We all know sex education is horrible in the US. Much of it is abstinence-only, or focuses on STDs over actually having safe sex. It's extremely heteronormative, and consent is not covered nearly as in depth as it should be.
Well, recently, Reddit user Unusual-Double-2003 asked r/AskWomen, "If you had the power to design the sex education curriculum, what do you wish had been taught to the younger version of yourself while in school?" and women had a TON of good answers.
Here are 38 things that the US needs to add to their sex ed curriculum, like, yesterday.
1."Vaginismus. It's extremely common and yet nobody talks about it."
"The first time I had sex was on my wedding night (I have no regrets about this BTW), we used a bunch of lube and still had to stop in the middle because it was painful as hell. For the first one to two months, we couldn't have sex unless we prepared by having me take pain meds beforehand (and again, this is with lube). A lot of times, I had to stop my husband in the middle because it was too painful and I couldn't continue. Luckily, it's gotten somewhat better over time, and I'm finally starting physical therapy soon (which will hopefully help me get rid of this pain for good), but it's been eight months, and it's just such a hard condition for so many reasons — both physical and psychological.
I wish someone had told me, 'Buy a toy that's about the size of a dick, put lube on it, and try to insert it.' I would have known immediately that something was wrong.
Not only this, but I was gaslit by medical professionals. They said to wait one to two months before seeking out physical therapy/more serious solutions. That was a couple of months of unnecessary pain when I already knew that something was wrong.
There were ways I could have discovered and treated this before even getting married. There were ways I could have at least been prepared. But I wasn't."
2."Labia. All genitalia looks different. Circumcised versus non is important to learn (i.e. that one’s not more 'normal' than the other), but NO ONE FUCKING TALKS ABOUT LABIA."
"I’d teach about the different shapes, sizes, colors, and lengths of labia...so that I didn’t have to write my parents a dying note in eighth grade because I thought I was dying of cancer…because my labia minora hung out of my majora, and my friends’ didn’t."
"What labia looked like. I honestly thought I was defective, was disgusting, and would never be loved because of my labia. When I was little, I felt so disgusting that I thought I would never undress in front of anyone ever. I've since learnt I'm normal and beautiful. But I shouldn't have gone through that as a teenager. My self-esteem suffered significantly."
3."Hygiene for private parts for sure."
"Boys need to be taught how to clean their privates, particularly if uncircumcised. Girls need to be taught personal hygiene, how to clean/what to use and what not to use, the PH scale, etc."
"How to clean your vagina. Specifically that using soap is a bad thing and that you should always pee after sex."
4."That STDs/STIs are common and that they don't make anyone 'dirty.' I believe accepting this, in turn, helps avoid contagion, as the whole stigma around diseases and infections is what prevents people from even talking about it."
5."That yeast infections and bacterial vaginal infections exist. That you don't necessarily have an STD if you develop some symptoms."
6."The vagina is not where we pee from."
"Women have three holes down there."
"In the US, better education of the anatomy of the vaginal area. I'm American myself, and it didn't hit me until many of my European friends asked me why so many Americans think everything in that private area is 'vagina' LOL."
7."Discharge is a thing, and I was not just peeing my pants starting at age 13. I will say maybe they did mention it, but the man who taught me about my body and puberty doubtfully said, 'You might think it’s pee because it happens to you every day for a year leading up to your first period, and then as you grow older, it lessens.'"
"More about all the random types of discharge you’ll get, that period blood isn’t always bright red or can be cola brown and different textures would have made my early teens way less stressful."
8."I had a pretty good sex education, especially considering I live in the south, but there’s still some things I wish I was taught. One of them would be that discharge bleaching black underwear is normal. I was so confused why my underwear was bleached for the longest time, and I was too embarrassed to ask anyone about it."
9."Birth control doesn’t work when you’re on antibiotics."
10."That Plan B doesn't work if you're ovulating... I could saved that $40 apparently."
"And most are less effective if you weigh more than 165 lbs. Different brands have different weight thresholds, I believe, but people should at least know that it is something to think about."
11."Transgender people. I would've loved to have learned about transgender people more because, maybe then, my teenage years wouldn't have been miserable."
