Sex ed can be really different depending on where you go to school — from state to state, country to country, and in public vs. private schools.
We asked the BuzzFeed Community to tell us what kind of sex ed they got, and we heard from hundreds of people from all over the world.
Of course, no individual experience should be taken to represent a whole state, province, country, religion, or culture. But here are some of the things readers shared with us about their sex-ed classes: the good, the bad, and the nonexistent.
1. “It was done in a very secretive manner, as if it were a meeting of Dumbledore’s army.”
“We learned about periods in middle school (only for girls). It was a workshop in the closed school hall done by a popular sanitary-pad company, not an effort by the school — they gave us their brand’s pads at the end. It was done in a very secretive manner, as if it were a meeting of Dumbledore’s army. No one spoke a single word. We were just shown a short film about what causes periods and the myths associated with menstruation.
Everyone talked in hushed voices with their eyes down after it was over. We were warned strictly that we couldn’t talk about what happened once we were out of the hall (especially to the boys) and were asked to hide those pads given to us in our bags (which we had been asked to bring with us to the hall). There is a huge stigma in India with menstruation and sex.”
—Apoorva, 18, India
2. “That purple dildo in the hand of a 59-year-old female teacher still gives me nightmares.”
“The biggest thing we learned about was how to use protection. That purple dildo in the hand of a 59-year-old female teacher still gives me nightmares. Consent was a big thing too; we learned about the different ways to say no. Shame it doesn’t always work.
Same-sex relationships were not something we studied AT ALL. As a lesbian, I have no idea what it’s all about. I know how to not get pregnant, but I don’t know about STIs and all the actual important stuff. On the lines of consent, we were taught that consent only really applies between a man and a woman, which isn’t true. There weren’t really any lessons on that, and when I did actually ask, I was told not to get ‘silly’ ideas into my head.”
—Trixie, 16, United Kingdom
3. “I remember watching a video of hedgehogs mating.”
“For some reason they taught us about some animals mating. I remember watching a video of hedgehogs mating and it was narrated by that British guy, David Attenborough I think. In grade 9 we learned about protection, consent, sexuality. I remember there was a box of dildos our school had in some closet and we learned how to put condoms on them.”
—Anonymous, the Netherlands
4. “We learned about the pH levels of the vagina and semen.”
“I went to an all-girls school, so we definitely weren’t shy to ask questions. They sold pads and tampons in the tuck shop, which you definitely wouldn’t have in a co-ed school. We didn’t learn the kinds of ‘practical’ things you see in the movies (think cucumbers and condoms), but it was definitely thorough. The thing that stands out most to me now is that we learned about the pH levels of the vagina and of semen, which is unusual, but fascinating.
I think because we were learning theory about the mechanics of sex, they weren’t bothered about teaching safe sex for homosexual partners, or the joys of masturbation.”
—Molly, 30, South Africa
6. “We didn’t learn much, except premarital sex = hell.”
“We didn’t learn much, except premarital sex = hell (I went to a convent school). We didn’t learn that the penis actually made contact with the vagina. We were just taught about sperm and eggs, and I remember wondering how they got together.”
—Shaziya, 26, Sri Lanka
7. “I only remember all of the kids in about seventh or eighth grade being stuffed into an auditorium, and being shown horrible pictures of genital warts.”
“I only remember all of the kids in about seventh or eighth grade being stuffed into an auditorium, and being shown horrible pictures of genital warts, and the teachers telling us about weird fetishes and how normal they were. (For example, being turned on by raincoats — try taking that seriously when you’re in seventh grade.)
We didn’t learn that consent is key.”
—Amine, 22, Denmark
8. “Graphic images of STIs … made me feel as though if this ever happened to me, I would be ashamed or disgusted to get help.”
“Abstinence was really pressed onto us girls. I felt like we were being scared away from sex, being shown graphic images of STIs with the whole class shocked in disbelief at an image of genital warts. This made me feel as though if this ever happened to me, I would be ashamed or disgusted to get help or tell my sexual partners, because of the way we were shown such graphic images and made to feel dirty if this ever happened to us.
Sex education or health stopped in year 10, at age 15, which I also think is wrong, as some girls are having sex and some will start having sex. I think I learned most things about sex to an extent, but I think consent needs to be taught more in boys’ and girls’ schools.”
—Anonymous, 17, New Zealand
9. “They showed us videos of abortions so we would be scared.”
“They didn’t talk about sex, and the only thing they taught us was that using contraceptive methods such as a condoms was a sin. Also, they showed us videos of abortions so we would be scared and practice abstinence.”
—Gabriela, 22, Peru
10. “My sex ed was so sex-positive that I think some people — on the asexual spectrum, for example — might have felt pressured to have sex.”
“I had sex ed three times: fifth grade, seventh grade, and ninth grade. I was very pleased with it. It was always co-ed and included the biological and anatomical facts about sex, as well as practical advice for sexual health. It was inclusive of same-sex relationships, although not of other non-normative sexual practices.
Honestly, my sex ed was so sex-positive that I think some people — on the asexual spectrum, for example — might have felt pressured to have sex.”
