We asked the BuzzFeed Community to tell us what they were taught in sex ed — and what they really wish they'd learned.
1. "That my body wasn't for anyone else's use."
2. "That orgasms were natural and not something to feel guilty about."
"That orgasms were natural and not something to feel guilty about, and that a lot of positive things come from sex. Sure, you can have an unplanned pregnancy or STIs, but consensual sex with a partner you love is a bonding experience.
I also could have decreased my stress by orgasming more. They also didn't teach us that orgasming often reduces the risk of diseases like prostate cancer. I think in general, that in America, sex is so taboo that we don't talk about the positive aspects as long as you use protection."
—Anonymous, US (Massachusetts)
3. "Sex is not something disgraceful."
"Sex is not something disgraceful. If it were, marriage shouldn't make it suddenly okay."
—Akash, United Arab Emirates
4. "Literally anything about sex for LGBTQ+ people — or, indeed, the existence of LGBTQ+ people at all."
5. "How utterly okay and normal it is to explore your own body."
"I wish they spoke more about masturbation. Being a teenager was the first time you were exploring your own body, and teenagers are already insecure enough. I just wish there was more focus on how utterly okay and normal it is to explore your own body."
—Caitlin, 23, Australia
6. "STIs are real, treatable, and preventable."
"STIs are real, treatable, and preventable. Use protection while having sex and don't let a boy/man pressure you into allowing him to not wear a condom. Worry about yourself and your health. Not a man's ego."
—Anonymous, 26, US
7. "Nonpenetrative sex is not just foreplay."
8. "Porn sex isn't real."
"Porn sex isn't real. The actors aren't wearing condoms for aesthetic purposes, not because condoms aren't important to wear. You also shouldn't expect your partner to mimic scenes from porn for you.
Sex can be pleasurable for women. It's not just something you do for a guy as a favor. Getting to know your body (via masturbation and/or getting a mirror and having a look at what's down there) is such an empowering thing. It will give you the confidence to tell your partner what you like and result in better, more pleasurable sex."
—Samantha, 22, Australia
9. "That STIs could be passed through oral sex."
"I don't think we ever learned about oral sex. I didn't even know what it was (or that it existed) or that STIs could be passed through oral sex. Yikes! I don't remember learning about birth control or how to properly use a condom either."
—Laura, 22, US (Wisconsin)
10. "The Pill is NOT the only method out there."
11. "None of us really understood what actually led to being pregnant."
"Birth control was never mentioned. None of us really understood what actually led to being pregnant. We had girls wondering if oral or anal sex would result in a pregnancy. The entire talk was basically trying to scare us into abstinence.
Nothing about consent or safety was ever mentioned. Boys were expected to be horny and pushy, while girls had to be responsible for saying no and maintaining their virginal reputation. We never got to ask questions."
—Kelsey, 22, US (Indiana)
12. "I had a gay friend who didn't know you could get STIs during intercourse with someone of the same sex."
"I'm a bisexual woman who didn't even know what a dental dam was until my first sexual experience with another woman. I had a gay friend who didn't know you could get STIs during intercourse with someone of the same sex.
—Anonymous, 15, US (Michigan)
13. "It's okay and normal to not be sexual or to be celibate."
14. "That fetishes are okay."
"That fetishes are okay, and how to use other contraceptives other than the male condom (e.g., the female condom — I still have no idea how that works. Also IUDs and implants). Various abortion procedures — how do they work, what are our options, how do we access it."
—Caitlin, 22, Australia
15. "More about sexual health beyond STIs."
"More about sexual health beyond STIs. Like for girls, getting nonsexual infections and the signs and symptoms of yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis. For guys, stuff about penis health, like erectile dysfunction or signs that there's something wrong.
I think for both genders, more encouragement that you should go to a doctor whenever you feel something is not right, and what is usually outside of the norm. Also, I think we should be taught signs of cancer in sexual organs for all genders, as it can happen at any age."
—Anonymous, 24, United Kingdom
16. "That severe pain during your period or any other time of the month is not normal."
17. "It's normal to like girls or guys or no one or everyone!"
"That it's not always a guy and a girl! I went to an all-girls school where, out of a class of 16, seven turned out to be LGBT+. It would've been nice to have some context — to be told it's normal to like girls or guys or no one or everyone!"
—Helen, 20, United Kingdom
18. "The nurse never showed us how to insert a tampon."
"The nurse never showed us how to insert a tampon. She only quickly explained how it works, which kind of sucked for my 13-year-old innocent self who only figured out a decade later that it wasn't gonna 'break'' my hymen or rid me of my virginity. She also never told us about what people ACTUALLY do during sex. It sounded like there would only be a painful penetration, and then if you were smart about it, no babies or STIs would come out of it.
A lot of teenagers back then used to think that going down on a girl was disgusting and shameful for the guy who performed it."
—Lely, 22, Canada
19. "Because I had no idea what a vagina looked like other than a doll-like illustration, I thought my genitals were malformed."
20. "I had no idea there was even thrusting involved until I was well into my teens."
"I was so clueless and didn't date much in high school, so I had no idea there was even thrusting involved until I was well into my teens. I didn't know what foreplay was. I didn't know about female masturbation. I honestly didn't really know what a real-life penis even looked like. I didn't know about positions. I didn't know about lubrication. There was just so much I didn't know.
I read about sex education in other countries — and even just in other states, more recently — that teaches about how to pleasure a partner and yourself. I had no idea people even taught that! All my sex ed just seemed so anti-sex, and it made it so I felt like I couldn't talk to anyone about it. I also think it's important to teach about sex that doesn't involve a cis man and cis woman, because I for sure never learned anything about that either."
—Cassie, 22, US (Illinois)
21. "I'm 40 and I still feel like I'm decades behind my peers sometimes."
