What We Should Have Learned in Sex Education 

By Dr. Heather Sex Tips

If you went to a Catholic all-girls high school as I did, you probably didn’t learn anything about sex and healthy relationships in school or take part in any sexual education classes. And if you had conservative parents as I did, you also likely didn’t learn anything about sex, sexual expression, or reproductive health at home aside from, “don’t have sex and don’t get pregnant.” According to The Guttmacher Institute, only 30 states in the U.S. mandate comprehensive sex education, and of those, only 18 of them require the information taught to be medically accurate. So, this contributes to the wide range of experiences we all have in the U.S. getting an education in sexual health. Although both my high school and my parents believed that they were trying to give me the information that I needed as a young person when it came to human sexuality (which it turns out was no substantial information at all), it caused me to have more questions about my anatomy, bodily functions, and sexual health in the future. This is why I am helping you here and now – by giving you info that should’ve been taught in sex education.

The vagina is self-cleaning.

Contrary to tons of messaging from the media in all forms, the vagina is not some scarily dirty organ. It doesn’t need to be scrubbed and bathed in chemicals. Something you might not learn in sex ed is it doesn’t need any help to get clean. First, I would like to clarify that vagina is the internal genitalia – meaning the canal and not the outer portion of the genitals (that part is the vulva). There is no reason to put anything in the vagina to clean it – so that means no douches, soaps, washes, clothes, hands, water – nothing. In fact, using these products will usually lead to infections because they disrupt the normal function of the vagina. This can lead to problems with sexual intercourse and can subsequently impact healthy relationships. Part of the function of the discharge that comes from the vagina is to help clean the vagina. If there are any concerning smells or vaginal itching or burning, the first course of action should be to cease participation in sexual activity and see a medical provider to help you figure out why these symptoms have developed.

Vulvas are very sensitive.

Something that not all sex education programs will teach you is that the vulva is one of the most sensitive areas of the body. The skin is delicate and tends to get irritated easily. Again, due to the mystery surrounding genitals, we don’t learn much about this in sex education. So be careful and treat the vulva with care. There’s no need to use harsh cleansers or soaps in the area. Additionally, when using things like a personal lubricant, be careful to use one that is formulated for use in intimate areas. This will decrease the chance of vulvar irritation.

There are internal condoms for vagina owners.

Since the sexual education classes I took as a young person were not comprehensive, I had no clue that internal condoms were a thing until way into college. Internal condoms (formally known as female condoms) give vagina owners the ability to use a barrier form of protection during sexual intercourse to prevent Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and pregnancy. Most times, we hear about external condoms (formerly known as male condoms) during sex education as a tool for safe sex, but that means that a person assigned male at birth is the only person who can use them for sexual activities. Knowing that there are multiple options for tools to use for safe sex is empowering. These condoms come in different types of materials (polyurethane, nitrile), which are good to use for those with latex allergies.

Sex is not supposed to hurt.

In most cases, even if your school offered sex education and adolescent health classes, there is not much taught in regards to positive sexual behavior and pleasure during sex. There was likely discussion and lessons about anatomy and preventing STIs and teen pregnancy in sex education programs, but I’d bet that there was little to no discussion on pleasure and how sex should feel. According to a study in BMC Public Health, about 22% of those who identify as women globally report having painful sex. Oftentimes this is never spoken about, even to medical providers. Sex is not supposed to hurt. If it does, it can be a sign of a medical condition and should be evaluated by your medical provider. We are trained to take care of your health, and that includes sexual health. Do not hesitate to have these types of conversations with your healthcare provider.

Consent is sexy

Sex ed should really emphasize that everyone who is participating in intimacy and that takes part in any kind of sexual behavior should want to do it willingly. And that willingness to participate should be established before and during that intimacy. Sex should be fun and should be a time when people get closer to each other. So that’s why consent should always be discussed and received for any type of sex and the fun surrounding it. Ideally, a comprehensive health education would include a discussion on sexual expression and ways of asking and giving consent during sex. It’s also important to know that it is OK to say no to any or all parts of an intimate encounter. It doesn’t make you a prude, and it doesn’t mean that the person or people you’re being intimate with should continue with the plan.


Hopefully, this helped teach you some of the things that were missing in your sex ed in school!

Latthe, P., Latthe, M., Say, L., Gülmezoglu, M., & Khan, K. S. (2006). WHO systematic review of prevalence of chronic pelvic pain: a neglected reproductive health morbidity. BMC public health, 6, 177. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-6-177