6 Facts About Sex I Wish they had Taught me in School

10/4/16

I have a number of friends who have mentioned “knowledge” they have about sex that is completely wrong. Super wrong, the kind of wrong that makes me send flurries of concerned text messages and links to wikipedia pleading with my friends to be safe. Every time this happens, I think why didn’t we learn this in school? This is actually useful. I know I didn’t learn much about sex in school, and I was recently wondering how I did actually learn about sex.

I realized it was my mom who actually set me on the right path. As I grew up, my mother and I talked. A lot. We never had a “the talk”, nor did she offer to be my best friend, but she always gave me information. I remember one day when I was 12 or 13 she asked if we’d had sex ed in school. I said yes, it was a class in a VA public school where the teacher could only read from a script. We submitted anonymous questions on scraps of paper, and her response was generally that you need to discuss this question with your family.

My mom said, well you will have more sex-ed. They will tell you about unintended pregnancy, STIs, and manipulative relationships; but they won’t tell you that it’s also really fun. Drugs, alcohol, and sex can all feel good. It doesn’t mean that it is a good idea all the time or that you have the emotional maturity to handle it, but it is going to feel really good. She said that she didn’t want me to have my first sexual or drug experience to be awesome and then assume all the doom and gloom I’d been told is a lie. Thanks mom, you were right.

As I got older, she did the most amazing thing ever for me. She read me a Savage Love column. This open minded sex advice column by Dan Savage ended up having a huge impact on me. She read me the hilarious column, left the browser window open and went to run an errand. I ran straight to the computer and started reading. I binge read months of Savage Love columns and learned so many things. Some of them were practical, like lube is your friend and orgasms don’t just happen instantly. Some were more abstract, like everyone has their quirks, sexual and otherwise, and we should celebrate those rather than shame people.

I am grateful that my mother, the wonderful folks at Planned Parenthood, Dan Savage, and my own curiosity have given me the tools and knowledge to have a safe and sane sex life. Still, every now and then I will be chatting with a friend and they will mention something about their own sex lives that makes me worry about their health and safety and the health and safety of their partners. It always comes from misinformation, but that doesn’t make it less dangerous.

Here are 6 things that I have corrected my friends on over the years.

1. My favorite lube is coconut oil, olive oil, petroleum jelly, anything oil based.

That’s fine, I guess. Unless you are using condoms! Oil degrades condoms. Buy lube (make sure it’s water based or silicone). Also keep in mind vaginas are complicated, just because something is safe for eating, it doesn’t mean that it is safe for vaginas. They have pretty delicate bacteria and PH balances, so be careful what you use. You can get single serve sized lubes at most decent adult stores. Buy a bunch, try them out, and find one or two (or five) that work for you. Be aware that oil based lube is not safe for condoms and that some oil based and silicone lubes will degrade certain toys. Read labels and talk to the nice folks at your local adult store.

CONDOM2. It’s fine, we used a condom.

Good! Wear condoms, I love them, condoms are great. They do not however protect against everything, you can still get herpes and crabs and all kinds of fun things. Does this mean that you should be afraid of having sex? No, but you should go in with your eyes open. Take the time to ask if your partner has been tested recently and you should also be getting tested regularly.

3. It’s okay, we only had oral sex.

Yay for oral sex, but nothing is 100% safe. Kissing can still transmit the flu, menangitis, and mono. Oral sex and still give you syphilis and gonorrhea. Are the odds lower? In most cases, yes. Do your homework and decide what risk level you are willing to tolerate and talk to your partner. If you have a low risk tolerance use condoms/dental dams. Just make sure you are fully informed before deciding what risks you are willing to take. Also, get tested.

4. I just know if someone has an STI. Normally this knowledge comes from a vibe, a person’s perceived cleanliness, or in one case a smell.

You don’t know. There are plenty of things that you can catch even when a person is asymptomatic. In fact they might not even know they have an STI. Similarly you could be carrying an infection that you are not aware of. Condoms and testing are your friend!

5. I’m sterile.

I’ve had three men tell me that they are sterile. When I asked how they knew that they were sterile, they told me it’s because they’ve had unprotected sex and never gotten a woman pregnant. I tell them to quit being idiots. Two of these men are now fathers. You are not guaranteed to impregnate a woman every time you have sex. If you think you are sterile, go talk to your doctor and have it confirmed. Until then do not tell your partners that you are definitely sterile.

6. I hate condoms and I’ve tried them all.

zara larrson

Zara Larrson managed to fit her leg in a condom

No you haven’t. I am latex free (it’s the worst) and there are still a tons of options out there for me. My partners and I have had all kinds of fun testing and discussing the merits of various condoms. There are tons of options, go try different sizes, shapes, types, textures, materials, etc. Yes, your homework is to have lots of sex until you find the condom or condoms that work best for you and your partner. It will probably be a few, cause let’s face it variety is the spice of life. PS You are not too big for condoms, I think Zara Larrson settled this once and for all when she fit her foot and most of her calf in a condom. If you think you are too big, try larger sizes or try using a female condom.

Regardless of how amazing your kid’s school is at talking about sex, this is still something that should be happening at home as well. We all mature at different rates and schools can’t individualize these programs. Even if they have an amazing sex-ed program, your kid might not be hearing the right things at the right time or maybe they were sick that day or maybe they just zoned out.

It’s better to have the awkward conversation now than letting them find out from a random friend when they’re in their late 20s. I know discussions about pleasure can be uncomfortable for everyone, but I am eternally grateful to my mother for at least acknowledging that pleasure is a part of sex. Every other adult that had talked to me about sex up until that conversation only told me what was wrong with sex and thus failed to give me the whole picture.

Talking about sex can be weird, and often we just don’t ask questions. We assume we know it all, because really how complicated can sex be? In fact we forget, we misremember, we were never taught, and the science changes. Things you learned when you were younger may no longer be true. HPV vaccines didn’t exist when I was in high school, now they do. Keep an open dialogue with your doctor, especially if you have multiple partners.

Before you assume you know things about your own sexual health, talk to a doctor. When it comes to sex toys, lube, condoms, etc find an awesome adult store and don’t be afraid to ask questions. They can help you find organic lube, or latex free condoms, or whatever other particular item you may need. Adult stores aren’t just for the exotic; they will also help with the mundane. Now go forth and have fun!

Talia Squires
Talia Squires is the editor in chief for bi.org. Talia has a degree in German Literature from Bryn Mawr College and a Master's in Critical Studies from the USC School of Cinematic Arts. She's obsessed with good food, fantastic wine, and trashy television. She lives in LA with her husband and fluffy Lhasa Apso.