Wednesday, May 9, 2018

5 Things I Wish I Learned in Sex Ed

Hello, beautiful! Today's post is going to be a bit different from others I've written on Haley Marie Blog in the past, but it's something I'm extremely passionate about: body- and sex-positivity.

Like many of you here in the United States, I didn't have sex ed growing up. My sex ed experience consisted of a 30-minute video in health class (known dauntingly as "The Video") that we watched when I was ten. Supposedly, The Video was supposed to cover all the nitty gritty details of sex - but in the end, all I got from it was that girls get their periods every month as long as they don't get pregnant.

Growing up, you wouldn't believe the effect this had on my self-esteem. When I first became sexually active with a partner (around the age of 15 or 16), I barely knew what a guy's penis looked like, let alone my own vagina. At 15, I went on the pill for the first time, and my mom - whom, don't get me wrong, I love to pieces - was annoyed that I hadn't asked for her permission before starting to take birth control.

And here's the real kicker: at 17, when I lost my virginity to my long-time boyfriend, I had to Google how to use a condom. Let's take a brief moment of silence to let that sink in for dramatic effect.

[Insert moment of silence here.]

Now that I've admitted all of that embarrassing information publicly on the web, hopefully you can feel a bit better about your own relationship with sex and your own sexual education growing up. More importantly, I hope you still have questions about sex and your own sexuality, and will never consider yourself "done" learning about how to have a healthy and satisfying sex life.

So, in the spirit of sexual education, today's post is all about five things I wish I learned in sex ed (if I'd had sex ed) that I had to figure out by my own devices. Not only will I be sharing the funny stories of how I learned these things not-quite-by-the-book, but I will also be giving you the scientifically-backed information you need to know (complete with links to external resources!). Consider this post the condensed sex ed course you never knew you needed!

1. That the pill is not the only form of birth control.

I've gone into great detail about my negative experiences with the pill on my blog (click here to read why I quit the pill) but I'll briefly recap for those of you who missed it: when I was 15, I went on hormonal birth control pills, and they pretty much ruined my life. Like, we're talking worsened depression, vaginal infections and - wait for it - dyspareunia (which is pretty much a fancy medicalized term for pain with sex). 

Don't get me wrong: I'm not telling you my horror story with the pill to suggest that there's anything wrong with oral contraceptives. After all, there's a reason why the pill is still so gosh darn popular! For women whose bodies respond well to the birth control, it's easy and convenient with minimal side effects - not to mention cheap. But it's also important to be aware of all your options, especially when you're receiving information about your birth control options for the first time.

Doctors are quick to prescribe the pill to teen girls who want protection against pregnancy, or relief from a slew of other hormonal symptoms ranging from cystic acne to killer cramps. However, there's also the shot, the ring, the patch, the implant and the IUD, among many other hormonal and non-hormonal methods of preventing pregnancy. 

Your takeaway...

Planned Parenthood has a handy page here comparing all the different forms of birth control you can try. You can also take their quiz to help you determine which form of birth control is the best option for you. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't referred to this more than a few times when making a decision about what birth control to go on next. Let's just add this to the laundry list of reasons why girls need Planned Parenthood in their lives!

If I could say one thing to doctors everywhere about hormonal contraception, it would be this: make sure your girls are informed. Give them all the information they need about all of their options, and help them make an educated decision about which birth control method is right for them. Don't just stick them on the pill because it's easy, cheap and convenient when it might not be the best thing for a girl or her body. 

Most importantly, let's allow girls to decide what's best for them and their bodies - not parents, nurses, doctors, church leaders or politicians. #amen

2. That your vagina is a self-cleaning oven.

I'm just going to come out and say it: I like my vagina! For years, I've felt pressure to change my sex organs; to make them into something they're not. But when you're constantly trimming pubic hair, washing your vagina with scented soaps and perfuming them with special sprays, it takes a toll on the healthy bacteria that help keep vaginal infections in check.

As women, I think we feel self-conscious about our vaginas because we're taught that they're "gross." After all, they're wet, sticky, slimy, smelly and, at times, downright disgusting. (If you've ever had a yeast infection, you know what I one wants their discharge compared to cottage cheese, ever!) But all the grooming and fussing about we do to make them less sticky, slimy and smelly isn't doing our vaginal health any good, either! 

Lots of women groom "down there" not for themselves, but for the men and women they're having sex with (whether that's vaginal, oral or any other kind of sex, it's sex just the same). But just remember: whether or not you want to shave, spray or soap up your vagina is your choice, and no one else's. 

Your takeaway...

It's usually best to leave your vagina alone and let it do its thing. Because soaps, sprays and douches can upset the healthy balance of bacteria that live down there, it's best not to use any products that contain irritating ingredients such as glycerin (which yeast love to feed off of) or fragrances. (Side note, but this applies to sexual lubricants, too!) 