—Maureen, 20, US (Michigan)
11. “Until I was in my twenties I never knew what a normal, healthy penis looked like.”
“Until I was in my twenties I never knew what a normal, healthy penis looked like. To be honest, I didn’t know what my own vagina looked like until then either. I had never looked, and the photos we were shown in sex ed were of infected body parts.
It ended up instilling a sense of shame about it — that somehow everyone was dirty and ugly there, and no one should talk about it or be too open about it. It took me years to become comfortable in my own body after that, and even longer to be able to relax with my partner and just enjoy being together.
We were not taught about condoms or birth control. There was no mention of any type of sexuality other than straight. We were taught that virginity was a gift, and once it was given away you could never give it to someone again.
I’m a Christian. I actually ended up waiting to have sex until I had dated the man who is now my husband for a long time. We waited until we knew for sure we wanted to get married. We didn’t wait for marriage, but I waited for him.
So when I say that sex ed back then was a joke and a crime, I’m not just a liberal whatever it is people like to call other people. Those adults failed us, and a lot of my classmates ended up pregnant or becoming teenage fathers. I’m sure a lot of them ended up with STIs. And I know a LOT of them ended up like me: very, very confused and ashamed about the whole thing.”
—Sarah, 34, US (Texas)
12. “They never said homophobia was a value, but they preached it a lot.”
“I went to an all-girls Catholic school. We didn’t have explicit sex education. Nobody ever called it that. We learned about the very basics of male and female anatomy in biology courses. We had classes where they would ‘form’ (or shape, if you will) us as humans. The point of these classes was to instill values they considered important, including of course abstinence and homophobia. Well, they never said homophobia was a value, but they preached it a lot.
We had a book that I remember somewhat vaguely, but it touched upon homosexuality as being abnormal and a result of childhood trauma, having absent fathers, or ‘being dressed as a girl when they were little.’ Yep.”
—Anonymous, 21, Ecuador
13. “We were taught lots about menstruation. For like…three years.
“We were taught lots about menstruation. For like…three years. We learned about what safe sex was and the importance of it. We were shown pictures of STIs that are forever scarred into my brain.
We learned nothing about if you were LGBT, nothing about consent. I would say these are huge gaps.”
14. “I learned males and females can be raped and be rapists.”
“We were taught the definition of rape — I learned the ‘cup of tea’ analogy. We also discussed the mental trauma that can stem from it, as well as resources to get help. I learned males and females can be raped and be rapists.
Ultimately, it was stressed that the only way to prevent pregnancy was through abstinence.”
—Drew, 20, US (Pennsylvania)
15. “I remember specifically spending a whole lesson in a class debate about the importance of women’s sexual rights.”
“I attended an all-girls Anglican school and so I was surprised when our teacher said to us: ‘Girls, I’m not here to tell you not to have sex until you’re married — I know that the majority of you will have sex, so I’m here to answer any questions you have about sex.’
Our teacher created a question box. Any questions we had we placed anonymously in the box. It allowed the teachers to dispel any rumors we all thought to be true (apparently balls don’t actually turn blue — shocker) and also engage with real-life examples.
I remember specifically spending a whole lesson in a class debate about the importance of women’s sexual rights. Topics ranged from abortion to ethical issues regarding the Pill to how to deal with sexual advances in the workplace.”
—Natasha, 17, Australia
16. “I didn’t even know there was a pill form of abortion until last year.”
“We learned what STIs were called, and about the Pill and condoms, and the menstrual cycle.
We didn’t learn what an IUD is, that it’s an option, what having an abortion involves (I didn’t even know there was a pill form of abortion until last year), how to deal with things like thrush or yeast infections, UTIs, how to have safe and healthy sex with someone of the same sex, about people who are intersex, etc.”
—Sophie, 18, Ireland
17. “We got lanyards that said ‘Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder.’”
“They basically told us to not have sex, showed us pictures of STIs to scare the shit out of us, and made us sign a contract to remain abstinent. Then we got lanyards that said ‘Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder.’
As a health/sex educator now, I do the opposite and talk about sex positivity. It’s important to show that it’s okay to have sex and that it’s okay to not. Whether you are having sex or not, discussing healthy communication and consent is such an important first step. Then from there, I think people just need to know how to have fun, safe sex (which means talking about protection, forms of birth control, STIs, anatomy, so on and so forth).”
—Jack, 26, US (Arizona)
18. “They talked a bit about pronouns.”
“I learned the basic anatomy of both females and males. We learned briefly about STIs, and the school gave us free condoms. We even had an organization called Skeiv Ungdom (which roughly translates to ‘gay youth’), and they talked a bit about pronouns and that they had a camp each summer where gay teenagers could hang out.
But we learned little to nothing about sex! Not how long it normally lasts, that you physically NEED foreplay, the different bases, that you should pee after sex, that your vagina can look different, different kinds of birth control. And we basically didn’t learn shit about gay sex.”
—Reign, 16, Norway
19. “Sending nudes, social media.”