"The role of sex in relationships and pleasure. I had lots of 'sex ed' per se outside of the classroom — it was the South, so there was lots of churchy sex ed of the abstinence kind. I think this did me (and many others) a huge disservice in terms of our maturation and thinking about sex. I'm 40 and I still feel like I'm decades behind my peers sometimes because of what I bought into for so long."
—Anonymous, 40, US (Georgia)
22. "To know what to do if we or a partner become(s) pregnant."
23. "The understanding and confidence to say no and mean it."
"At 16, my boyfriend took advantage of me against my will and made me believe it was his right to do so because I had led him on. I didn't realize until years later that this was not okay. But if I had been taught about sexual consent at school I believe I would have had the understanding and confidence to say no and mean it."
—Anonymous, 24, New Zealand
24. "It's okay to be nervous during sex no matter how many times you've done it."
"I think it's important to know that it's okay to be nervous during sex no matter how many times you've done it. I'm 23 and I still struggle with being intimate even with someone I love. Years of being disgusted with my body has made it very hard to get out of my head. Sex isn't going to be like the movies, and that is fine."
—Anonymous, 23, US (Washington),
25. "Get tested after every partner."
"GET TESTED AFTER EVERY PARTNER FOR STIs. I had chlamydia for a year without symptoms and had no idea."
—Amy, 21, US (Michigan)
26. "Sex-toy safety."
27. "Marital rape."
"Sex is still seen as a taboo in our country and we weren't told what to do or how to do it. Some students were only just learning that sex was an act that existed. STIs are really important to know about as well as consent, marital rape (a common phenomenon here), birth control, safe sex, masturbation, etc. All of these are topics that should've been covered but weren't."
28. "That boys can be pressured into sex as much as girls could."
"No one discussed abortion, detailed information on contraception, or consent. Technically we were told, 'Don't let anyone pressure you into sex,' but no one ever said anything about date-rape drugs, what constitutes sexual assault, or the fact that boys can be pressured into sex as much as girls could.
I'm not complaining about the detailed anatomy lessons, but there were definitely some sizable gaps. I was one of the lucky ones. My mother covered a lot of the information that the school missed. Others were not so lucky."
—Becky, 34, US (Pennsylvania)
29. "They never focused on the pleasure, but rather talked about the pain sex could cause."
30. "I didn't know what in the world a clitoris was."
"Reflecting on it now, I was taught in a very cut-and-dry way: Here it is, this is how the world is, this is how we survive. Nothing about finding pleasure in any part of sex, at least on the girl's part. I didn't know what an orgasm was until I started reading fanfiction in college. I didn't know that women got aroused, let alone that they could have multiple orgasms in one go. I didn't know what in the world a clitoris was.
Sex ed in school taught me almost absolutely nothing and, at least from the news I've read, I still consider myself to have been educated in one of the more celebrated school systems in the state."
—Maggie, 23, US (Maryland)
31. "I didn't learn about oral sex, anal sex, or masturbation."
"I didn't learn about oral sex, anal sex, or masturbation, but got a lot of that information from classmates with older siblings. I'm on the fence whether or not this needs to be taught in school, because a life event like this is very personal, and if schools stood up behind it, kids might be inclined to try something they really wouldn't like, and that might cause problems in the future, psychologically."
—Becky, 31, US
32. "OMG I MUST BE THE ONLY GIRL IN THE WHOLE SCHOOL THAT LIKES GIRLS."
33. "Sex is just kind of like another body function/activity (kind of like yoga)."
"That it isn't SUCH A GIGANTIC thing. Growing up, I actually felt really scared to lose my virginity because I thought it would be a huge deal, that it would hurt really bad, and that not being a virgin anymore would be a big deal...which was not really the case.
Sex is just kind of like another body function/activity (kind of like yoga — it's got its perks, sure, but for most people it's not the only thing in their day, and for some people it's not their thing at all). The first time is definitely NOT the best time because it is awkward and you are not as relaxed as later times — but overall, it isn't a big deal. There's not like a magical transformation once you have sex.
When you do have sex for the first time with someone, just make sure you can handle the experience emotionally and know that the other person might feel more emotional or less emotional than you about having sex with YOU, or just toward having sex in general (so make sure you are prepared for that)."
—Erica, US (New York)
34. "That if a male ejaculates inside of you, it will come back out."
"In the crudest of truths, no one let me know that if a male ejaculates inside of you, it will come back out. And man, did I get a hell of a fright!"
—Ruby, New Zealand
35. "That slut-shaming is wrong."
36. "If you don't fit into the nice little checkbox indicating straight, homosexual, or other, don't limit yourself by making yourself fit into one of these boxes."
"Don't assume that what you learn in school is the only information out there. Don't be afraid to ask questions, don't feel like you have to do anything you don't want to do, and most of all, be true to yourself. If you don't fit into the nice little checkbox indicating straight, homosexual, or other, don't limit yourself by making yourself fit into one of these boxes.
When discovering your sexuality, don't be afraid to embrace it, because there are other people out in the world who are going through the exact same process as you are, and just remember the quote 'Those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind.'"
—Margaret, 20, US (Florida)
37. "That so much is arbitrary, and the only thing that matters is that everyone involved is excited to be doing it."
"Consent and communication! We learned nothing about pleasure or how to navigate any of it. I left sex ed knowing as little as I entered, save the STI stuff. I gained most of my expectations from porn.
I wish I'd learned not to tolerate anyone expecting anything from me sexually. I wish I'd learned about all the sorts of stuff that can be sex that don't involve vaginal penetration. I wish I learned that so much is arbitrary, and the only thing that matters is that everyone involved is excited to be doing it."
—Emily, 32, US (New York)
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.