If you do feel the need to use soap or other products to keep your vagina clean - which, if you do, is hopefully because you want to and not because your partner wants you to - I recommend using either unscented hypoallergenic soap or a mild cleanser formulated specially by gynecologists. (The Summer's Eve Simply Sensitive wash for sensitive skin is a personal favorite of mine - and while it does contain small amounts of fragrance, it's 100% OB/GYN approved.)

And, last but not least, when it comes to grooming, the big question is often "to shave or not to shave?" Nowadays, it's just as common not to shave as it is to shave (or wax, if that's your thing) - so don't feel pressure to go hairless if that's not your style! However, if you do choose to shave, make sure you use a sharp razor (no rust allowed!), lots of (fragrance-free) shaving cream and, of course, patience.

3. That it's okay to ask questions about sex.

In my parents' defense, I was never told that it wasn't okay to have sex, or that I shouldn't be having sex at a certain age. We just never talked about it, period. I didn't think this had much of an effect on my attitude toward sex until I actually started having it - at which point I realized I knew pretty much nothing about sex, and had never really given much thought to whether or not I thought I was ready for it. 

At one point in high school, I remember pointing out to my mom that she'd never given me "The Talk," to which she replied that she assumed I already knew everything I needed to know. But I can definitely say with some certainty that not talking about sex affected me more than she probably intended it to. Not talking about sex certainly didn't stop me from having it, or from having questions, but it did stop me from feeling like I had a reliable source of answers to all my burning questions about sex.

If I had only asked my mom the answers to questions I wanted to know, she probably would have answered - but at 17, what girl knows that it's okay to have (and ask) your parents questions about sex? At 17, when I lost my virginity, my main concern was hiding from my parents that I was having sex, and my secondary concern was avoiding pregnancy. Finding out answers to questions like "why does this position feel uncomfortable?" or "do I really need to pee every time I have sex?" (short answer to the latter: YES!) just wasn't a priority for me - but looking back, I really wish I'd asked my mom questions like that when I still had the chance. 

Your takeaway....

IMHO, if you talk to your parents openly about sex when you're young - ideally before you actually start having it - you'll reduce the amount of sexual stigma and shame you feel down the line. So, whether you've been having sex for three years or haven't had sex at all, if you have a burning question about sex, I recommend asking the real expert - aka your mom! 

Of course, many of us either don't feel comfortable seeking information from our parents, or know that our parents would disapprove of us having sex in the first place (whether because of religious, political or god-knows-what-kind-of reasons). And I can totally respect that. Sadly, not all of us are lucky enough to have that kind of relationship with our moms and dads.

In that case, I've compiled a handy list of reliable places where I got info about sex, sexuality and everything you could possibly want to know about the two as a teen. You're welcome for saving you from the awkward search history results....
  • Planned Parenthood. Everything you ever wanted to know about birth control, STD prevention and free women's health services in your area.
  • Bedsider.  A free resource aimed at young adults that has answers to all your burning questions about birth control, STDs, sexual pleasure and more.
  • Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski. THIS BOOK SHOULD BE MANDATORY IN SCHOOLS! It's basically Sex Ed 101 for women trying to unlearn sexual shame, stigma or trauma, whether it's because of slut shaming, body confidence, sexual assault or more.
  • OMG Yes. Learn to orgasm a thousand different ways with this Emma Watson-approved owner's manual for your clitoris. (It's a paid resource, but once you buy it, you've got access for life...and $40 is definitely worth a lifetime of orgasms.)
  • Bellesa.  Bellesa describes itself as "female-friendly HD porn." If you're tired of watching hulking guys pound it into booby blondes, come here for a refreshing dose of fem-centric porn.
  • Cosmo's Sexy Sutra. Because why have sex in boring ol' missionary when you could be doing it a thousand different ways instead?

4. That having more partners does not equal an STI.

STIs are a public health epidemic - and I'm not just being dramatic! So, my question to you is, if the only people getting STDs were the ones with dozens of partners, how come we're still seeing such high rates of transmission in the United States?

Perceived sexual promiscuity and STI contraction are not related. A person can have had sex with over a hundred people - but that's no guarantee that you're going to get an STI from them, just like only having sex with one partner isn't a protection against getting STIs. 

Sure, having sex with fewer partners definitely decreases your risk for STIs. (Not to mention that yes, unfortunately abstinence is the only 100%-effective form of protection against STIs and pregnancy.) But as long as you practice safe sex every single time - no ifs, ands or buts about it - you could have sex with as many people as you wanted with minimal risk of contracting STIs.

Your takeaway...