“We learned about attraction, sending nudes, social media, sexualizing, menstruation (taught to both genders separately), cyber attacks for sexual abuse, sexual abuse (by family members, neighbors, and acquaintances), reproduction (it was vague), love and lust, consent, rape, how to call for help.
We didn’t learn about STIs, homosexuality, LGBT, contraceptives, and other protection methods, or the actual process of reproduction.”
20. “I didn’t learn anything about how safe sex for gay men works.”
“I was taught abstinence was the only sure way to prevent 100% of unwanted pregnancies and STIs. They did not mention anything comprehensive. I learned almost everything (rather inaccurately about some stuff) on the internet. I learned that gay men can’t get pregnant. That is important to know. I mean, duh — but they mostly stressed about pregnancies. Another thing: Get tested for STIs frequently and tell your partners if there is something wrong.
I didn’t learn that sex is a healthy part of life as an adult until I was an adult. I didn’t learn anything about how safe sex for gay men works. They barely cover heterosexual safe sex at all, except abstinence.”
—Brendan, 19, US (Arizona)
21. “I went to a Catholic school, and saying the word ‘sex’ was a sin.”
“We were taught that the best contraceptive method is staying a virgin. I went to a Catholic school, and saying the word ‘sex’ was a sin. Even my health teacher, who was supposed to give us the sex-ed class(es), and who was a DOCTOR, would only talk about syphilis and HIV. And the contraceptive class… Ugh. The Pill is not a form of abortion, clearly, and neither is the morning-after pill. But for them it was. Which is not only stupid, but NOT TRUE, so basically they were lying to our faces.
I wish they had taught that sex and love go together. They would refer to it as an impulse, but they would never talk about the nice part. I lost my V-card when I was 17 (and yeah, I was still at that school), but I didn’t do it until I was completely sure I was in love and with the right person. I still am, by the way, and I don’t regret it at all. I think I’m mature enough to know what I’m doing.”
—Ana, 19, Argentina
22. “It was just anatomy and science. That doesn’t help you in the real world.”
“We just learned the anatomy of male and female reproductive parts, menstruation, and how a child is conceived. The X and Y chromosomes and stuff.
We didn’t learn any of the real things: STIs, protection, consent. It was just anatomy and science. That doesn’t help you in the real world having sex.”
—Ritika, 22, Nepal
23. “We didn’t learn that discussing things about sex IS healthy.”
“We were taught that sex is a taboo and should only be discussed when two adults are married or engaged. Sex is against God’s will and should just be done for the sake of procreation. People who engage in sexual intercourse at a young age or out of wedlock are either sluts or perverts. Sex shouldn’t be discussed freely because it will make kids more curious to ‘experiment.’
We didn’t learn that discussing things about sex IS healthy. Engaging in conversations about it makes it easier and more comfortable to understand why people place too much or too little significance on it. People have different reasons why they engage in sexual intercourse.”
—Anonymous, 24, Philippines
24. “We were supposed to learn how to put a condom on a banana, but I must have been out that day.”
“I remember we were supposed to learn how to put a condom on a banana in eighth grade, but I must have been out that day. I still feel that I missed out.”
—Anonymous, 40, US (Georgia)
25. “When their bodies are entwined, coitus occurs, and the swimmer (she refused to call it sperm) enters the woman.”
“We had the ‘school doctor,’ who looked ridiculously sweaty and nervous, talk to a small group of 11th-graders (all biology students, FYI) about how ‘when a man and woman love each other they lay together. When their bodies are entwined, coitus occurs, and the swimmer (she refused to call it sperm) enters the woman and then fuses with a woman’s ‘yellow body’ (the ovum) and then fertilization happens, and in nine months you have a baby. (All this was said while violently rocking in her chair.)
We didn’t learn about contraception, STIs, basically everything that is relevant.”
—Anonymous, 21, United Arab Emirates
26. “Sex education in our school was a priority, which is quite surprising because I am in a private Islamic school.”
“I’m still in school and in my final year. Sex education in our school was a priority, which is quite surprising because I am in an private Islamic school, which is run by a strict Islamic council. We’ve been taught about abstinence, birth control, the risks of unprotected sex, and consent.
We haven’t learned about the fact that there are different kinds of sexualities and people. There hasn’t been a mention of the LGBT community — it’s in fact treated as an unmentionable.”
—Salmaa, 16, Zambia
27. “I was homeschooled … I wish my mom would’ve taught me that sex was my choice.”
“I was homeschooled and grew up in a very Christian home. There was no sex ed. I didn’t even know sex existed until around age 14. When I asked my mom about it at that age, she told me I’d learn about it when I was a grown-up.
I wish my mom would’ve told me that sex was my choice. My first and second boyfriends broke up with me because I wasn’t comfortable doing physical things with them. Since then, I’ve always felt like I owe my partners something. I’ve done things that I didn’t want to do, and I wish my mom had just taken the time to teach me my worth instead of trying to hide me from the world.”
—Hannah, 20, US (Texas)
28. “We were never told about consent because the school just assumed that we would only have sex inside marriages.”
