By the time they get to about the age of 16, most people begin to realise that the education system is decidedly lacking when it comes to teaching us about our bodies. As far as I remember (many, many moons ago) the extent of my in-school sex education was conducted (a) in the human biology segment of year 8-9, and (b) those god-awful PSHCE lessons when we got to about year 10. You know the ones: girls in the hall, boys in the biggest classroom available, and then there’s a visitor who tells you all how to put a condom on a penis and that “no means no”. Which is great, and all, but not very practical. Of course, some people still need to be reminded about consent, and putting on condoms is almost entirely necessary unless schools and families want pregnant, STI-carrying teenagers roaming around, but condoms and consent isn’t the extent of sex education. I’m not necessarily recommending classroom lessons teaching exactly how to achieve the female orgasm, mind you, or how to anal douche – although both of those things would be extremely necessary sets of information for certain people and they should learn how to do them correctly – but sexual health goes beyond sexual intercourse itself.
Girls in particular are taught shockingly little about their reproductive/sexual organs. All I remember being told by my mother when she gave my sister and I The Talk is that “girls have the hole that the boy’s bits go into”. Which is both horribly reductionist, and demeaning – and not to mention heteronormative, but that’s a whole other conversation for another time – as all it teaches me is that I’m a thing, waiting for something to be put inside of me. I barely remember being taught what my “bits and pieces” were called. It wasn’t several years later, in an entirely unrelated conversation, that I found out that female genitalia had a thing called a “clit”, but I wasn’t told what or where exactly it was.
I’ve achieved my own sex education through a little something I like to call the internet, specifically YouTube and Tumblr. A bit of fanfiction made an appearance somewhere in there, I’m not going to lie to you, but I don’t really want to dwell on it. However, while I would consider myself fairly educated on matters of sexual health, most of this knowledge revolves around sexual intercourse. I know a lot about kink, communication, and boundaries, which has helped shape my views on relationships (romantic, platonic, and everything in between) – but I don’t know a whole lot about my reproductive organs. It was only comparatively recently that I realised which bits the labia actually were, or that breasts contain milk glands that feel alarmingly like cancerous lumps to a clueless 16-year-old.
Even as a slightly less clueless-about-her-own-body 21-year-old, I still don’t know exactly how actually cancerous lumps are supposed to feel. I still don’t fully understand why peeing after sex is so important to preventing UTIs, even though I’ve learnt (from Twitter) that it’s important. I couldn’t tell you what a hysterectomy is, and until I started having issues with my periods the extent of my knowledge about my vagina was that sometimes blood comes out.
This series will explore things that girls really should have really been taught at school; from PCOS and the menstrual cycle, to what getting an abortion actually means in practical terms, and (hopefully) everything in between. It’s disturbing how little the population at large knows about the female body, while we all seem to know way too much about boys’ “bits and pieces” (to quote my mother). We shouldn’t have to resort to dodgy corners of the internet or porn to understand the completely ordinary bodily functions that are going on inside of us.