"When we got to the chapter on pregnancy and prenatal care, for some reason, the teacher brought up a recent news story about a pregnant trans guy and made a comment like, 'If you ever think you can go get a sex change and just be done with being a man or being a woman, you're wrong, your body will still do what it was designed to do, and you'll look gross doing it.' A few of the kids were curious about what exactly a sex change entailed, so the teacher proceeded to explain, in a really ham-fisted way, what being trans meant before showing us a very weird video from the '80s or '90s about 'the transexual phenomenon' or something which included a very graphic portrayal of bottom surgery, alongside some very caricature-esque media portrayals of trans people and drag performers. That, and the ensuing chaotic discussion, was the whole class that day, and maybe nobody else that was there remembers it, but I definitely do, because that was about the time that the boys in my class were starting to have their voices drop and develop facial hair, and I was so terrified about those things happening to me, and confused about why I felt that way and why all my best friends, all girls, were starting to act different around me and weren't treating me like one of them anymore. Idk if that had anything to do with how badly I handled puberty (started wearing hoodies even when it was 90 degrees out and got really quiet when my voice started changing, and became a loner and an absolute weirdo kid) or why I tried to ignore my discomfort and never addressed it until I was in my late 20s, but I'm pretty sure my first impression of trans stuff being 'wow, these people are bonkers, I really hope I'm not like that' didn't exactly help me out a ton.
So, honestly, I wish we'd just gotten any education about gender that was better than that."
"Queer sexuality and gender identity in general would be so amazingly helpful to so many people. Just letting people know it’s okay to not fit in this one box we assign to everyone."
12."Do they talk about gay sex at all? If not, that needs to be talked about. Everybody needs to be taught about safe sex. Not just straight people."
"Safe sex for lesbians!!!"
"That sex isn't limited to PIV, that you can get sexual diseases from oral, too, more about non-hetero sexual interaction, and more about consent and pleasure."
13."I by no means know how an adult would even approach the topic, but I kinda wish someone would have said something about masturbation and that it's completely normal."
"Our school brought in an abstinence-only sex educator who basically treated masturbation like a disgusting, shameful thing. Wish we'd gotten someone that treated it like a normal part of a person's sexuality and not a Weirdo Activity for Perverts."
"It’s NORMAL for girls to masturbate, too. It’s not a sin. Would've saved me a menty B in high school. Was convinced I was doomed to hell."
14."Honestly, I've got some pretty weird fetishes, and I wish things like that had been at least briefly covered so I wouldn't have felt such intense shame around them for so long. Everyone's got them, and it took me 20+ years to actually realize I'm not as weird as I thought."
15.But also... "I'd love to have something in the curriculum that demystifies the idea that everyone is having kinky, kinky sex. I used to have a lot of shame about being a 'prude' or 'too vanilla' because I really just want to have sex in a bed, missionary or cowgirl, 95% of the time. Yet, the narrative in media and porn obsessions led me to believe that everyone around me is getting tied up in dungeons. I even had a fellow female friend tell me I'd never be able to keep a guy interested in me if I didn't develop some kinks. Spent a long time trying to impress my partners by sending nudes, putting myself into pretzel shapes, and buying a ridiculous amount of things from online sex shops — some of it was fun, but in all honesty, I would rather have just skipped the horse and pony show and just bumped uglies under the sheets with the lights off."
16.And... "It's OK if you're not having sex/have never had a boyfriend or girlfriend. My school assumed from about age 14 that we were all navigating sexual scenarios, and the way it was discussed made me feel like a loser for never having even kissed anyone. I know it's good to make sure people who are indeed having sex are supported, but that shouldn't be the assumption."
17."That in the end, if you never actually want to, you never actually have to consent. Sex isn't actually a life-sustaining need like food and water is. You don't have to date, you don't have to get married, you never have to have sex, and you never have to have children. You can be truly free and truly happy by yourself with orgasm-inducing toys for those rare occasions you are horny. So glad I figured this out myself before someone could take advantage, but it would have been nice to know along with a bunch of other stuff they left out since their only goal was to demonize sex and dissuade us from having it."
"It needs to be mentioned that having sex with men is not mandatory. You’d think it’s obvious, but so often, marriage to and sex with men is kind of just expected of women. I think it would help a lot of women if we told in sex ed classes that it’s not the only option, it’s not inevitable."
18."It's possible to not be sexually attracted to people (even the ones you have a crush on), to be very rarely sexually attracted to people, and/or only sexually attracted to people only after an established emotional bond or under very specific circumstances. If this is true for you, you may be on the asexual spectrum."
"Also that it's possible to have little to no crushes on people (this would be the aromantic spectrum). Would have definitely found out I was asexual sooner than at 21 years old, and it would have saved me so much adolescent and young adult confusion when I didn't want to have sex with my crushes like most of my peers."