“I went to a super-conservative Catholic school in super-conservative rural Perthshire, so all we learned about was periods and puberty. We were split into boys and girls, and the girls had to have talks on the fact that men get erections, which really freaked us out considering our background.
We weren’t even told that sex existed. We were not allowed to learn about contraception or safe sex or any form of relationship that was not heterosexual. We were never told about consent because the school just assumed that we would only have sex inside marriages.”
29. “I thought that it was simple: Just put that thing onto that thing and keep it there.”
“They taught basically everything — the period, how babies are made, and also how the pregnancy goes, step by step.
What didn’t we learn? Kamasutra, IDK. Also how to ~actually~ do it. I thought that it was simple: Just put that thing onto that thing and keep it there.”
—Sophia, 18, Mexico
30. “It was a really nice class — everything went so naturally, and I was almost not ashamed!”
“I studied in private schools my whole life, so I really don’t know what sex education is like in public schools in Brazil. But I remember having my first contact with sex education when I was 10 or 11. The science teacher started asking us about what we already knew about sex, then she explained what it was and gave us some books. Each one of these books had a different way to explain all these things, and some of them were really creative!
After this, we wrote some questions that were still remaining on some pieces of paper and put them in a box. The teacher picked some and answered our questions. It was a really nice class — everything went so naturally, and I was almost not ashamed!
When I was 13 I had another class, but it was more focused on anatomy. I didn’t have any class teaching me how to put a condom on a banana or something like that. I think we had something like this in our books in high school.
One thing that should receive more attention is the issue of consent.”
—Marina, 22, Brazil
31. “I remember a lot of girls on their periods jumping into swimming pools.”
“I remember a lot of girls on their periods jumping into swimming pools and very detailed visuals of what vaginas and penises looked like anatomically. At one point, we had to watch a vaginal birth.
I went to a Catholic school, so we didn’t learn about contraception. No morning-after pill, no condoms on vegetables, no nothing. We weren’t taught about the ups and downs of using contraception, consent, masturbation, understanding your own body, the hypersexualization of society, and particularly girls at a young age, the problem of internet porn, sex for pleasure, or anything involving the LGBT community and the kind of relationships they had.
This is all VITAL in today’s society. The more isolated you are from it, the more likely I think you are to get into a bad situation.”
—Niamh, 20, United Kingdom
32. “We had a writing-skill grade for the anatomy of the penis.”
“The boys and the girls were separated and talked about the stuff we were concerned about. We learned every anatomic thing, but also about safer sex and the whole range of sexuality. The thing I remember the most is that we had a writing-skill grade for the anatomy of the penis.
We didn’t learn so much about abuse, or what to do if someone comes too near.”
—Martina, 22, Switzerland
33. “I had a teacher who taught us how important the clitoris was … but our principal pretty much told us to forget it.”
“We were taught the basics on human body, what is the vagina and the penis, some of the most popular STIs, how to put on a condom, how babies are made, and just pretty much that. Once I had a teacher who taught us how important the clitoris was because it was only for pleasure, but our principal pretty much told us to forget it and only have sex after marriage. Or never.”
—Giulia, 18, Brazil
34. “Wear a condom, abstinence is effective, don’t get STIs.”
“We learned: wear a condom, abstinence is effective, don’t get STIs.
We didn’t learn: how to get condoms, how to put on a condom, where to get the Pill, what the Pill does to your body, how horrible pregnancy, labor, and birth are, and that sex before marriage is okay.”
—Megan, 17, South Africa
35. “What about actually acknowledging that there is more to sex than physical intercourse between a man and a woman?”
“I went to a Catholic school, and just once a woman came to give us a one-hour sex talk over three consecutive days. The first day she emphasized the difference between friendship and love (insisting on not having sex with anyone just because we were in love… WTF?). The second day she explained the male and female reproductive organs and gave us extensive info about the period. The last day she tiptoed around sexual intercourse (heterosexual, of course).
What about the differences between sex and gender? What about contraceptive methods and techniques to use them? What about actually acknowledging that there is more to sex than physical intercourse between a man and a woman?”
—Lidia, 22, Spain
36. “Because of school sex-ed classes, I’m an expert on how exactly straight people have sex.”
“In fifth grade we had ‘know your body.’ We did basic anatomy, and then the girls and guys split off. I don’t know what the guys did, but we learned about our periods. In eighth grade we had real sex ed — condom demonstrations, STIs, consent, etc.
Because of school sex-ed classes, I’m an expert on how exactly straight people have sex. I’ve had to learn almost everything else for myself. (Thank you, internet.)”
—Callie, 16, US (Massachusetts)
37. “Basically, we only learned about the reproductive system.”
“Basically, we only learned about the reproductive system. They barely touched the subject of sex, if at all. It’s a shame that people here have so many misconceptions about sex and sex education.
I think everyone needs to understand the concept of consent, respect, and boundaries. People need to know about sexual abuse. Communication in sex is important. Also, we need to have realistic expectations of sex. We shouldn’t base sex on porn or erotica.”
—Patricia, 18, Indonesia
38. “The basic source of info for me and my friends was the holy internet.”