So, now you know the cold, hard truth about STI transmission, which can only mean one thing: no more slut shaming! Having lots of partners does not necessarily mean a person is carrying an STI - just like having a handful of partners doesn't guarantee that a person is STI-free. 

That being said, it's still important - nay, essential - to understand how STIs spread, and how we can best prevent their transmission. The number one rule to follow? Always, always use a condom (or dental dam)! Click here to check out my personal favorite eco-friendly brand of latex condoms - you're welcome ;) 

If you're still craving more information, Scarleteen has a great article that goes into greater detail about how you can prevent the spread of STIs. Additionally, if you're skeptical or nervous about asking your partner to use a condom, you might want to check out this great read from Cosmo about how to make using condoms way sexier....

....oh, and don't forget this handy guide from the CDC to cutting a latex condom into a dental dam. If you really wanna do humanity a favor, bookmark and send this to everyone you know. (You can thank me later.)

5. That masturbation is normal (and healthy!).

Last but not least comes the taboo no one wants to talk about (ha ha, "comes," get it?): masturbation. We all know that guys do it, and treat it as one of those non-negotiable "boys will be boys" facts - but for some reason, when it comes to women and masturbation, society suddenly goes silent on the topic altogether.

When I discovered masturbation as a teenager, I was ashamed, scared, curious and aroused all at the same time. Like most of you, I wasn't sure if what I was doing was normal, right or unhealthy, or if every girl's body worked the same way as mine. And when I had my first orgasm from it, I remember feeling confused and let down by the odd mixture of pleasure and shame I felt alone in my bedroom.

Back then, I wish someone would have told me that not only is masturbation healthy and normal, but so were all the mixed feelings I was having about it, too! Of course, there should be no shame in women's sexual pleasure - but it's normal and even common to feel the whole range of emotions when it comes to your body, your orgasm and your way of getting off.

Your Takeaway...

The way I see it, masturbation is critical to a healthy and happy sex life. Ideally, young women should start exploring their own bodies long before they're ready to allow a partner near their most intimate parts. Masturbating helps you get a feel for what your turn ons and turn offs are, without the added risks of pregnancy, STIs and your partner's emotions to stress you out. Not to mention, when you know what makes you feel good, it's much easier to show/explain to a partner how they can help you orgasm as well! 

So, let's address the elephant in the room, shall we? How exactly does one masturbate? Every girl's body is different, but there are a few surefire tips and tricks to help you cross the finish line (so to speak). Namely....
  • Get in the mood. First thing's first: don't masturbate when you're sad, stressed, angry or downright exhausted. Your brain is your largest sex organ - so before you get down with yourself, make sure to get yourself in the mood! Whether it's lighting some candles, dimming the lights, cozying up in bed or watching/reading some scandalous pornography, setting the scene for some hot solo sex will help you "frame" your masturbation experience in the kind of contexts that get you going - and, alternatively, avoid stressful situations that can kill the mood in a flash.
  • Find your clitoris. In case you haven't heard, your clitoris is that bean-shaped thing at the top of your vulva (note: vulva, not vagina!). It's home to thousands of teeny nerve endings that, when stimulated, are responsible for that wave of pleasure you feel as you orgasm. There are many ways to stimulate your clit, but for beginners, I recommend staying on top of the clitoral hood (aka that little flap of skin covering the sensitive part of your clit). Of course, some women find that direct stimulation is way too intense, yet others love it hard and fast - so do a little experimentation next time you get some alone time and find out what works best for you! 
  • You've got other body parts, use them! Though most women can only orgasm from clitoral stimulation, masturbating shouldn't be all clitoris, all the time. If it were your partner touching you, you'd want them to show you a little TLC - so why jackhammer out an orgasm when you could take your sweet time exploring instead? Just like when you're having sex with a partner, there are so many fun and interesting places you can touch when having solo sex, too. Try gently caressing your inner thigh, playing with your nipples or any other kind of touch that feels good to you...and once you find what you like, remember it so you can communicate it to your partner later.
  • Invest in a sex toy. After masturbating with your fingers for awhile, you might find yourself getting curious about other ways of getting off (or suffering from a wicked hand cramp). That's a good time to invest in your first vibe! You can head to any local sex shop if you feel comfortable - or buy online from somewhere like Amazon or Adam & Eve that sells toys in discreet packaging. See below for some personal recommendations:
Finally, it's important to remember that orgasm should never be the goal during masturbation (or any sexual activity for that matter). In other words, don't go into masturbation looking to "achieve" anything. It's a nice bonus if it happens, but ultimately, your focus should be on feeling good, whether that's by yourself or with a partner (or partners - to each her own!). So, don't stress yourself out over whether or not you think you'll orgasm and instead focus on what feels right to you - that's right, you and you alone! 

What's one thing you wished you learned in sex ed? LMK in the comments below or @haleymarieblog for a like/RT!