"I didn't understand my sexuality until I was almost 40. I've recently discovered I'm demisexual which is on the ace spectrum. Sure wish I'd known back then that you could be something other than straight, gay, or bi."
19."I wish I had been taught more about consent, especially the fact that it needs to be ENTHUSIASTIC consent (not a 'well, okay, I guess'), [and] that even if you say no in the middle of sex, it’s still a valid no. It’s not leading someone on, you don’t owe anyone any kind of sex, and if you want to say (or yell) 'a no is a no, you’re an asshole, get the fuck out of my house,' then you can and should. Would have saved 14-year-old me a lot of trauma."
"Consent should be ongoing, and people should communicate with and check in with their partners."
"If he or she ever looks like they're uncomfortable, stop and ask about it."
"One consent does not mean a consent to do everything or anything."
"I wish I had been taught that being married isn't consent."
20."PIV [penis-in-vagina sex] should not hurt women, and women should not be expected to endure pain and discomfort just so their partners can get off."
"It’s not our job as women to provide sex to men. They don’t need sex for happiness, and any guy who claims they do is emotionally immature."
21."Sex is meant to be fun for BOTH of you."
"Mutual pleasure. You should be enjoying sex. Not enduring it out of fear that your partner will leave you or go get their 'needs' fulfilled elsewhere. It's not something you give and they take, and it's not something they need so badly they'll die without it as they would die without food or oxygen. You don't owe anyone sex, and they don't owe you sex. (And yes, it's okay to enjoy it for its own sake, rather than for the sake of pleasing your partner, or for making babies.)"
"This is so important. A lot of sexual trauma occurs during encounters that are uncomfortable, but not a crime. That’s difficult for a lot of people because the only script we have for damaging sexual experiences right now is sexual assault.
A lot of girls and women consent to sex they don’t want. Maybe they gave in because they were tired of saying no or felt guilty. Either way, they feel violated afterwards, and we don’t really have a good language in the culture to validate this feeling.
Plenty of men and boys have sex out of feeling that if they don’t, their identity as men will be challenged. They also walk away feeling bad. Usually, they feel empty and disgusted with themselves. Sometimes, they project that on to women."
22."That it's normal for women to have high sex drives, too, and that we have just as much a right as men to act on it."
"My school’s program was so focused on making sure girls didn’t get pressured into sex that it kind of made it seem like women never want sex and only do it for male attention. Great intentions but accidentally stigmatizing."
"I would have liked to be told that sex is also for the girls and not just for guys. I spent my entire late teens/early 20s having sex that made me feel horrible and shameful afterwards because the sex was always centered around them and their pleasure. I used to think I just didn’t like sex and thought I had a low libido because I never wanted to do it and had an aversion to it. It wasn’t until now, at 26 years old with my current partner, that I’ve actually enjoyed sex. He’s so focused on me during the entire thing, he changes things up, he listens to me, he makes it the main point for me to orgasm, he talks to me, and asks me questions about what I like and what I want, and then he does it! It’s all so bare minimum, but it’s like a whole new world. I feel like I’m his partner and we’re mutually trying to make each other have a wonderful experience every time we have sex, which is the way it should be but is not the experience I have had up until this point. Now I feel like I have the highest sex drive imaginable because I don’t feel used by him; I feel respected and loved and like an equal.
I didn’t realize it until recently, but I grew up always viewing sex as being a really shameful thing for women and something that you only did to get pregnant or to please a man, and that if you got pleasure out of it, you were bad for it. I realize how fucked up that is now, but all of the sex education I got growing up seemed to reinforce that idea, and it made it really scary for me to speak up and say no in a lot of sexual situations with men, which then just reinforced all the negative feelings I had about sex and made me feel even ickier after. And my mom never would engage in conversations about sex with me and would actively make me feel bad for even asking questions which just made me feel even more shame for being curious. I’m very lucky to have found someone who helped me realize how great sex can be for me without any shame or anything attached. And I’m proud of myself for taking the time to heal and work on changing my perceptions around female sexuality. But I wish I had been given more empowerment with sex when I was younger so I could have been spared years of having such a terrible, shameful relationship with my own sexuality."
"Yeah, really a focus on women's agency around sex. Not just consent, etc., but that women enjoy sex, can and should seek out pleasure, that sexual relationships should be fulfilling for both partners, that women should vocalize to their partner what they like or want, and the partner should try and continue trying to achieve that until she's satisfied.
