Life&Style writer Phoebe Geary discusses the stigma around female sexual pleasure
The substandard state of Britain’s sexual education classes can be weighed up by one universal anecdote: awkwardly unrolling a condom onto a banana whilst learning about male ejaculation. It’s safe to say few (if any) teenagers have come away from a sexual health lesson feeling genuinely enlightened about their sexuality, least of all women whose pleasure is often completely excluded from classes. With such an out-dated, obsolete curriculum, sex education classes need to be drastically updated to remove the stigma from female pleasure and encourage sexual positivity amongst teenagers.
With few exceptions, sex education lessons have remained relatively unchanged over the past decade. It’s no secret that most sex education classes still centre around reproduction and pregnancy. The sex we learn about at school – usually penetrative and heterosexual – always culminates in male orgasm. On the other hand, female pleasure is almost entirely absent from the curriculum. Even when addressed, the term ‘clitoris’ is treated as a ‘dirty’ word, arousing juvenile sniggers from teenage boys and embarrassed red faces from girls. While male ejaculation is presented as the necessary conclusion to the neat, linear narrative sex education classes reinforce, female orgasms remain largely shrouded in secrecy, shame and stigma.
This problematic internationalisation contributes to an array of misogynist misconceptions: women who masturbate, orgasm and embrace their sexual agency are branded sluts and whores. In contrast, male masturbation is simply a cultural norm, and the number of sexual partners a man has only seems to enhance, not threaten, his reputation. While society at large is undoubtedly a key contributor to this gender imbalance, it should be a primary role of sex education to actively promote sexual equality and combat the stigma surrounding female pleasure.
Considering this, it’s glaringly obvious that sex education classes are in desperate need of radical modernisation. Thus, it’s no surprise that teenagers, particularly girls, are turning to the internet to educate themselves on their own sexuality. While iconic magazines like Cosmopolitan have developed a long-standing reputation for promoting healthy sex, Teen Vogue’s sex ed section has garnered attention for their positive attitude towards female pleasure and non-heterosexual sex. Over the last decade, the internet has become a bank of knowledge for positive sex education, rupturing open the floodgates and providing information on countless ‘taboo’ topics, ranging from menstrual health to masturbation. Still, in 2019, women should not have to solely rely on Cosmopolitan articles to develop their understanding of sensuality and sexual pleasure – if sex ed classes are part of the curriculum, information on female sexual satisfaction should be readily available in the classroom. The effectiveness of sex education classes in the modern world hinges on its ability to adapt and encourage an open, positive conversation in light of 21st Century issues. The side effects of contraception, the importance of consent and the normalisation of sexual exploration all need to not only be taught but prioritised as key components to your overall sexual wellbeing.
It is no longer enough for students to be taught how to put a condom on a banana and call it a day – more needs to be done to tackle the gender imbalance within sex education lessons. And it’s true that the government is finally making some much-needed changes. As of September 2020, the Department of Education’s new guidance for Relationships and Sex Education will become compulsory and cover key areas such as consent, menstrual health and different types of relationships. Yet there’s still a long way to go and, as the Family Planning Association (FPA) have already pointed out, what’s absent from this new government outline is a positive attitude towards sexual health. We need to be doing more than just teaching students that their sexual desires are normal: they need to be told that being in touch with your sexuality is not only healthy and enjoyable, but most of all empowering. If we want girls to develop into fully autonomous adults, sexual education classes need to radically rectify their attitude towards sex and work to embrace, rather than stigmatise, female sexuality.