Sex education is not what I would call A+ material where I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. However, I’m told that ours is much better than some of my friends 30 minutes away in their northern Kentucky school because, well, at least we had sex education at school. Looking back, some of it was explained decently. At least I knew birth control and condoms existed. I also got to watch three different ways women gave birth, which was fun. But the more I think about it, two things feel very apparent. One is that, while I understood the basic – I stress basic – mechanics of sex, there was still so much ignorance I had about the subject. And there to replace the understanding of all of the wonderful non-reproductive things about sex was the second thing: guilt.
I wore a purity ring growing up. I received it on my thirteenth birthday with my promise to stay pure until marriage. I hadn’t even kissed a boy yet. And when my dad gave it to me, he was secretly cheating on my mom. My brothers hadn’t been expected to wear a ring and clearly my father had no idea how sexual commitment worked. Yet here was pre-teen Katie being told that when I have sex with someone, I leave behind part of my soul with them. That was my understanding of sex.
Sex education only made this worse, of course. My most distinct memory was my health teacher putting a bed sheet on the floor and putting a boy and a girl on the sheet. I got to be the girl, lucky me. He created a story about how the boy and I had sex together for the first time. Then he slowly told the class our entire sexual history, bringing up a new classmate each time one of us had sex (with only heterosexual partners of course). By the end of the demonstration, almost all of the class was struggling to stand on that sheet. And then he turned to me, the original girl, and asked, “Is this how many people you want to share a bed with?”
At the time, naïve young me would have wanted to gloat about my virginity and purity, how I would never have this problem because I understood the romantic notion of waiting for a soul mate. But what was naïve was not me waiting until marriage or believing in soul mates, it was how deeply I had tied my virginity into my value and purity as a woman. For me, that became incredibly unhealthy.
No one told me women could orgasm. I’m not sure they told me men could either, but people told me that men were the ones who always wanted sex so I had to believe there was something in it especially for men. I didn’t know that sex could be so full of pleasure for women. Or that it didn’t have to just be vaginal intercourse. No one explained that having sex before marriage did not have to inherently make me feel worth less. They didn’t explain the double standard of having sex between men and women. I was told so little and left with so much guilt. And the more I did learn, the worse it felt. As a woman, I was prude if I didn’t and a slut if I did.
Some of you may have gone through a great sex education process in your life. Unfortunately, that still does not guarantee a society that boasts sex positivity. And many more might be confused on what exactly being sex positive is. So let me explain.
Sex positivity does not mean that there is an expectation for people to have more sex and be more casual about it. In fact, it doesn’t have an opinion. The goal is to respect however often or rarely (or never!) someone chooses to engage in sexual activities. No one but you should get to decide what makes you comfortable sexually. Have as many partners as you want, whenever you want, or wait until marriage or don’t have sex or anything in between. It’s so much more important to be comfortable with your sexuality and practice safe sex. With all of that said, here are some great ways to create a more sex positive campus:
1. Stop calling it The Walk of Shame. Stop it right now. Even if you didn’t experience sex shaming as I did growing up, comments like this are exactly what demonstrate how much society is against women owning their sexuality. You really don’t hear many people pointing to boys and questioning if they are walking home from last time. Even if you did, you wouldn’t tie the word shame to it. Boys get to be proud of sexual escapades. Why does my next day have to be full of shame? Why can’t women be proud of having sex? The answer is it diminishes our so-called purity that we’re supposed to have, even though we’re also supposed to be sexually experienced. We have to pleasure others and then be put down for doing it.
2. Own your orgasm. Guys shouldn’t be proud because they can get girls to orgasm. I personally don’t hear girls talking about how they managed to get the guy to orgasm like it was a huge accomplishment. Women don’t have some complex sexual machine that’s impossible to operate. You deserve to feel the pleasure too! If you want it, you should be able go get it. And feel free to celebrate your petite mort, aka your little death, as the French call it.
3. Own whatever you enjoy sexually too! Do you like different positions? BDSM? Role play? These aren’t things you should have to feel ashamed about. Communication of what you like shouldn’t feel taboo between partners.
4. Shut down people who use the lock and key analogy. Oh, men shouldn’t be shamed for sex because that’s what makes a good key and I’m just a shitty lock? Analogies aren’t so flawless. Boys, maybe you’re the pencil and I’m the sharpener. Think about that. And then stop shaming women.
5. Work to not be sexually heteronormative. While most of this article is referring to heterosexual sex, as I come from a viewpoint of a heterosexual female, it’s not the only way people have sex and partners are not just between the male and female genders (duh). People across the sexual and gender spectrum deserve sex however they want it too. Shaming people for being with a partner that isn’t the opposite sex is wrong and degrading. If two girls or guys or gender non-conforming people are making out at the party you’re at, you have no right to decide what is best for them. Their sexuality is not being expressed for your pleasure, discomfort or entertainment, so back off.
6. Talk about safe sex and do your research. They’re shouldn’t be shame in talking about sexual history, STI’s, or contraceptives. It’s so important to feel okay about and know which option is best for you. Talking about condoms and the many options for birth control should definitely be a much more normal conversation. Most of all, make sure whatever you do makes you comfortable, safe and prepared for whatever kind of sexual experience you’re going to have.
7. Don’t call someone a prude. If they don’t want to have sex, before a certain point of time or marriage or ever, that is none of your business. Just because one person enjoys sex or having multiple partners, doesn’t mean it’s what is best for someone else. A sex positive society means ensuring sex is consensual, your own business, and destigmatized. What makes you happy is what counts. While wearing a purity ring was not healthy for me, making that promise certainly can be great for someone else.
8. Look into some ~alone time~. A man masturbating is often talked about so much more than a woman. But masturbating is a great way to get to know yourself, feel comfortable with your body, and enjoy a kickass orgasm. Personally, it’s a great stress reliever and I really hope others get in on this fantastic alternative to Netflix binging.
9. Talk about those escapades. You have every right to keep your sex life private, but if you have thoughts or questions or experiences you want to share with others, that’s great! You can learn so much just by talking to friends. This can immensely reduce stigma about women having sex and leave you with some great tips for next time.
10. Consent is not an option. This is non-negotiable. Read the definition of consent and don’t ever forget it. It’s your body, you have the right of autonomy over it, no one else. Don’t force yourself on others. Don’t even let people talk about doing it or joke about it. Always ask before sex or sexual activity. Be mindful of how much alcohol someone has had. Assault and rape is never a joke. And if we want rape to go away, we need to also eradicate rape culture. Call people out on offensive comments and challenge others for it. We need to learn not just how to defend ourselves, but teach others how to eradicate a culture that acquiesces rape.
Most importantly, I hope what you do makes you happy. We deserve to be in a world where others can respect that your sex life is none of their business and orgasm doesn’t feel like a bad word.