And for the love of God, that most women don't orgasm from penetration alone!!! I hate, hate, hate this one — so many sex scenes in the '90s and beyond with both partners orgasming at the same time with just the guy pounding away."
23."My school did a pretty good job, but I wish they had done a whole session about grown people grooming younger people. What are the signs and red flags. How to help a friend who is in this situation. Everything. ... It is pretty common for adult men to prey on young girls, disguising it as being a mentor or adult figure you can trust because most teens have issues with their parents."
24."I wish I was taught more about coercion and sexual assault. Obviously, rape was taught to us and that no one should take advantage of you if you were conscious OR unconscious. But what I wish they taught us also was that sexual assault doesn't have to be violent. It can be coercive and manipulative. And I had the unfortunate case of dealing with both sexual coercion and being taken advantage of by my ex. Please remember that nobody deserves to be forced into sexual situations."
25."How to recognize abusive relationships outside of 'he hits and screams at you.' Financial abuse, inappropriate power dynamics, isolation, forcing you into something sexual when you don't want [to]."
"I wish I were taught more about abusive relationships and how they form, with better examples than 'He beat her.' Abuse is so complicated and cyclical it’d save a lot of people if we knew ahead of time that she could be beating him, or that it’s not always physical. I wish they taught about coercion also."
26."There needs to be a class for girls where they teach you how to reject boys. I'm in my 30s, and I'm shocked into silence when men get aggressive or when they ignore me saying no."
"And one for boys on how to handle rejection without getting aggressive, violent, etc."
27."The ACTUAL risks of pregnancy. Not all the 'beauty of creating life' BS that glosses over tears, incontinence, eclampsia, etc… And the REALITY check of raising children and how much time and money it requires."
"One of the things I think is completely overlooked in most sex education, though, and totally blindsides women is that women are not really taught enough about the health risks and serious complications of pregnancy, and the toll it takes on women's overall health. They primarily focus on healthy pregnancies, but still, millions of women a year suffer from complications and become disabled as a result of their complications. Women need to understand the risks to their own health and know there is a possibility they may not bounce back or be able to return to work after at all. ... Women also need to understand the pregnancy complications that increase with age, for both their child and themselves. So much in the media about older pregnancies made possible with IVF and frozen embryos often overlook the sheer toll it can take on the woman's body to do so at all."
28."The sex education I had long ago never touched on the childfree by choice lifestyle, so it should be included [so that kids] learn there is nothing wrong choosing not to become parents and help them to understand not everyone on this planet will choose to have kids."
"Infertility, too, needs to be normalized to help kids understand there is no shame being infertile, and it is nobody's fault for being infertile."
Also, sometimes it can be very difficult to get and stay pregnant: "All it takes is 457 times to get pregnant and maybe some modern science to keep you pregnant. Spent half my life thinking I would get pregnant every time I had sex only to have issues getting pregnant every time we had sex."
29."You cannot get pregnant every single day of your cycle. Explain when and why. None of this pregnancy fear mongering."
"How a woman’s cycle truly works and types of variation as well as the reasons for those variations. 'You can get pregnant at any given moment in your cycle' is the biggest myth we were all fed. And then the next one being 'You ovulate on/around the 14th day of your cycle.'
It’s actually rather easy to track a woman’s cycle with reasonable accuracy. The sex ed I received made it sound like you could never truly know when you’re ovulating; it can literally even happen on your period (bologna)."
30."People should know about the abortion laws in their state as well as timelines. People need to know that it’s possible to find out you're pregnant many months in, and it could be too late for an abortion."
"That abortion is completely safe and very common, but that runs into the issue of it being restricted or banned in almost half of all US states."
"How to communicate with medical providers and be an advocate for my reproductive and sexual health, and my legal rights as a patient during a pelvic exam. Actually, just legal rights when it comes to invasive examinations of the genitalia would have been nice to know for all students."
31."Can we talk about the menstrual cycle at a younger age??? We didn’t even mention it until I was 12, I think, and I had already had my period since my 9th birthday. I woke up bloody and thought I was dying."
"I wish there was more education surrounding menstruation. I got it when I was 11 years old. [I] had no idea what it was and didn't even know how to use a pad. I didn't know if I should take any medicine and which ones, so I basically suffered through it until my mother noticed."
32."I would have loved to know that periods shouldn't last 20+ days. You shouldn't be shaking so violently with pain and fever that you can't get out of bed or form a cohesive sentence. That nonstop vomiting and diarrhea are not normal. When to see medical professionals/what is abnormal."
