Five ways sex ed failed to prepare me for life


Penelope Wilson

Sex ed in Australia continues to be woefully inadequate.

Sex ed in Australia continues to be woefully inadequate. Photo: Stocksy

This week has had me thinking a lot about sex. More specifically, after the ABC discussion on pornography and the lack of education around porn in schools, I've been reflecting on how much I've had to learn about sex and my reproductive health on my own.

Seemingly simple issues, that you would think I should have a fairly good grasp on by now, I have only just learnt about. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that most of our sexual education growing up in Australia was delivered by a bodiless giraffe. Sorry, Harold, you were great, but you just weren't enough.

The message I left my Melbourne high school education with? Penises go in vaginas and when you do it without protection, you'll make a baby or maybe get an STI. And, yes, I too shuddered beside my fellow classmates as we endured the birthing video played on our portable classroom television.

So here is a list of sexual health issues I wish I had learnt in school.


1. The necessity of consent

Up until a few years ago, the word 'consent' wasn't one that took much stock in the vocabularies of my social circles, but I wish it had. I wish my first serious boyfriend had known the importance of gaining my consent, and I wish I had known it too. I wish he had known that just because I was his girlfriend did not mean he was entitled to my body whenever he wanted. And I wish I had known that too because it would have better equipped me to handle the situations where I did not want to have sex with him, but was lead to believe that it was something I owed him regardless.

2. Thrush is for everyone

I found out last year that men can contract thrush from their sexual partners, harbour the infection - often without symptoms - and pass it back to their partner again and again. All of a sudden it became perfectly clear why I seemed to be suffering from eternal yeast infections during my relationship with that one particular ex boyfriend.

3. Female sexual dysfunctions are real

Recently I disclosed to a new friend that I have a sexual dysfunction. Their response? "I didn't know women could have them". Yeah, neither did I.

I've been struggling with my vaginismus for almost 8 years now and have only just been able to give it a name and understand what is happening to my body during sex. For a long time I just thought that the pain I felt was just how sex was for me, and that I just had to grit my teeth and bare it.

How many years could I have been spared from traumatic sexual experiences had the topic of female sexual dysfunctions been given more weight in my sexual health education? I wonder this all the time.

4. STIs and getting tested

This is my most shameful sexual health secret. I feel as though I should have known this far, far sooner, but only recently was I informed that pap smears do not include screening for STIs. After four pap smears, I assumed my consistently normal results meant I was STI free, when in reality those results would come from a urine and blood test. I couldn't believe my own ignorance on what is such an important health risk, especially for young single 20-something women in the age of tinder dating and casual sex.

5. Anything LGBTI

Literally anything. I learnt most of my information about LGBTI+ issues through the internet, and it's still something I'm building knowledge on daily. I can't even imagine how my classmates who were struggling with their own sexual and gender identities must have felt sitting through such hetero- and cis- normative classes. And when I eventually found myself in a lesbian relationship, it took me a long time to navigate my own place in the LGBTI space.

I think what this all boils down to is that we're not having frank conversations with our children about even the most basic aspects of sexual health and sexuality. This sends ill-informed teenagers blindly into the world of sex, leading to adults and young adults who are now dealing with a wealth of sexual trauma and damage from uninformed decisions they made when they were young.

At least there's hope for us, thanks to social media and the wealth of information you can find on the internet, but schools should still play and important role in preparing their students to engage in safe, respectful sexual experiences, as well as educating them on their own sexual health without stigma.