There’s a lot I wish I had been told about sex. Like the benefits of masturbation, why cling film is not an effective contraception method, and about the truly alarming sounds your body can make at the most awkward times.
These are the gems I’ve eventually learnt after 10 or so years of sexual activity, oversharing seshes with friends, a Masters in Sexual Health and working in Health Promotion at various reproductive and sexual health organisations. I’ve managed to acquire this kind of knowledge and experience despite the best efforts of my early sex education to keep it hidden from me.
In year 10, my male PDHPE teacher could barely say the word ‘menstruation’ without choking on his own awkwardness, let alone arm me with the knowledge I needed to lead a fulfilling, healthy and safe sex life. Nevertheless, I listened intently, hoping to find some relevant pearls of wisdom which would help me navigate the awful teenage years. My friends and I desperately hoped that dry rants about the whole egg/sperm scenario would make way for the seemingly more pressing issues of how to make a boy like you, how to actually have sex, and whether your vagina looked ‘normal’ or not.
We had limited access to the internet, so Dr Google was unavailable to help with our body and sex questions. I resorted to texting friends on my Nokia brick at all hours of the night, or carefully calculating an opportune time to sneak into the lounge room and rifle through my parents’ encyclopaedia collection for any information which might help.
Messages about STIs and the importance of using condoms were delivered through tedious lectures that warned us to steer clear of even thinking about touching another person’s genitals, let alone putting them in our mouths or hoo-haas. The scare tactics obviously didn’t work, as the grinding, pashing and messy fumblings witnessed at weekend parties attested to. Though if the stats are anything to go by, this is when all that transmission was going down (so to speak). In my formative years, between 2002 and 2011, Australia’s chlamydia rates jumped from 24,000 to a whopping 80,000, with young women among the most effected populations*. A lack of information and an abundance of confusion ushered us into an age of chlamydia chaos, and now it’s time to make sure that the next generation are better prepared.
Even though young people today have far better resources than a dusty old Encyclopedia Britannica at their fingertips, it’s a case of information overload. We still turn off messages that are delivered in awkward ways, that make us feel uncomfortable or scared, or guilty. The shame that surrounds sexually transmissible infections is still rife, and young people still face a mountain of confusion when it comes to safe sex.