"A little bit of cramps is totally normal. But having debilitating pain (that is often dismissed as normal) is often a sign of other conditions. It could be endometriosis, it could be something wrong with your colon, or even a sign of chronic pains like fibromyalgia or other tissue conditions. It might also be that your uterus or your ovaries are twisted.
There are more conditions that can cause strong period pains, but I don’t have all off the top of my head. Those are the ones I encountered during years of misdiagnosis and medical gaslighting.
Sadly, women are often gaslit into thinking that their pain is just 'little cramps' and they are being 'too sensitive' and 'overreacting' even though the pain is way worse then it should be."
33."Your period can be late or you can miss a period for reasons other than pregnancy. My period was late for the first time when I was 12 years old, and I was worried I was pregnant even though I knew how babies were made by then, and it was impossible for me to be pregnant. I can thank my anxiety for that fear."
34."I would start 'sex education' as young as kindergarten stemming from good touch vs. bad touch. I feel as though there is a developmentally appropriate way to teach sex education for every grade in a child’s educational career. Does K–5 need to learn about condoms and STDs? Probably not. But do they need to learn about consent and boundaries and healthy relationships. Absolutely."
35."I think there needs to be several phases of it as kids age up through the education system. Like a lot of other class subjects do as the children developmentally and physiologically grow."
"For kids under 8, we could focus on hygiene, how to properly bathe, social expectations that nudity and especially genitals are to be kept private save a few exceptions such as parents and doctors checking for medical issues, teaching moments, cultural context in which nudity is naturalized and expected. Strangers are not to touch them in those areas without their parents' supervision. Saying that when an adult woman and an adult man love each other a pregnancy may occur should be enough for kids this young to understand babies and such.
For kids about 8–12, I think kids must understand the reproductive system to the details as they will hit puberty. They must be taught pregnancy to the detail, changes they will go through as they become teenagers, introduction to contraception and STIs, extensive lecture on basic respect and consent in all everyday situations but particularly on relationships — not necessarily sexual relationships, just the 'ask before doing anything to another person and respect their answer,' 'even if the person agreed to it before, they have the right to go back on their decision, and you should accept it,' etc. Also, relationships come in many forms, and love isn't restricted to the opposite gender. Love is beautiful even if we do not understand it.
From 13–15, I think it is fair to teach ISTs in details as well as non-transmissible diseases of the genitals: their symptoms and where to go for help if you think you may have it; how to protect yourself and other people; how to take care of your reproductive health; de-stigmatize people living with incurable STIs. Show them how to properly make use of barrier contraception to the detail. They should know exactly how vulnerable or protected from contraception and ISTs they will be, using it properly and incorrectly in every variety of sexual acts. They should know how not to end up in the ER with stuff up their butt. And they must know how to identify rape/sexual assault in their relationships."
36."I think all kids should know about all bodies. (Even if it’s taught separately for the first few years.) Like, periods and menstrual cycles shouldn’t be separate information for girls only. Knowing about wet dreams and morning wood should be normal. Different people have different sex drives, some don’t like sex, some really like sex. Additional information should be added as kids age up: refreshers on the basics, then expanding to birth control options for everyone, different period issues and products. STD information, spotting the signs. I think having a resource library is also a good idea, both online and physically in school. Clearly labeled and easy access."
"The one thing that really got me was the boys had one video to watch, and the girls had another. I understand separating girls and boys to watch the videos to save 'embarrassment,' but I was left with so many questions about what happens to boys, and I've also later experienced male friend or exes getting quiet [and] embarrassed and asking whispered questions about the female body or periods.
I just don't understand why we weren't shown both videos. The more knowledge you know, the further you will go."
"I wish the boys were well and truly educated on our bodies. On menstruation, pregnancy, birth and recovery, pleasure for women, all of it."
37."I'd want boys to be taught healthy porn habits and to understand the difference between fantasy on film vs. real-life sex."
"Also, so many guys do not view women as people, they view them as sexual possibilities, and I'd want that to be addressed."
38.And finally... "Basically anything really in non-textbook terms. What exactly is sex? What’s oral? Anal? My kids have asked me how long it takes. Does it hurt? What does it feel like? How do you know what to do? When do you know to stop or it’s over? They’ve asked me all the questions I wish I could have asked or known to ask. We’ve been talking about sex for a while because I don’t want them to enter the situation unprepared. I wish the stigma would go away. People have sex. It's normal, and I wish it was talked about in a normal way."
What do YOU wish you had learned in sex ed? Let us know in the comments!
Submissions have been edited for length/clarity.