“LOL, we had no sex-ed classes. In fact, the topic was avoided and was only studied by students who took bio as a compulsory subject for their GCSEs. The teacher skipped the chapters about reproduction, STIs and all. It was considered a social taboo.
The basic source of info for me and my friends was the holy internet.”
—Anonymous, 14, Pakistan
39. “I feel that I had the best sex education in the world.”
“I went to a religious school (Protestant), but it was of the flexible and conscious type. We talked about sex very often, and you could ask teachers about measures to prevent pregnancy or STIs. Abstinence was always recommended to us, but they knew that not everyone was going to do it, so condoms and family planning were common in counseling.
I feel we were very lucky children: Sadly, not everyone in the country has access to such rich content and education. Many do not know the consequences of sex because they were not taught. Many of the girls who marry young do not know how to avoid a pregnancy at their age (usually between 14 and 18). There are few schools that talk about the issue openly because the Catholic church has a lot of power. I feel that I had the best sex education in the world.
Now I go to a public school and I noticed that the only people who have sex education are those who take nursing classes. The others do not — they are only told that sex brings pregnancies.”
—Meralis, 16, Dominican Republic
40. “They knew they couldn’t tell us not to do things, but a big focus was on how to be safe.”
“We learned so much important stuff. The importance of ‘no.’ The importance of life choices, contraceptive methods (this was an all-girls school). Respectful and consensual relationships, responsible drinking and drug use.
They knew they couldn’t tell us not to do things, but a big focus was on how to be safe while doing things — how to take care of a drunk friend, etc.”
—Anonymous, 15, Australia
41. “Sex ed for us at our Christian school was signing a ‘contract’ to say we wouldn’t have sex outside of marriage.”
“Sex ed for us at our Christian school was signing a ‘contract’ to say we wouldn’t have sex outside of marriage. The teacher refused to discuss the matter further, and we weren’t allowed to leave class until we signed our paper. A few of us refused to sign, not because we believed in sex before marriage, but because our decision for or against had nothing to do with anyone else and wasn’t something we were prepared to be forced into.
We weren’t taught about consent. At 16, my boyfriend took advantage of me against my will and made me believe it was his right to do so because I had led him on. I didn’t realize until years later that this was not okay. But if I had been taught about sexual consent at school, I believe I would have had the understanding and confidence to say no and mean it.”
—Anonymous, 24, New Zealand
42. “I think the only thing they taught us was how to put on a condom.”
“I think the only thing they taught us was how to put on a condom.
I think boys should learn everything about a girl’s period — what happens in the body, how it happens. But I think this should start at home first.”
—Anonymous, 24, Uruguay
43. “The teacher wouldn’t even say the word ‘penis.’ This was my senior year.”
“I remember that on the pictures of the human body, they had censored the breasts on the women and the crotch on both. The teacher wouldn’t even say the word ‘penis.’ This was my senior year.
It was simply assumed that no one was having sex. We had extensive purity seminars. One of my friends, who was 17, thought that she could lose her virginity from a tampon. So honestly, learning anything would have been a plus for the students.”
—Katie, US (North Carolina)
44. “That having a baby as a teen would ruin my life, but if I had an abortion I would be emotionally scarred.”
“In middle school I was taught that having a baby as a teen would ruin my life, BUT if I had an abortion I would be emotionally scarred for life and wouldn’t be the same ever again.”
—Nikki, 17, Canada
45. “The only information we were given on STIs were taught by stuffed toy viruses being passed around the classroom.”
“I remember there being a box of replica penises — all skin colors and sizes and a box of condoms. ‘Choose a penis and choose and condom, put it on.’ The only information we were given on STIs were taught by stuffed toy viruses being passed around the classroom. Each toy had a tag and a leaflet, which we were told to read, then pass the toy on to the next student.
We were never told that condoms have a right way to go on, or how to avoid ripping or puncturing them when opening the foil or putting them on.”
—Cathy, 22, England (Leicester)
46. “I got a blue Hershey kiss and I got gonorrhea.”
“The classes were separated by gender. We got ‘ATM’ (abstinence ‘til marriage) cards and we also got different kinds of Hershey kisses that represented diseases or pregnancy. If you got a certain color it meant you had that disease or you were pregnant. (I got a blue Hershey kiss and I got gonorrhea.)
We didn’t learn how to use a condom.”
—Katie, 16, US (North Carolina)
47. “We were all 15 at that point and already knew what sex was.”
“In France, it’s part of a subject called environmental science. We had at least two hours of sex education. The problem is, we were all 15 at that point and already knew what sex was. We mainly spoke about the reproductive system and not how reproduction is done. But they still gave everyone free condoms.
And they didn’t fucking talk about how to put on those condoms, so guess what? One girl got pregnant at 15.”
—Léa, 20, France
48. “I am now a midwife so it obviously made an impact on my life.”
“From age 8 until 16 I had a form of sex ed every year in my public schools. It was tailored to our age, so it started off with puberty and was very realistic about people having sex and being curious about sex from a young age — not just saying that you should not have sex ‘til you’re married. We learned about anatomy and puberty, reproduction and sex, and consent to a small degree, and got answers to questions like ‘Can I get pregnant swallowing cum?’ and ‘Can I get STIs from anal?’
