Why all young people deserve RSE

For Sexual Health Week 2020 and throughout September, Brook is celebrating the introduction of mandatory RSE in all schools in England. This anonymous blog is from a young person whose lack of relationships and sex education (RSE) at school meant she had to turn to porn for information. She hopes the introduction of mandatory RSE will mean that young people are equipped to navigate consent, pleasure, and healthy relationships.

I attended a Catholic secondary school and I do not remember having any sex and relationships education beyond defining different STIs and their symptoms. I later found out from my younger sisters who attended the same school that I was most likely skipped over for any other RSE (relationships and sex education).

When we were 14/15 the teachers would pick out the girls they thought were most likely to have sex first. These were the girls who were known to attend parties or hang out in particular groups.

They then collected these 2 or 3 girls from each class, put them all in a room, and taught them how to put a condom on a banana! No other girls were given this lesson.

The fact that this was agreed upon as a suitable thing to do still confuses me to this day. The idea that they thought it was ok to assume who would be having sex first, exclude everyone else and pull these girls out in front of everyone is so shocking.

Even if I had been picked for one of these classes, they were so minimal I still would have been completely unprepared for having sex. I was in a long term relationship from a young age so I had my first sexual interactions earlier than most. I remember feeling a lot of pressure to have sex. At the time, I believed that if I was with someone for long enough it was unreasonable for me to keep them waiting.

With a complete lack of sex education, like many young people, I turned to pornography to teach me what I should be doing.

As a result, most of the early sex I had replicated porn and unsurprisingly this was not always an enjoyable experience for me. That’s not to say I only had awful experiences, some of the time I was having pleasurable sex but my attitude towards sex was completely flawed.

My main focus was what I should be doing, what was normal and how I should be pleasing my partner. My pleasure was not a priority.

I thought it was better to act like I was enjoying myself rather than admit I wasn’t. I often felt broken and confused. Asking questions like: Why can’t I cum just through intercourse? Why don’t I enjoy deep-throating? Why is anal so painful? In porn with no lube and preparation it seems to be fine?

All of these questions could have been answered by comprehensive RSE. Without knowing the facts about the reality of sex, I felt flawed.

I believed I was at fault for not getting pleasure out of certain things that seemed normal in pornography.  I did not think it was acceptable for me to ask for what gave me pleasure. I didn’t even take the time to work out what that was. When I eventually spoke to my friends, I realised my experiences were not unique, many had remained silent or acted like they were enjoying themselves during uncomfortable sexual encounters. Some of them had never orgasmed (but had faked an uncountable number of times). One or two of them didn’t know where their clitoris was. I’m not saying that orgasms are the be-all and end-all of sex, I do think it’s about the journey, but an equal interest in each partner’s pleasure should surely be the starting point?!

It took years and a mature partner taking an interest in my pleasure for me to unlearn the mindset that my pleasure was secondary. It was so drilled into me that I was there to perform in a sexual encounter and that my occasional discomfort was to be expected. I am so grateful for the place I am in now but at the same time, I am angry.

I am angry that in a society where we are supposed to want the best for our children’s development and future, we have somehow deprived so many of any help in navigating consent, pleasure or healthy communication.

I hope that with the introduction of mandatory RSE we see more open and honest conversations with teenagers. Let’s arm them with the knowledge of what healthy, respectful relationships and sexual encounters should look like.

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