When most of us think about the phrase “sex education” our minds probably travel back to health class at school, rolling condoms onto bananas and watching our phys-ed teacher awkwardly labelling anatomical diagrams of genitals on the blackboard. More often than not, sex education is aimed squarely at teenagers. But sex education for adults is just as important. Prior to the internet, there was a limited amount of educational material teaching adults about sex. There were a handful of books (which probably weren’t stocked at the public library or local bookstores), a few in-person classes and regular articles in magazines like Cosmopolitan or GQ (which were often a bit questionable). With the advent of the internet has come a flood of sex education resources for adults, including Youtube channels, websites and podcasts dedicated to teach adults about sex.
In the last few years, with the passing of the SESTA/FOSTA bills in the US, a lot of websites have begun limiting content that talks about sex in any capacity. A lot of sex education resources have suffered dramatic setbacks due to these limitations, and many sex educators have moved away from their calling because it’s becoming too difficult to offer any sexual material online. This is really alarming because sex education for adults is vital, and today I want to outline some of the reasons why adults need access to sex education just as much as teenagers.
To fill the gaps in our early sex education
Let’s be honest, most of us did not have the most stellar sex education at school. My Mum once told me that her catholic school sex education class consisted of a nun explaining sexual intercourse, and then lecturing them on all the reasons why they shouldn’t do it. By the time I got to school, things had improved somewhat but there were still massive gaps in my sexual knowledge. My sex ed classes covered puberty, intercourse, conception, the risks of sex (including STIs and unplanned pregnancy) and how to put a condom on a banana. I did not learn one single thing about non-barrier birth control methods, sexual pleasure, masturbation or any sex act that didn’t involve a penis going into a vagina.
When I actually began having sex, there was so much I didn’t know. I remember feeling so sheepish when I realised that I had no idea how birth control pills actually worked, despite having been on them for seven years. I knew absolutely nothing about queer sex, which was deeply confronting when I started dating women. I knew how to put on a condom, but had no idea how to communicate my wants and needs with a sexual partner, or how to figure out what I wanted and needed in the first place!
A lot of us leave school with some pretty seismic gaps in our sexual knowledge. It’s really important that we have access to reliable sources to help fill those gaps and answer questions when they arise. Knowledge is power, and the more we know about sexual health and desires, the better equipped we are to have safe, fulfilling sex lives.
To support ever-evolving sexuality
Sexuality doesn’t remain static throughout our lifetime. It changes and shifts depending on different stages of life, health issues, social environment and a huge number of other factors. Our understanding of our sexuality evolves as we age and learn more about ourselves. As teens a person may assume they’re heterosexual, only to realise down the track that that’s not the case. Our gender identity and expression may alter as we grow. Adults need access to educational resources to help navigate these changes if they arise.
Further to that, although most school-based sex education will deal with puberty, few discuss life stages that lie beyond this. As we age we’re likely to experience physical and hormonal shifts that accompany pregnancy, menopause, acquired disability or chronic illness and just generally getting older. Adult sex education is vital to help people to understand these changes and feel empowered and supported as they move through them. Sexuality doesn’t end at adolescence, and we need resources that discuss all stages of life to help us navigate those shifts in our sexuality as we age.
To reduce stigma
There’s a very pervasive idea that we are at our most sexual when we’re teenagers, and our sex lives decline rapidly after our early 30’s. And that simply isn’t true. There’s a huge amount of stigma surrounding sexuality in older people, even though loads of people continue to have active and exciting sex lives right into old age. When older sex educators publish content about enjoying sex at every age, it can inspire and empower people to think differently about their own sexuality. Knowledge and representation reduces shame and encourages people to try new things. It is also a huge help for people who are reconnecting with their sexuality at an older age to be able to access educational content that is aimed at them.
To introduce new technology
Medical technology is constantly changing, and the information we learned in high school sex-ed may no longer be relevant. For example, since I left high school the Nuva Ring, The Depo Provera shot and the birth control patch have all become available. These three birth control methods didn’t even exist when I was at school, and when I came off the pill I was shocked to discover that there were so many alternatives available. PrEP didn’t exist when I was learning about HIV at school. If I hadn’t had access to additional sex education as an adult, I wouldn’t have know about all these new advances and options. We’re constantly learning new things about the human body and sexuality, and we all need access to reliable information to update our knowledge on these topics.
Adult sex education is so important, because our sexuality and bodies are constantly evolving. Medicine, the sex toy industry, definitions of gender and sexuality are also shifting and advancing with every passing year. Everyone needs access to educational information to enable them to understand and explore their sexuality safety and with confidence. I am so passionate about adult sex education to help break down shame and stigmas, and to encourage curiosity about sexuality. The more we know, the better we are at pursuing the sex lives that are most fulfilling, and being able to do so in a way that protects ourselves and our partners from harm. Adult sex education is incredibly important, for all these reasons and more.
I agree with you completely, and have posted on this before, though not so eloquently or comprehensively. I wish sex Ed was more complete, more inclusive, and required not just in HS but also uni, and delivered in a format that allows for honest and open communication—probably not a room of your teen peers.