Growing Up Without Sex Ed

For most of my adolescence I expected that growing up was something that happened all at once. My rail thin legs would curve majestically outwards, my breasts would become breasts, and I would become so accustomed to bleeding out of my vagina that it would feel like just another errand I had to run.

Things never came all at once, though. Things came in unhelpful chunks. I would sit in the car after school and sink my head against the fabric of the seat with an indignant sigh. I had to learn friendship and love all while trying to understand exactly who I was and how someone like myself might handle things like friendship and love. When I finally did start growing up, I felt like my body was only mirroring what had already happened in my head. When you’re young, nobody understands, even though they’ve already been there. Growing up is something people just forget. They block it out, a response to stress, a forgetting mechanism for all the stretching and bending you have to do just to get by.

“Why can’t you just smile a little more?” 

It was a year after I expressed my views on masturbation that I understood what masturbation actually was. It was a summer afternoon and I was going through my usual AIM chatting spree, when a friend of mine sent me a message. He was an overweight, pimply kid, who liked to communicate primarily through South Park quotes. That day, he asked me how many fingers I could fit inside of myself. I said four because it seemed like ten would be too many and two too little. He never asked again.

Later that night I peered down with a mirror and considered my anatomy. Like a wild adventurer in fleece pajama pants, I quickly determined that my friend had just as little knowledge about my lady parts as I did. Were I to find a hole down there, it would certainly not be sanitary to insert anything into it.

Not too much longer after that I repurposed all sorts of items from my childhood. Vibrating pens, back massagers, sharpies, bendy straws. I weeded out the greatest contenders but I still had no idea what I was doing. I had all the pieces but I couldn’t play the game.

Around the same age that this happened, I got a boyfriend. I’m not certain if a beacon went out alerting boys that I was aware of my vagina, but all things coincided anyways. With a new era of knowledge in my mind, he took some space within.

One night I got a call. I was reading Cosmopolitan Magazine, sharpening my oral sex skills. It was my boyfriend. He asked me if I wanted to have phone sex. I said sure. I’m was certain he was playing with himself, something he would have perfected years before me.

With little idea of what to say, I repeated the only knowledge I had, and told him how many fingers I could fit inside myself. He said thanks and I hung up. I concluded that sex was boring and men were simple.

For most of my adolescence I expected that growing up was  something that happened all at once. That at the age of eighteen you got a special package in the mail and installed it, a fully functional guide of sex. It would come around the same time my body expanded into it’s permanent form.

Instead, I got all the wrong pieces in all the wrong order. So none of it really made sense. Sex was something people did together, but if you did it wrong your genitals would get sick. That would be embarrassing because then everyone would know you did sex wrong. Who wants to do sex wrong? Who wants to do anything wrong?

Sex was passed from person to person, a collaborative effort of knowledge gathered in segments. The flow of knowledge between men was more comprehensive because talking about sex was considered a bonding experience. Women spoke in hushed voices, if at all, and frequently about the inappropriate behaviors of other women doing the things we knew nothing about.

Eventually all the pieces clicked together and I was better for the complete, albeit delayed vision that I had grown.

I’ve spent the last 10 years wondering why we can’t include a segment on masturbation and basic pleasure anatomy in sexual education. I wonder what is so scary about a girl knowing what her clitoris is and why she might want directions to it.

I contemplate how my interactions with boys might have gone differently if I’d had any idea that girls could own their own bodies before men took their shot. And I shudder at the thought that certain teen magazines were the basis of my education, like they are still for so many today.

Note: Unlike many, I received what one might consider a comprehensive sexual education. In Elementary School I got to see the birth video. In Middle School we had a brief lesson about sexuality and were offered the chance to ask questions anonymously. In High School our lessons expanded into condom demonstrations. Granted, much of these lessons still focused on scare tactics, and I retain little knowledge of pleasure being a focal point of the conversation.

Many in the United States receive something far worse.

Men are taught that they are the gatekeepers to female sexuality. Women are taught that if they explore their sexuality, they are worth-less, they are dirtying themselves. They are told not to have sex and given no information about contraceptives or birth control, yet expected to not have sex, not get pregnant, and not abort. With this limited, biased information, abstinence education raises the birth rate for young teen mothers who are unlikely ready to raise children of their own.

One small purpose of my blog is to help shift the mentality of sexuality in our country to one of faux propriety to one of honesty, reality, and pleasure. To acknowledge that people are going to make their own choices for their own bodies and that the best thing that could happen is that they do something that feels good to themselves. 

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Stefanie says:

    I LOVE that you wrote about this. Sex education is one of my interests (but not my career). I didn’t even receive the “standard” sex ed. in school. My school completely omitted it. We didn’t even get the “abstinence only” sex ed. Thankfully, sex education is a growing field in both the United States and Canada as more and more people recognize the need for a more comprehensive curriculum. I know many professionals that educate both youths and adults in sex and sexuality. I only with those resources had been available as I was “coming of age” because I think I may have been even more oblivious about the whole thing than you were!


  2. We received very basic, very clinical sex ed in Health class. While better than most it still wasn’t particularly helpful. I’ve made it a point that my girls get age appropriate responses to whatever questions they may have. There is no one talk in my house, just many ongoing conversations.


  3. LaNeshe ( says:

    This is great! I feel like I had pretty comprehensive sex-ed as far as what schools offer. Girls and boys got separated in like 5th grade and we got the menstruation talk, I’m not sure what the boys got. Then in highschool was all about STDs. But there really isn’t a class that talks about SEXUALITY.


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