I am now a midwife so it obviously made an impact on my life. I think that honestly more content was needed on consent and what is actually needed for proper consent.”
—Lauren, 27, New Zealand
49. “The people who have penises were taught about that. But the people who have vaginas were taught nothing.”
“I went to a small Christian school. We were told not to kiss, and most definitely nothing even close to actual sex education. The people who have penises were taught about that. But the people who have vaginas were taught nothing.
I learned nothing. I ended up finding out online and on Tumblr. Lucky for me I’m asexual, so I don’t have to worry about that!”
—Ash, 21, US (Georgia)
50. “The emotional aspect was somewhat neglected.”
“In the last year of high school we got really detailed education about contraception and STIs. However, the emotional aspect was somewhat neglected. Religion class (in my case, Catholic) was more oriented on consent. However, my religion teachers were quite liberal and were motivating us not to do it because of peer pressure, but because we care about someone (and if possible, wait until marriage).
Gay sex was not discussed either in biology or religion classes. When asked, my religion teacher only explained that the Catholic Church doesn’t support that type of relationship, but that the same rules are there for everyone (do it because you want it, not because you are forced).”
—Anonymous, 30, Croatia
51. “The drawings of sexual organs were not very accurate or clear, which led to me being unable to identify my clitoris until I was 17 or 18.”
“It was mainly focused on the biological aspect, reproduction, and (the prevention of) STIs. We were also taught about birth control methods, but I know now that I learned a lot of fake facts on emergency contraception (which was talked about as a solution after ‘a mistake’).
I didn’t learn about consent, about the emotional part of sex, and about celebrating and enjoying your sexuality in whatever way you want to. I also didn’t learn about non-straight sex, and we definitely didn’t learn about people who fall outside the binary. We were basically only taught about the ‘regular’ vanilla sex and nothing else. So we were left with many questions. Also, the drawings of sexual organs were not very accurate or clear, which led to me being unable to identify my clitoris until I was 17 or 18.”
—Clara, 23, Belgium
52. “We were taught that women on their period are a pain in the ass.”
“We were taught: 1) That women on their period are a pain in the ass (the male teacher said this to all the boys in the classroom and completely ignored the girls). 2) That there are free condoms at every UMO (youth guidance center), but we never talked about female contraception. 3) That porn is bad; you should never watch porn.”
—Saga, 17, Sweden
53. “Don’t ruin 60 years of your life for six minutes of fun.”
“I remember back in the eighth grade, girls and boys were taken separately into our school’s auditorium. We were taught about contraception, and the man who was teaching the class said, ‘Don’t ruin 60 years of your life for six minutes of fun,’ and to this day, I find it hilarious.
We were also only taught about sex that one time. Nobody would mention sex otherwise.”
54. “We were constantly told contraception (yes, even condoms), abortion, and in-vitro fertilization are grave sins.”
“We had two to three bouts of sex ed throughout the 12-year learning process, with a priest, nun, religion teacher, etc. We learned basic anatomy and boys and girls were split up to talk about periods and…I’m not too sure what the boys discussed. We were constantly told contraception (yes, even condoms), abortion, and in-vitro fertilization are grave sins. So is sex before marriage, being gay, and masturbation.
The scary part is that due to the changes in government (right-wing party taking over), now it’s even worse and going downhill. Thank god for the internet.”
—Pikkah, 19, Poland
55. “I teach it now.”
“I teach it now, at a public elementary (K–8) school that is part of the Toronto District School Board. The province controls education and introduced a new elementary health curriculum (that included new sexual health guidelines) in September 2015. This curriculum is fairly progressive. Obviously there are still many areas where we could improve.
Consent is explicitly taught as part of our sexual health curriculum. We also start early outside of health class by using the word ‘consent’ when helping very young (kindergarten and up) children navigate social situations (‘Did you ask for her consent before you pulled that toy out of her hands?’). This way they understand what consent means BEFORE they hit puberty.
We talk about gender and sexual orientation as being on a spectrum. I try make sure that my students understand that all parts of those spectrums are ‘normal.’ In addition, our social studies curriculum requires us to teach about LGBT families, and we use learning materials that include representations of LGBT people. If I support a gay kid and their bigot parent gets mad, I will be protected by my principal, board, and union. The school staff I know are all very supportive of LGBT rights. I’m not sure if this is true of other boards in small towns, though.
Obviously we teach about puberty, STI prevention, birth control, anatomy, and the science of sexuality. I cannot fathom how any respectable education system would not teach these basics.”
—Elizabeth, 38, Canada (Ontario)
56. “We didn’t learn that sex is not just penetration, it’s way more complex.”
“We learned about condoms and other contraceptive methods. We didn’t learn that sex is not just penetration, it’s way more complex.”
—Kevin, 26, El Salvador
57. “We were taught the basics.”
“We were taught the basics on anatomy and general information on STIs. We weren’t taught about the importance of consent and the fact that being gay is okay.”
