The Time Has Cum: Why Female Pleasure Should be Discussed in Sex Ed

/fornicate/

 Source, License. 

Source, License. 

I’m not sure if it’s a result of the fact I’m currently in my first “real” relationship, or a product of my excessive consumption of the TV show Girls, but recently my views surrounding sex have evolved. I’ve finally begun to understand and embrace the importance of sex being pleasurable for all parties involved. This is a stark contrast to 16-year-old me who thought my role in sex was making sure the condom was on then laying down and looking pretty. As a woman who is now well aware of my own sexual agency, I’m embarrassed that for a long time I assumed my male partner’s orgasm was more important than my own, and I’m left pondering how I was so misled. My memory casts back to my grade nine science class, where one very awkward male teacher (don’t worry Mr Skinner, I’m sure you’re a swan now) played a DVD that explained the various reproductive organs in the human body, and how having unprotected sex would ultimately destroy them. There was never any mention of sexual pleasure, the female orgasm or masturbation.

Although the Australian sex education curriculum has undoubtedly advanced since my DVD-based learnings eight years ago, it appears not much has changed in regards to discussions, or rather, the lack thereof, around sexual pleasure. According to a 2016 report by The University of South Australia, sexual pleasure and masturbation remain taboo topics in the Australian sex education curriculum. The report, It is not all about sex: Young people’s views about sexuality and relationships education, surveyed over 2000 students aged between 13 and 16 years from 31 high schools in South Australia and Victoria to understand the way young people view sex education. Their primary finding was that students want a more holistic understanding of the sexual experience, including sexual pleasure. 

“They wanted less repetition of the biological aspects of human sexuality, and more explicit and accurate information about gender diversity, violence in relationships, intimacy, sexual pleasure and love,” the report states. 

Queensland University of Technology lecturer Dr. Anne-Frances Watson, who completed her PhD in adolescent sexuality and sexual education, believes ignoring the discussion of female sexual pleasure in high school sex education programs removes sexual agency. 

“The young women I spoke to for my research largely spoke about their sexual pleasure in terms of something that is done to them or given to them by their partner,” she explains. “The majority of messages that young women receive privilege male pleasure over their own.” 

“This can have long term effects. Many women have never experienced an orgasm until later in life (or never) because they have been told that male pleasure is more important, or that men are more sexual or desirous. This simply isn’t true. Orgasms aren’t the be-all and end-all, but for a lot of people they can be pretty great – so it’s really sad that some people have gone almost their whole lives without experiencing one,” she adds. 

“A key reason we should be discussing pleasure and desire with young people is that when you leave this out of discussions of sex and sexuality, and only focus on the risks or negative outcomes like STIs and pregnancy, young people don’t tend to pay as much attention.” 

Expanding the sex education discussion to include sexual pleasure has the potential to empower women. Although the conservative, contraceptive-focused approach to sex education will argue too much information is too much temptation, the idea that telling teenagers about how pleasurable sex can be may promote unsafe sex, is ungrounded. Dr. Watson explains how placing a focus on pleasure is actually conducive to safe sex, physically and emotionally. “A key reason we should be discussing pleasure and desire with young people is that when you leave this out of discussions of sex and sexuality, and only focus on the risks or negative outcomes like STIs and pregnancy, young people don’t tend to pay as much attention.” 

“They know that sex is supposed to be good and fun, but they are only hearing the bad stuff, so they switch off. This means they are engaging in unsafe sexual practices and is likely a reason that positive STI notifications are particularly high in young people.” 

The idea that teaching pleasure in the sex education curriculum leads to safer sex isn’t just a theoretical hypothesis. Research consistently identifies that countries that have more open and positive attitudes towards sexuality have better sexual health outcomes. According to The Guttmacher Institute’s 2011 review of global sexuality education programs, countries where pleasure and desire are included in a comprehensive sex education curriculum, such as in Sweden and the Netherlands, have lower rates of STIs and young people start having sex at a slightly later age. 

The reality of this story is Australian adolescents are calling out for a deeper understanding of sex, and we should give it to them. While there are many aspects of sex education that need to be addressed, such as gender diversity and LGBTQIA sex, female sexual pleasure is an important one. Talking to young women about sexual pleasure and encouraging them to get to know their own bodies better builds autonomy about why and how they have sex.