The sexual diseducation which permeates polite society is not acceptable. This we know. In WA, a state which is not required to implement sex education, the YACWA reports that 1 in 5 young people have chlamydia.
In Australia, sex education has been historically excluded from the national curriculum; a lack of resources which forces teachers to cut ‘non-core’ content, coupled with a majority of teachers reporting discomfort over discussing topics as fundamentally common as menstruation, saw sex ed regularly shelved among encyclopedias and wads of gum, while sexual activity will never be circumscribed with similar unsexy efficiency.
The Secondary Students and Sexual Health survey reveals that 78% of Australian Year 10 and 12 students have had sexual experience. Less than 50% of sexuality education teachers teach the pleasure of sexual activity, and young women report having positive feelings after sex at significantly lower rates – 56% of women in the same study reported feeling ‘fantastic’ after sex as compared to 74% of men. More women felt ‘used’ (9%), ‘regretful’ (7%), ‘worried’, ‘upset’ or ‘guilty’ than men. 38% of women versus 19% of men had experienced sex they did not want.
It is not acceptable that young adults do not receive a comprehensive detailing of their sexual rights and responsibilities, at the age they’re wanting to have it but have little grasp of how, these two forces competing so hard their bodies turn blue. Yes, most of us concede that there are ways to learn on the fly and make do and to live on the seat of one’s pants, if one elects to wear pants. There are other sources of information: the internet and porn, friends, family, the nebulous haze of ambient noise which surrounds us, imbuing us with information as conveniently available as air. Indeed, we seem to turn fervently to these sources to allow us to bridge the chasm of disinformation. This is in fact the most damaging facet of that chasm— people try to fill it. And so it clogs with the same old bullshit.
The air we breathe when it comes to sex is laced with patriarchy—you can disagree here, but miseducation will still be prevalent and it will still be damaging. We live in a world which not only fails to teach men to respect women’s bodies, but rather that it is acceptable not to. By the age of 11 I watched my male peers make ‘well, officer, she fell on my dick’ jokes, while we still had not participated in any formal sexual education program. We live in a world in which women disproportionately experience the consequences of sexual activity until sex itselfisreconfiguredasaconsequence— of poor upbringing, low moral fibre, low intelligence, a certain manner of dress, speech or speed of liquor consumption.
Is it surprising, then, that women, on average, experience less pleasure from sex, and that men develop such a fundamentally phallocentric view of sex that not only does female pleasure not count, but pain doesn’t matter?
I can’t think of a single woman I’ve heard the story of their ‘virginity loss’ from who hasn’t experienced undesired pain, nor one who hasn’t felt trepidation over the prospect. They expected to bleed, and had those expectations fulfilled or, when they let themselves breathe, found they didn’t bleed after all, but the anxiety had choked them up like an ungreased chain. Others who gritted their teeth—like you would before a dental appointment—found that it hurt less than they’d expected, but nonetheless more than they wanted. I’ve known women who masturbated with make-up brushes and fingers in rubber gloves and knife handles. Women who had been assiduously using tampons and other insertibles for years, alone or with a hand mirror or a friend. Who felt they were virgins after oral sex, sex
with a woman, sex with a plant, sex with something penis shaped that wasn’t a penis. If it wasn’t sexual contact which nullifies virginity, was it penetration? Or did it have to be both? Why? I, and these women I grew up with or now know, learnt these things: You are a virgin. You don’t stop being a virgin unless you have penetrative intercourse with a human penis. You probably should stay a virgin. Oh, and losing your virginity is going to hurt. You will probably bleed. Have a nice day.
I was told one thing about my body which I never heard about any other: it’s supposed to hurt.
Your hymen isn’t getting in the way, society is
There are painless dentists in our society. Painless endoscopies. Painless piercings. But there is no nominal sex culture or education teaching people with a vagina that penetrative intercourse with anyone with a penis should never literally tear your hymen. This controversial debunk of thousands of years of—male-written—history has emerged only recently, and calls itself The Hymen Myth.
It’s a cultural fixity where Tamagotchis and top-buns come and go that the hymen has to be broken, removed, popped, like opening the lid of a jar. Even shows with modern aspirations— if not outcomes—such as HBO’s Girls inadvertently reinforce the myth: ‘Do you miss your hymen?’ asks Elijah with patronising sincerity to Shoshanna, a 20-something year old who’s just shed her virginity (finally!). Months before, an almost-sex-partner had capitulated after hearing of her predicament, by reason of finding virgins to be attached bleeders. That the former statement emerges from the mouths of bit
characters doesn’t necessarily discomfit me, but that it emerges from other mouths and pens does.
The hymen is not a seal—it’s passed menstrual fluid through vaginas for years, and millennia before that. Even Joan of Arc, famous virgin, confirmed by scholars as having a particularly sturdy hymen, passed something out of somewhere. It’s flexible, so can be stretched rather than torn. If you can’t get your fingers past your calves, but find that if you stretch every day for two weeks you can bend down to your toes, then that’s what I mean. Not even the anus is supposed to bleed during intercourse, that being the orifice more likely to—it is, like with most bleeding, a signal that you are doing something wrong.
It does merit reflection, then, as to why something so flawed is repeated so often; and not just from big or bad men, but from the women who truly mean to nurture us. Unfortunately, we teach our beliefs and experiences as truths. All that is air—precedent, expectation— freezes solid. And so, in a way that defies self-preservation, it becomes okay for sex to be unpleasant for women. And suddenly, women are treated as being essential to sex only insofar as they facilitate the pleasure of men. If a man’s formative experience with heterosexual intercourse is that he should do it, it’s okay to hurt her, and a woman’s is that she should grit her teeth and power through, then I certainly view that as contributing to the skewed statistics on female pleasure and shame vs male pleasure and shame and disrespect for female autonomy.
Perhaps I say this too late and to the wrong audience, but I want to tell everyone worried about pain during intercourse to focus, laser their pre- occupations onto sweating the other stuff, every other detail, but not this one. I want to say: ‘The prospect of intercourse shouldn’t make you feel like you’re about to have your wisdom teeth removed. You’re not having anything removed at all. You were whole then and whole now. There are alternatives to trying not to tense and a bottle of lube. Your fingers can be put to use; you can use someone else’s. You can still have and give orgasms in the interim period. You can play Mario Kart instead and forget the whole thing. Men aren’t Impatient or Uncontrollable – we live in a culture which allows concessions of decency to be granted to them. Their readiness has no parallel to yours. A penis is not a board-certified hole punch. The patriarchy tells them they possess something more sacred than a silicone wand, more sacrosanct than your girlfriend’s hands. All sex is as sexy as you think it is. If you go without sex or penetrative masturbation for four months or a year and it hurts again, it must seem obvious that physiology isn’t bound to the inane discriminations of humankind. Relax – listen to the knee- jerk ‘ow’ you’ve fine-tuned since the age of three, and use that as your guide.’
* There are cases of women who report extreme pain with any penetration who suffer from a condition called vaginismus.
** Yes, there are men whom it hurts equally to hurt their partner. There are all types of men.
*** There is a use of male/man and female/woman to describe those in possession of a penis and vagina respectively. I’ve appropriated the typical partners these conversations assume.