Want to learn more about sex work and sex education? Read what Gigi has to say here.
What are the benefits of sex education for people?
This is a great question – and one that is difficult to answer only because of the sheer number of benefits that exist. Good sex education is paramount to our understanding of ourselves, our feelings of personal autonomy, to creating strong and long-lasting partnerships, and general well-being. If this feels vague and far-reaching, that’s because it kind of is. Sex education has the power to infiltrate nearly every facet of our lives. Its importance can’t be understated.
But let’s attempt to break some of this down into digestible bites. Namely, that good sex ed: Decreases shame while increasing autonomy, improves self-understanding, and allows us to create strong sexual values.
Understanding sex – which includes what it is, what it isn’t, that it’s natural, that there are ways to have it safely, that being queer is normal, that sex is enjoyable and pleasurable – allows people to make informed, educated choices about their sexuality. When we increase information around sex, we decrease shame around sex. Shame inflicts a ton of damage on our sense of self, so we should aim to reduce it as much as possible.
When we don’t have good sex ed, we aren’t equipped to make good sexual health choices. This means that STIs spread and there are more unplanned pregnancies. Studies consistently show that when teens and young people are equipped with comprehensive sex ed, STI and teen pregnancy rates drop. It has even been shown to delay young people’s first sexual experiences. This is contrary to what Christian fundamentalists want us to think, but it is the truth.
What’s more, good sex ed helps us form strong sexual values. Your sexual values are linked to your personal feelings about what is acceptable and desirable behaviour. We can’t even begin to suss out what our values are if we don’t have sex ed. How can you know what is important to you sexually if you don’t know anything about sex? Each person is unique. We are not a one-size-fits-all bunch. We all want and need different things from sex. Creating sexual values can help people to develop a roadmap for making decisions about their sexual health and well-being in ways that work for them.
Good sex education aims to rid us of fear-based narratives and begins to focus on our autonomy and sexual pleasure. This education covers everything from exploring consent, masturbation, communicating with partners, how to advocate for your desires and needs, and how to understand and communicate your boundaries. These are all vital in being a sexually healthy and happy human being. Sexual values are vital in enjoying our lives to the fullest extent. Sex is a normal part of human life and should be treated as such.
Through good sex ed, we can create a better, more understanding, more loving world. It may sound like I’m exaggerating, but this is something I truly believe. The misinformation (or lack of information) around sex is dangerous and causes damage. A lack of comprehensive, pleasure-inclusive, sex ed damages society as a whole. It’s time to give comprehensive sex ed the space it deserves. It has immense value to everyone. It is a source of power and self-actualization.
What are some common misconceptions about sexual health and how can we address those?
This is a big question because there are SO many damaging myths that come with the topic of sexual health. We live in a world that is rife with sex negativity – and where there is shame, stigma, and a lack of accurate, science-based information – there will be a lot of myths. For the sake of brevity, let’s stick with my personal top 3:
1. People who have a lot of sexual partners are “dirty”
The more people you have sex with, the more likely your chances are of being exposed to an STI. At least, theoretically, right? This statement is both incorrect and incredibly pejorative.
And let’s be very clear: You are not “dirty” if you have an STI. STIs are a part of life – like the common cold or strep throat. If you’re a sexually active person, STIs might happen. The only reason we use a word like “dirty” is because we live in a puritanical hell hole of a society that demonises sexuality. When we stop shaming sex, we stop shaming STIs. Just a thought.
The idea that ‘the more partners you have, the more likely you are to have an STI’ is missing a key part of the puzzle: People who have a lot of sexual partners are more likely to be aware of their sexual health status – and are more likely to use protection of various kinds.
A fun fact: You’re more likely to get the herpes virus from someone who doesn’t know their status than from someone who is herpes+ and is being properly treated – by a lot, actually. Herpes is just a skin infection and we need to stop acting like it’s a death sentence. It isn’t.
What’s more, here’s a study that shows that having multiple partners can actually increase self-esteem and feelings of sexual fulfilment. It’s about having safer sex, being cautious, getting tested, and having sex that is enjoyable and fulfilling – not your “number”. Enough with the slut-shaming, please.
2. Vibrators are addictive and cause nerve damage
This one always makes me so irritated. It’s incredibly sexist and misogynistic. This is one of the most horrible lies young people hear.
Here is the messaging: You’ll get hooked on your Vibe, making you unable to feel manual pleasure or partnered pleasure or literally any pleasure ever again. This is, of course, rooted in shame culture. Ours is a culture hellbent on slut-shaming women and AFAB (assigned female at birth) folx by telling them a thing that can bring them pleasure, joy, and connection is going to damage their bodies beyond repair. Classic.
Why is this myth perpetuated? It’s actually pretty simple: Vibrators are a tool for sexual autonomy. Sexual autonomy does not jive with patriarchy.
It is within our deep patriarchal roots that we find the need to keep sex and sexual satisfaction penis-focused. It’s this idea that good sex must include a penis. The idea that a woman or person with a clitoris could have orgasms, and even full sexual satisfaction from a sex toy on her own is dangerous. It takes away the core thing that gives men control over us: Our sexuality.
Meanwhile, there is absolutely zero scientific evidence whatsoever to suggest that a vibrator can be addictive or cause nerve damage to the clitoris. Using a vibrator can cause temporary numbness when the nerves are overstimulated. This does not just happen during masturbation.
Here is another example of temporary nerve-related numbness: You know when you’re sitting on your foot and suddenly try to stand up and the foot is “asleep”? This is the same thing. Now, does the feeling come back? Obviously. The same thing happens with a clitoris when it’s exposed to super intense vibration. Not every person will experience numbness in the same way – most people won’t have this experience at all. And zero people will experience long-lasting damage. It’s just nonsense.
Do not let messed-up myths ruin your orgasm and your pleasure. You deserve all the pleasure, in all the ways, all the time. If you experience numbness: Try something new for masturbation for a bit. Try a different kind of toy, use your hands, or even take a break for a few days (if you want). You’re going to be fine. I promise.
3. Porn will teach how to have good sex
Porn is entertainment. It is a movie. Trying to learn about sex by watching porn is like trying to learn how to drive by watching The Fast and The Furious. It’s like trying to learn to cook watching Gordan Ramsey scream at a little chef who burnt a souffle on the tele. Porn has never claimed to be education – yet, it tends to be the way most people learn about sex. Why? Because we don’t have proper comprehensive sex ed.
When we don’t have good sex education, people turn to porn. Who can blame them, really? It’s the only place they can turn. Parents don’t want to teach their kids about sex, teachers aren’t really teaching kids about sex and – BAM – porn becomes default sex education. This leads to people thinking that the low-quality, often-stolen porn depicting various scenes of punish f*cking women, using zero lube, and entirely ignoring the clitoris – is what sex should look like. It’s not good.
About Gigi Engle
Gigi Engle, ACS, CSE, CSC, is an award-winning feminist author, certified sex coach, sexologist, and sex educator. As a brand expert with Lifestyle Condoms, she promotes and teaches about pleasure-based sex education, masturbation, and safer sex practices. Gigi’s work regularly appears in many publications including Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Elle Magazine, Teen Vogue, Glamour and Women’s Health. Her articles have been shared over 50 million times, with her top posts reaching over 150 million shares. In 2019, Gigi was named Journalist of The Year at the Sexual Freedom Awards. Her book, All The F*cking Mistakes: A Guide to Sex, Love, and Life, is available wherever books are sold.