.)

  17. Also, when I took sex ed we had to memorize and label a really detailed penisbdiagram, foreskin and all, but the vagina/uterus diagram we were given was much more simplified and had no external anatomy (clitoris, labia etc.) only internal- like, here’s the sperm tube, here’s the baby oven, that’s all any of you need to know. After all, penises are fine but labia are scary and gross and indecent. And anyway, real men go in, unload and pull out.

  18. Sigh. As a survivor of child abuse I bothers me when people claim things that are clearly not child abuse are child abuse to sound “incendiary” – like, these experience are not a metaphor, please respect them and us enough not to use us as an interesting figure of speech to prove your point. Especially given the context – of a conversation about sex ed and how sexual violence and abuse should be addressed by it.

  19. Education about intimate partner violence, along with community resources. I went to a school that had a really good sex ed program, and we learned about different types of abuse, but not really like how to recognize it and where to go for help.

    As well as internal anatomy, I think they should teach external anatomy. It would probably go along with intersex, but like teaching the difference between the vagina and the vulva (because oh my god when girls complain about getting hit on the vagina- that’s your vuvla, hello), where the clitoris is (and what it does), as well as penis parts. As well as education about yeast infections, BV, and what to do.

    Masturbation, this could be very brief: girls can do it too, it isn’t bad for you, in fact it has health benefits.

    Different kinds of sex people can have that do not involve putting a penis in a vagina. Which STIs can be communicated through oral and anal sex.

  20. We were taught sex ed in year 7 – by a priest! And this was in a regular high school.

    I wish there was discussion about gender and sexual identity – would have saved me a lot of worry.

    They also need to teach basic anatomy in a way that causes kids to actually learn, rather than just giggle.

  21. Having someone in a position of authority tell me (and my peers) that being trans was normal and okay, and that I would be able to live a decent life as a trans person, would have made such a huge difference to me. I would have transitioned at least 12 years ago. Even my otherwise really fabulous and awesome Unitarian Universalist sex ed didn’t cover trans/non-binary identities at all.

  22. I love this!

    In my utopia I would also would include a relationship unit. All the many different ways human beings create and maintain sexual and romantic relationships- friends with benefits, monogamous, poly, swingers, triads, group marriages etc etc. And also within this, I’d talk about emotions, communication and consent. I think consent deserves more than a dictum that it should be enthusiastic. I’ve learned a lot about practicing good consent that goes beyond that… for instance I learned it makes me and the other person much happier if I frame my boundaries as a yes- yes I really want to make out, take some clothes off and spend the night!- rather than a no- I don’t want to go any further than making out and taking some clothes off. Maybe that seems really simple, but it made a real difference to my feeling comfortable voicing my desires, and not feeling stressed in the moment. So, I think talking about and practicing communication skills is key.

    Also! I think some neuroscience would be fun -ha, I’m a nerd. But just, let them know what crazy chemicals are flooding their brains when experiencing love, infatuation, sex, rejection and break-up. Not to take away all the mystery, but to give another lens through which to understand why love and heartbreak (especially the first time) makes you feel sooo intense! Maybe I’d team up with the English teacher and they would cover love stories and poems at the same time.

  23. In Washington state, if you have a physical disability you can get your P.E. requirement in highschool just waived, and health class is part of P.E. so my only sex ed of any sort was 5th grade and consisted of basic diagrams and awkward discussion nobody wanted to really be involved in, including the teachers. It’s probably a horrible injustice to disabled people, but when you’re in highschool all you probably really think is: sweet, I can use those credits on tech classes/art/another language….
    You don’t know yet that you should be advocating for your right to do something that you don’t particularly want to because it is good for you.

    It probably contributed to my belief during college that it was safe to have unprotected sex with a person with a penis a couple of days after my period because that is totally how cycles always work…. and getting pregnant my first time doing so.

    The things that are uncomfortable to discuss are the things that need to be discussed most of all, really. I hope this evolves quickly, because it needs it on so many levels.

  24. Section 28 was still law when I had sex ed in high school here in the UK in around 1998, it was a component of GCSE biology. My biology teacher flouted the law for 5 minutes and was like some folks are gay and that’s fine don’t be a Dick about it…Who knows a gay person?, and I retreated into my closetsweater as various people put their hands up. In my utopia that wouldn’t happen.

  25. Hey so it is super important to remember that there ARE hard working, passionate and committed professional sex educators out there, on the ground, in public schools, teaching this “utopia” sex education on the daily.

  26. One of the best things about the sex education that I had was that not only did they teach that masturbation was normal, ok and generally a good idea, they taught that “if you can do it to yourself, you and your partner can do it together”. Ie. instead of abstinence, they hinted that you can screw people with your hands. I think if you want to get anywhere with making sex safe, you really need to teach the alternatives.

    The only bit that was seriously lacking (well, aside from ANYTHING about queers) was diagrams of the vulva. Vaginas, uteruses, dicks and testicles everywhere but apparently the external parts of a woman aren’t all that important. I think I heard the word clitoris once.

  27. My uncool timid 7th grade teacher band teacher doubled as our sex educator. He told us, a class of girls, that sex was vaginal penetration (but never talked about how a dick gets hard) and then he talked about the downsides to having unprotected sex.

    Nothing about pleasure, nothing about orgasms, nothing gay/lesbian/queer.

    I remember leaving the class contemplating being a virgin forever.

    My parents were too shy about the topic and I didn’t feel comfortable asking them questions.

    I don’t have kids and none of my close friends have kids, but if children come into our lives, I want them to have a better understanding of sex than I did at the age of 12.

  28. Yes to all of this! Something that has really bothered me for almost my whole life is the prevailing conception of traditional sex, i.e. penis penetrating the vagina sex, as morally superior to other forms of sexual contact. The valorization of traditional vaginal sex is dumb and a part of the patriarchy: it consistently leads to male orgasm while only a minority of women can achieve orgasm through penetration alone. And yet traditional vaginal intercourse is what consummates a marriage, and girls are taught to believe it is the moral and emotional height of sexual acts. So my ideal sex education program would incorporate traditional vaginal intercourse as one of only many forms of sexual contact. It would also teach that the only reason why this type of sexual contact is considered so special is its historical role in controlling women’s sexuality and paternity, and in valuing male over female sexual pleasure.

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