When we think “sex education”, we tend to picture a class full of awkward teenagers. We don’t image adults sitting in class. Most 20-somethings have a basic understanding of where babies come from; most have already experienced sex with someone else. And yet few adults feel comfortable talking about sex with their partner(s). Sex educator, Kate McCombs knows this all too well. She explains that many of us (adults) don’t know what we want sexually and therefore, don’t know how to communicate our desires.
The purpose of this article is to challenge the notion that sex education stops after adolescence. Kate McCombs highlights that our bodies and sexual desires change throughout life and this requires access to information that can help us navigate those changes. Here she offers four solid reasons why adults need opportunities to expand their sexual knowledge.
Here are her main points:
- Not everyone enters adulthood with the same quality of sex education. And rarely does our national sex ed curriculum adequately prepare us for adult romantic relationships.
- Good communication about sex takes continued learning and practice. It cannot be readily taught in a textbook.
- Let’s halt the expectation that adults must be “experts” at sex. Instead, let’s promote sexual curiosity with willingness to listen and learn.
- Many adults feel alone in what they are experiencing. Accessing informative spaces in which adults can ask personal questions is an important health need.
BY KATE MCCOMBS | KateMcCombs.com
A week does not go by that an adult does not ask me a very basic sex question. I’m delighted to offer an answer – it’s my job – but it does strike me that something is off when otherwise educated people have big gaps in their knowledge about something as nearly-universal as sex.
Adults need sex ed just as much as young people do. Sexual desires, needs, and physical functioning evolve over time and because of this, we humans need information to help us navigate those changes. But how do you learn such things when you’re an adult and you’re not connected to an institution like school to provide the sex ed? I’d like to normalize the idea that adults need opportunities to expand their sexuality knowledge too.
In major cities, many sex positive retailers and organizations offer grown-up sex ed workshops. Here in New York City, we have a number of progressive sex toy stores that offer classes.
But what about communities that don’t have these types of resources? Although there are a growing number of adult sex ed outlets, there is still a gap between the need and the services to meet that need. Here are four reasons we need more grown-up sex ed:
1. If we don’t get the information during school, we need to get it as adults.
As most of us know, sex education for young people – if it happens at all – is rarely adequate at preparing them for their adult romantic lives. If we’re not properly educating youth about sex and relationships, how do we expect them to fare as adults? For some examples of this education gap, take a look at Melissa White’s article where she asked adults what they wish they’d learned in sex ed. Even if people received sex ed in school, it’s unlikely that it included messages about pleasure or healthy relationships.
In-home sex toy parties fill some of the need for pleasure education, but the consultants doing the presentations sometimes know more about selling the products than they do about sex education and communication. While I love teaching about sex toys, I also suspect that many people in need of good sex ed might not feel comfortable in a sex toy retail environment.
2. Communicating about sex can be hard.
Many people struggle with basic questions like, “How do I tell my partner I’m interested in _____?” or, “How do I tell my partner I don’t enjoy ____?”
People in my workshops frequently tell me that they struggle to talk about sex with their partners. They’re sometimes afraid to seem like they don’t know enough or, for some women especially, they worry that they know “too much” (internalized slut-shaming at its finest).
Sometimes the challenge is that they don’t have enough clarity about what they do want, which seriously compromises their ability to communicate their desires. Other times they don’t want to “ruin the moment,” as if talking about sex is somehow anathema to having good sex.
Good communication – about anything emotional and interpersonal – is challenging for many people. It takes learning and practice, as well as vulnerability and empathy. Those things are challenging to teach in an article or a one-off workshop.
3. Adults are often expected to be “sexperts.”
I’ve encountered many folks who believe that part of being an adult is being an expert at sex. Linguistically, we even use the word “adult” as an all-encompassing euphemism for “sexual.” Many of the articles in mainstream magazines reinforce this idea when they talk about “mastering techniques.” There’s an incredible diversity of things people enjoy sexually, and the only way to really know is to ask.
Instead of encouraging people to become “sexperts,” I encourage people to embrace their inner “sex geek.” Being geeky is about being curious, which allows you to acquire proficiency through asking questions and researching things about which you want to learn. Asking inviting questions – and listening with empathy – goes far in making you awesome in bed.
4. Many adults feel alone in what they’re experiencing.
I recently taught a workshop to a group of moms in Dallas, Texas, that was hosted in someone’s home. I spoke with many of these women one-on-one, and it was remarkable to me how many of them seemed embarrassed to ask their questions.
They asked me things like, “Is it normal to have bladder control problems after having a baby?” and, “Is it weird that I don’t orgasm from intercourse?” The answer to both of these things is yes, totally normal. I think it’s important to highlight that these were professional, educated women. If these women don’t have access to this kind of information, how can women with less access get the information they need?
Clearly, there’s a giant education gap in the skills people need in order to navigate their sexual lives. While there are some fabulous resources in some communities, there is still an unmet need that I’d love to see remedied.
KATE MCCOMBS is a NYC-based sex educator, writer, and maker of puns. Ultimately, all of Kate’s work is about helping people feel more comfortable talking about sex. She believes that meaningful conversations + accurate information can help us create a healthier and more pleasure-filled world. Kate writes articles and teaches workshops about sexual health, pleasure, and communication. Follow Kate on Twitter @katecom