—Kate, 17, Greece
58. “They offered a ‘health’ class, but since I took a cooking class I didn’t have to take it.”
“They offered a ‘health’ class, but since I took a cooking class I didn’t have to take it. At the time it wasn’t a big deal since I had decided I wanted to wait until marriage to have sex. Now, however, I’m in a serious committed relationship (going on four years), and even though we only fool around, I feel like there are things I don’t know.”
—Brittany, 22, US (Indiana)
59. “We had to know the different STI signs and how they are curable (or if they weren’t).”
“We had to know the different STI signs and how they are curable (or if they weren’t); the different forms of contraception — pills, condoms, and so on; how you put on a condom; exactly what happens when the sperm goes in the vagina, from entering and getting to the egg; male and female reproductive organs and how they function; the different parts of the reproductive organs.
We HAD to know all of this. I probably forgot something. I was 13.”
—Mariell, 19, Sweden
60. “It was entirely explained by the teacher without using the words ‘sex,’ ‘penis,’ or ‘vagina.’”
“It was entirely explained by the teacher without using the words ‘sex,’ ‘penis,’ or ‘vagina.’ I don’t even know how.
What we weren’t taught: Sex is not something disgraceful. If it were, marriage shouldn’t make it suddenly okay.”
—Akash, United Arab Emirates
61. “Our education was too focused on abstinence.”
“We learned about the female and male reproductive systems, and protection measures: condoms, pills, etc. We didn’t learn about sexual consent. Our education was too focused on abstinence.”
—K, 24, Malaysia
62. “We were told to chew up Cheetos and spit them in a cup of water, and then were asked if we would want to drink someone else’s cup.”
“We had no actual explanations of how sex worked or how pregnancy happens. We were told to chew up Cheetos and spit them in a cup of water, and then were asked if we would want to drink someone else’s cup. Of course everyone said no.
That’s when they explained that you were the Cheeto in others’ eyes if you had sex before marriage. This is not a joke.”
—Anonymous, 26, US (Indiana)
63. “The chewed-gum analogy.”
“I attended a small charter school for eighth grade, where there was one ‘talk’ with all the female students and the male school owner about abstinence (he mentioned the chewed-gum analogy). They also had a Christian performance group visit for a school assembly, which compared dance partners with sexual partners.
This group promoted waiting until marriage, and afterwards admitted they were all married (and that they were between 17 and 20 years old). I rejoined the town’s regular public school system after that.”
—Anonymous, US (Arizona)
64. “Tear off pieces of a rose to represent losing pieces of yourself to sex.”
“I took sex ed my sophomore year. We spent around three days on abstinence. We did a lot of activities like the rose effect (tear off pieces of a rose to represent losing pieces of yourself to sex) and the blanket game (cram as many people into a blanket as possible to show how having sex with a person is like having sex with everyone they’ve had sex with).”
—Maddie, 18, US (Pennsylvania)
65. “Your virginity was compared to a nice hot pizza.”
“What I remember most about my sex education was the pizza analogy. Essentially, your virginity was compared to a nice hot pizza, and having sexual contact with other people allowed them to eat slices of your pizza. At the end of the pizza story, our teacher would always remark, ‘Now, do you want to give your future husband a nice hot, complete pizza? Or, would you rather give him a cold pizza with slices missing?’”
—Anonymous, US (New Jersey)
66. “One girl who’d already lost her virginity (before most of our peers) started crying and had to leave the room.”
“My county has abstinence-only policies. In the eighth grade, they separated us by gender and a private Christian company came in and gave us ‘the talk.’ I don’t remember talking about contraception, birth control, or the emotional side of becoming intimate, but we did get the pregnancy and AIDS scare tactics. I distinctly remember when they pulled out a chocolate bar and we had to pass it around; at the end, they told us to treat our bodies like the chocolate bar because no one in their right mind would want to eat a chocolate bar that everyone had their hands on. One girl who’d already lost her virginity (before most of our peers) started crying and had to leave the room.
What didn’t we learn? Oh my god, so much! Sex for LGBT kids, what genderqueer and intersex mean, a frank discussion about protection and STIs, etc. I actually was able to deliver a presentation to the school board with a group of peers on introducing comprehensive LGBT policies, especially since Southern states have higher rates of HIV amongst queer men. Of course, good ol’ Virginia has some pretty archaic sex education laws still, so that was a NO.”
—Emma, 17, US (Virginia)
67. “The ‘puppy slideshow.’”
“There’s this slideshow they like to show every health class that’s called the ‘puppy slideshow’ where they show you a couple of slides of dogs and then immediately change the slides to the nastiest of pictures of various types of STIs and after a few slides, there would be another dog slide and it went on for the entire class period. Probably one of the worst days of health class that we have.”
—Caitie, 17, US (Idaho)
68. “I was in an area where religion seeped into our school. (Legal? No, but it happened.)”
“We didn’t have sex ed. At all. I was in an area where religion seeped into our school. (Legal? No, but it happened.) So abstinence-only was the assumption, though we never had any sexual education whatsoever. We also weren’t taught evolution. Go figure.
