Think back to your sex education class in school, if you dare. Chances are, it involved a lot of nervous giggling, a hopelessly out-of-touch video and maybe a very flustered gym teacher and a banana, but not much information you could actually use. That’s if you were lucky enough to receive sex ed in the first place.
A lot of women are in the same boat. In a survey of 1,005 women by SheKnows and Plan B One-Step, only 63% reported that they received formal sex ed in school — and of those women, only 44% found sex ed useful. Nonetheless, 74% of women reported that this not-super-useful information informed their birth control plan.
So, many of us are using insufficient info to make major decisions around sexual health and family planning. That’s no bueno. Luckily, it’s never too late to brush up. We invited our favorite sex and health experts to our Wine + Gyn event in partnership with Plan B One-Step to share all the wisdom you may have missed the first time around. Turns out, sex ed goes better with rosé.
We start learning about sex way before sex ed
Writer and sex educator Kendall McKenzie’s experience was ideal: “My parents gave me books, talked to me at a young age and made me comfortable asking questions.” Which is good, because she “barely remembers” her formal sex ed classes, except for an awkward joke her gym teacher made.
Meanwhile, sex and relationships coach Courtney Cleman never received formal sex education from her parents or school. “I learned about sex with my high school boyfriend, who was luckily very supportive,” she said.
HerAgenda founder Rhonesha Byng’s first exposure came early: “I walked in on my parents having sex! After that I learned from TV, especially soap operas, and friends. It was the blind leading the blind — my parents never talked to me about it.”
The sex ed you get in school is only part of the picture
Only 44% of women surveyed found their sex ed classes useful — so what’s missing? “There’s so much secrecy and shame attached to sex,” Byng said. “I wish we’d been taught to overcome that. Sex ed in school is very oriented toward how to avoid STDs or pregnancy. As important as those topics are, I wish the conversation was also about pleasure, how to have agency over your body.”
McKenzie agreed: “Let’s talk about consent, advocating for yourself and your boundaries, the clitoris, pleasure, masturbation. Let’s move away from framing sex as either procreation or scary STDs you can get. We need a more holistic approach to sex ed.”
Unfortunately, there’s still a stigma around contraception
In addition to the classic fear of being spotted with condoms at the checkout counter, 57% of women surveyed said they felt there was a stigma around emergency contraception like Plan B One-Step, which can be used as a backup method if your ‘plan A’ fails. But that may be in our heads.
Half of your friends have used emergency contraception…but we’re not really talking about it
In our survey, 50% of women under 35 reported that they’d used emergency contraception (EC). But 51% said they didn’t tell their partners they’d used it. Meanwhile, about 80% of women believed their friends had used EC. That discrepancy suggests we’re not communicating openly about our emergency contraception needs with our friends or partners.
As McKenzie pointed out, that may be due to “misunderstanding what EC pills are and how they work.” Plan B helps to prevent a pregnancy before it starts and should be used within 72 hours after unprotected sex or BC failure. McKenzie continues by saying, “some people don’t understand that it’s [EC] different than the abortion pill. But I also have an attitude of ‘Judge me, I dare you!’ because I’d love to have that conversation and correct any misconceptions.”
It’s never too late to open up the conversation with partners
Whether you want to talk to your partner about pleasure, contraception or any other topic that affects your sex life, Cleman recommended doing it outside the bedroom. "Wait until your partner’s in a good mood and you’re both feeling open. Frame it as ‘This is something that’s going to make me feel happier and more comfortable in bed,’” she said. A good partner will always be receptive to your needs about safety and family planning.
You can have a say in how sex ed is taught
You may have felt underserved by sex ed, but it doesn’t have to continue that way. “The school board is where sex education decisions are made,” McKenzie said. “If you have kids or younger siblings, get involved in your community’s schools and fight for more progressive, comprehensive sex ed.”
Sex ed should be a lifelong process that starts early
So, how can we destigmatize the conversation around sex? “I recommend parents start when kids are young,” Cleman said. “Teach them about their bodies, teach them the real names for their anatomy: ‘vagina,’ not ‘vajayjay.’ Teach boys and girls what a period is.”
Byng agreed. “Throw out the birds and the bees conversation. Just like you talk to your kids about the right foods to eat, you can talk to them factually about their bodies. Talking about sex is part of a holistic approach to planning your life.”
This post is sponsored by Plan B One-Step®.