I became a sex educator out of necessity. At the age of 13 I had to teach my grandmother about female anatomy – specifically the hymen.
I guess I should back up a little bit. I was raised by a very sex-positive librarian mother. No knowledge was forbidden. I grew up wandering the stacks of libraries and I learned early, in the days of Dewey Decimal and card catalogs, to find the information I wanted. In addition to my own research my mother always answered questions honestly and she was proactive about giving me information. The first time she gave me “the talk” it was matter of fact and utterly without shame or judgment.
My mother passed away after a battle with cancer just days before my 13th birthday. That’s when I moved in with my dad and his parents. My grandmother ruled the roost and she was old fashioned in the worst possible ways. She’d never had good information about sex or sexuality. Her attempt to get a diaphragm in anticipation of her wedding night had gone badly and she was left with no contraception, which meant she became pregnant almost immediately. So I get where she was coming from. And although I have more empathy now, it was not a good environment for a young girl to come into her sexuality.
Back to the hymen; I’d been eagerly anticipating my period for at least a couple years so when I actually started bleeding I was pretty excited. (How lucky for me that I knew what to expect.) It happened when an already menstruating girlfriend of mine was over for the weekend and she was appalled by the giant pads that were waiting for me in the bathroom cupboard. So we hopped on our bikes and made a trek to the local drug store. She showed me her favorite kinds of tampons, explained the ins and outs of different applicators, and finally we choose a box. We also bought a pack of gum, because just buying tampons would have been embarrassing.
It didn’t take long for my grandmother to discover the tampons, and when she did she pitched a fit. She was convinced using tampons would break my hymen. At thirteen years old I wasn’t yet equipped to have a discussion with my grandmother about women only being valued for their purity, or about the harmful (and irrelevant) concept of virginity. But I did know enough about female anatomy to set her straight. First I told her that having engaged in gymnastics and horse back riding it was entirely possible my hymen was already torn. (As advanced as I was for 13, I didn’t yet know that the notion of tearing a hymen is just one more way violence against women is steeped in our language, and that stretching is far more accurate.) This did not comfort her.
My grandmother thought the hymen was a solid layer of membranous tissue covering the entire opening of the vaginal canal. Never mind that a simple logic exercise would prove this untrue; how would you bleed once a month without an opening?
So off I went to grab the appropriate edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (a gift from my other grandmother, who had passed only a year before my mother.) I turned to the blessedly complete and accurate section on female anatomy and read her the passage on the hymen and well as showing her the picture, and made it clear there was more than enough room for a tampon. (I didn’t mention I’d already explored with inserting things far larger than those little cotton plugs.) She wasn’t happy about it, but the point was mostly conceded. Still, when she took me to my first gynecologist appointment when I was 17, she did ask for confirmation that my hymen was intact. It was. Proof that it can take quite a beating.
It wasn’t only my grandmother who required my schooling, and a pattern began to emerge. As needs arose in my life I would seek out information, and then I would be the most informed person among my peers and in turn I would share the information I’d learned. This process happened for safer sex and contraception while I was a senior in high school and again for female pleasure and orgasms soon after.
The search for accurate information about contraception in the pre-internet days could be a story all on it’s own. It was an adventure that included chatting with a friend’s mother who was a sex worker, paging through inadequate books in the library, and making more than one pharmacist extremely uncomfortable.
By college I was the go-to dorm room when people wanted to discuss their contraceptive choices. I went along on condom shopping trips for moral support and I regularly escorted friends to the local sex-positive sex store while touting the benefits of vibrators and clitoral stimulation.
That was roughly 15 years ago. A lot has changed. The internet has helped. But the right information still isn’t getting to the people who need it. Not only is there a lack of good information, but there’s sea of misinformation to wade through. That’s why I’ve continued to seek out the best, most accurate information to share with others. These days I have more resources, and more training, too.
When I worked in animal welfare we used to say we wanted to put ourselves out of a job. As a sex educator I feel the same way. I wish young people got so much good information from their families and their schools and their libraries that the notion of adult sex education was redundant. But I don’t see that happening any time soon. And that’s just for the basics; for information that covers health, safety, and pleasure. Add in some of my specialities, like intimacy and BDSM, and I think I’ll have more than enough work to do for a very long time.
Do you need your very own well-informed friend? I offer coaching and instruction in person or by phone or skype on a wide range of topics. Contact me and let’s get started.