What should be taught: DEBUNK THAT HYMEN/VIRGINITY NONSENSE, and make it a welcoming and open environment instead of awkward and repressed, so that young adults dealing with raging hormones and confusing bodily changes aren’t fucked up in their twenties still thinking penis-vagina intercourse is the only definition of sex.”
—Jacqueline, 25, US (Ohio)
69. “Abortion is disgusting and it can kill you.”
“I learned two things: 1) to draw penises (by myself). 2) Abortion is disgusting and it can kill you.
What didn’t we learn? Just the basics: that you own a body.”
—Angela, 30, Colombia
70. “Basic but factual info on STIs.”
“We learned about sexual anatomy, different birth control and safe sex methods, how to use a condom, and basic but factual info on STIs. We didn’t learn about masturbation, sex with disabilities, and non-hetero sex.”
—Anonymous, 17, Hong Kong
71. “The thing I remember most vividly is how uncomfortable our teacher was. You could watch him die inside every time a kid raised their hand.”
“I went to an inner-city public school in Seattle. I remember learning a lot about reproductive anatomy but very little about sex, or safe sex practices. We had speakers come in who were very clearly meant to deter us from having sex, but they didn’t outwardly preach abstinence because the state policy required ‘comprehensive sex ed.’ The thing I remember most vividly is how uncomfortable our teacher was the ENTIRE time. You could watch him die inside every time a kid raised their hand.
We didn’t learn ANYTHING about queer people, pregnancy options other than carrying the fetus to term, healthy vs. unhealthy relationships, birth control methods beyond the Pill and the condom. Honestly, I could go on for hours about all the things we didn’t learn in our ‘comprehensive’ sex-education class! My teacher was even so uncomfortable talking about menstruation that he let all the male students leave and go sit out in the hall during that section so they wouldn’t be ‘grossed out.’”
—Harley, 22, US (Washington)
72. “Our teacher basically showed us positions and how we could change them up to make them work for most people.”
“I had sex education from 9th through 11th grade. We learned basically everything about heterosexual sex — from masturbation to oral sex to penetration. Our teacher basically showed us positions and how we could change them up to make them work for most people. We learned about sex toys.
They gave us condoms and flavored ones for each of us (because it’s recommended to use one during oral sex). We also learned about the non-fun stuff, aka STIs. They told us how it appears (or sometimes how it doesn’t) and what to do about it, and they gave us clinic information to get tested if we wanted to. People asked questions and there wasn’t anything weird about it. Basically, we learned everything we needed to.”
—Zoe, 17, Canada
73. “We only had a class on STIs — mostly just HIV.”
“We only had a class on STIs — mostly just HIV and how it’s transmitted — and we just got condoms given out. Now that I’m a peer comprehensive sex educator, I see how bullshit that is.”
—Natalija, 17, Macedonia
74. “Extensive lectures by feminist professionals from Planned Parenthood.”
“The sex ed at my high school was very different from what I expected prior to the experience. I live in an upper-middle-class suburb of Columbus. It’s so Republican it oozes into the waterways and we need special treatment for it. But my mandatory health class during my sophomore year was like something out of a dream.
From extensive lectures (BY! FEMINIST! PROFESSIONALS! FROM! PLANNED! PARENTHOOD!) about STIs and birth control to the effects of recreational drug and alcohol use. Our health class was the most important class offered, in my opinion.
Tragically, rape and its true form wasn’t a topic for our class, and I really think that we as a student body could have utilized that type of dialogue. We also didn’t have any education on female-to-female sexual contact.”
—Anonymous, 17, US (Ohio)
75. “I remember my sex-ed teacher looking me in the eye and telling the entire class that things are not meant to go up the anus.”
“I’m a gay male. I remember my sex-ed teacher looking me in the eye and telling the entire class that things are not meant to go up the anus.
Things do go up the anus. Just please take your time and use lots of lube.”
—Anonymous, US (New Hampshire)
76. “They seemed to be under the impression that if they refused to address sex, no one would try it.”
“I went to a private Christian school that refused to teach sex ed. They had a strict abstinence-only curriculum where the reproductive system was barely even covered in health class once you were a junior.
A girl in my class got pregnant our junior year and was expelled from the school along with the guy that got her pregnant. They seemed to be under the impression that if they refused to address sex, no one would try it.”
—Cecilia, 29, US (Alabama)
77. “They taught us what a pad is and how to use it. To this day I have no idea what the boys were taught.”
“They taught us what a pad is and how to use it. This is the level of ‘sex education’ or anything related we’ve ever received in an educational institution. To this day I have no idea what the boys were taught.
We did not learn what consent is, or the importance of consent, how to practice safe sex, the effects of the changes in our body (just learning that changes happen is not very helpful in the long run), birth control, and so many more things. I’m lucky in the sense that I have the internet, supportive parents, and sisters close in age who are ready to discuss and explain such matters, but not everyone has this luxury.”
—Anonymous, 21, the Maldives
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Responses have been edited for length and clarity.