What are some of the first things girls are taught about sex?

Depending on whether or not young girls are getting a sex education at home, school is the first place many people get introduced to the big complicated world of sex. It is required to learn about the inside anatomy in health class; female students are taught about the ovaries and how babies grow and develop, but everything else between the legs is left out. Sex -- as in the emotional and steamy interaction between two partners -- is still a big mystery. Up until college, many females have very little self-knowledge about what pleasurable and realistic sex looks like. They go on to try and discover their own sexual experiences, most likely expecting some sense of equality and realizations about themselves, only to find they were not adequately given the knowledge to do so.

With so many questions unanswered, many adolescent females are turning to pornography to get the answer about sex they were never given, to learn about their bodies, what feels good and how everything works down there. Researchers who have listened to teenagers talk frankly report that, for many, porn is the main source of sex education. Even those who have not viewed it have heard plenty about it from friends. It is shaping their expectations of sex, which may not be the best thing since porn isn’t really known for its authenticity. One student from Western Washington University opened up about her sex education in high school, “I only remember learning about genitals and puberty, but not about sex explicitly. I was never shown how to put a condom on, told about safe sex, about sexually transmitted diseases, or any of that.”

We find ourselves in a bit of a predicament; a perplexingly ambivalent culture where girls seem to be empowered in almost every sphere expect the sexual one because so little is taught about actually how to have sex. Women are coming of age in a time where pornography is both increasingly aggressive and more widely available than ever, laptops have replaced teachers and parents in the search to find answers about sex.

There is no doubt that pornography sexualizes young women by creating the undue pressure to look and act sexy, particularly during sex. “I definitely think there is a causation between inadequate sex education and young people turning to porn to better understand sex,” says another young woman from Western Washington University. Young girls need to know how to put a name on their sexual desires, how to express their sexuality and be sexual in safe ways, and to know the consequences of not practicing safe sex. “I think porn makes women believe that they need to be really confident and sexy and moan and be loud, when in real life it’s OK to fumble, and it is important to communicate throughout the moment so that each person has an enjoyable experience. Porn makes women believe that it is not OK to ask questions towards their partner and that everything has to run smoothly for it to be sexy for their partner.”

Practicing safe sex means knowing what you want and how to ask for it. Pornography is not just projecting expectations for young men on their partners, these pressures also affect the sexual expectations that girls put on themselves along with what they should expect from sex. The problem is not talking to young girls about how to take charge and assert sexual pleasure for themselves.

It is absolutely important we don't talk about women as the victims here since all young adults are exposed to and affected by the porn industry. We need to be talking clearly and honestly to girls about their own desires and their own pleasures. The kind of sex pornography portrays makes it seem more normal for sexual contact to precede emotional intimacy, so girls are afraid to ask questions even though they must act as if they are having a good time. Sex is important for connection and is only one part of a relationship. It is time for young women to learn to enjoy the pleasure, intimacy and closeness that sex brings without having to worry about how they look.