We Barely Know What Sex Is

Penis in vagina sex isn’t the ultimate form of sex. All the other stuff counts too.


Sex education in the UK – well, almost anywhere – is diabolical. It leaves us with hierarchal beliefs around sex which are entirely misogynistic, queerphobic and nonsensical.

A lot of ignorance is passed on from older generations. Older people are always reluctant to embrace the idea of sex education, never mind actually decent sex education, because they believe that if young people start talking about fucking then they will want to fuck. This quite bizarre and controlling fear means that penis in vagina sex is taught as the ultimate. It’s the one that parents really don’t want young people to do. It’s the one that schools warn about because cis girls could get knocked up. The fact is though, that’s just one facet of sex.

Anal sex, giving head, and everything in between often is seen as an alternative sex, or an option building to the “main event” in our discourse. Just the fact we say “anal sex” but rarely ever “vaginal sex” shows that one is counted as an alternative whereas the other is seen as a norm. They’re all valid and we need to break down narrow mindsets around sexual activity.

If doctors ask about sexual history, but people only ever talk about penis in vagina (PiV) sex then that’s going to lead to huge problems. STIs can be passed on by more than just PiV. Furthermore, do men who only get it on with men count as celibate? Does that mean that women who only ever sleep with women count as “virgins”? Wtf is going on? This is the other major creepy thing about how we classify sex. Those who haven’t had PiV are seen as virgins. It’s a gross description. The whole concept is based around the purity of girls before marriage. Can the word “virginity” please die?

PiV is seen as the most intimate act, and the best but this is based on outdated ideals around relationships. It’s exclusive towards queer people and their sex lives. Many people find other acts far more intimate. Not only that, but PiV between cis men and women clearly isn’t all that men think it is when they don’t make women orgasm nearly as often as other women. The concept of orgasms too as an end goal fuels ableism, and turns sex into a weird competitiveness. If you are hung up on your partner’s past numbers and how you measure up then that’s toxic insecurity. You’re going to be awful in bed anyway if you’re only trying to be better than the last bloke.

Lots of people don’t orgasm. Lots don’t want to orgasm but appreciate the journey that goes into it. Hell, orgasms can be painful for some or trigger major anxiety and depression afterward. People don’t deserve to be shamed if they avoid orgasms, particularly through PiV.

Sex can be anything those in the relationship (whether it’s casual or serious) decide it is. Educators need to be more inclusive with language too. Sure, the thought of talking about arse play will make many in the education system want to throw up but how else are young people going to stay safe? Everyone loves to demonise porn – falsely in a lot of cases – but if porn is so bad then why don’t we ever have honest conversations about sex so that people don’t have to rely on it?

We need to talk about different acts and give them the same importance, while emphasising that acts can be casual and that’s okay. Discussing sex toys too has to be prominent in all sex education classes. Too often toys are an afterthought but there has to be a recognition that acts with toys do count, but also please, for fuck’s sake, teach people to wash the damn things. If you wouldn’t eat a meal off a plate that hasn’t been cleaned then why put a used and unwashed dildo inside of you? Same principle, it’s good hygiene and yeah, you can get STIs off them but this is so rarely talked about.

By being more open about sex, so many queer youths in particular will feel included and as though they can have fulfilling sex lives. Queer sex is still talked about with stigma. Young people shouldn’t have to grow up feeling ashamed of their desires. The only thing that matters is consent, in everything else they should be supported to explore who they are. That won’t happen though if we don’t equip young people with the knowledge to be able to safely navigate their own sex lives.

We need better education in schools and we need to talk more. There’s a weird hypersexualisation in society but it only tends to be around prizing one kind of sex which is seen as right. Many people choose not to have PiV. Some queer folx never will. Some ace folx may want to explore sex, but not PiV, and they shouldn’t be made to feel broken or that they’re offering consolation prizes to partners. Trans young people too must be made to feel comfortable with wanting to explore sex, in any and all of its forms.

Hell, if older gens aren’t able to have mature conversations around sex then maybe they shouldn’t be the ones having it or trying to gatekeep younger people. It’s just sex, but the cost of ignorance can be huge.

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