Ask Eva September Survey Findings on Sex Education
September felt the perfect month to dive into a topic that everyone at Le Wand is very passionate about — sex education! In addition to improving your sex life with toys, filling in the gaps of sex education is core to Le Wand’s mission. That’s why for this month’s #AskEva, we wanted to learn more about your experiences of sex education in school. The best, the worst, and the Mean Girls “you’ll get pregnant and die” moments.
This number of participants in this month’s survey was relatively small, so we want to re-emphasize that the #AskEva surveys are primarily exploratory. They provide a general idea of the experiences of our Le Wand community and hopefully will lead to future scientific investigations with larger sample sizes.
Of the 75 individuals who complete this month’s survey, 84% were women, 6.7% were men, 6.7% were non-binary, and 2.3% were non-binary women. 8% of the same identified as transgender.
In terms of sexual orientation, the most commonly chosen labels were bisexual (29.3%), straight (22.4%), and queer (20.7%). The labels pansexual, demisexual, gay, curious, and heteroflexible were also chosen, and many of the participants chose multiple labels for themselves.
Because sex education varies wildly across countries (as well as across states and provinces), we also asked participants what country/countries they received sex education in.
Most of the sample received their sex ed in the USA (42.4%) or Canada (31.5%). The survey’s participants were international — with responses from Australia, France, Sweden, Italy, the UK, Ireland, Netherlands, India, Portugal, St. Vincent, and Curaçao.
We would also hope that sex education improves over time (though, not according to one participant, who shared that “I was taught that masturbation was unhealthy… this was 2014.”)
Because of this, we also asked participants for their age. Most participants were young adults, ages 18-24 (53.3%) or 25-34 (30.67%).
Let’s get into the sex-ed experiences! Participants were asked to indicate what topics they learned about at sex education in school. The most common topics covered in participants’ sex-ed were reproductive anatomy (85.3%) and STIs (73.3%). Definitely some Mean Girls vibes. The next most common topics were menstruation, birth control options, HIV/AIDS at approximately half of the participants receiving education on these topics.
Just over half of the participants received education about abstinence (57.3%). While information about abstinence as an option can be a part of comprehensive education, our hearts go out to those who received abstinence-only education. Nonetheless, this is not entirely surprising, as 37 states have laws requiring that abstinence is included in sex education in the USA (1). While Canada doesn’t have any mandates around abstinence-only education, many provinces have religious school boards that have religious influences on their sex education programming, which may include an emphasis on abstinence.
Approximately a quarter of participants received education about consent (26.67%), which is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, only 4% (3 participants) received education about sexual communication. While programs like “no means no” and “yes means yes” are definitely better than nothing, failing to situate consent within the larger essential skills of sexual communication is a serious drawback.
Furthermore, only 11 participants learned about sexual violence more broadly and 12 learned about healthy relationships. These are topics that are essential for individuals’ safety and wellbeing within relationships and should be included in everyone’s sex education.
In terms of gender and sexual orientation, only 5 participants (6.67%) learned about sexual orientation in their sex education. Only 1 (1.3%) participant’s sex education experience included information about gender identity and 8 about gender roles (10.67%). Given that almost a third of the same was bisexual, this was a serious failing on behalf of their sex education. Sexual orientation is not a “mature topic” (reminder: lots of kids have queer parents!), and not receiving messages of acceptance and LGBTQ-inclusive sex education can have serious implications on the sex lives of queer young people.
As huge advocates for solo sex, we were saddened to see that only 4 participants (5.3%) learned about masturbation in their sex education. Interestingly, 9 participants (12%) were taught about porn, which suggests that porn may have been presented solely in a risk-focused light, separate from the potential benefits it can provide or its context of masturbation. As well, only 8 participants (10.67%) were taught about sexting and cybersex. Given that most of the sample was between the ages of 18-35, it follows that digital sex may have been a relatively new phenomenon for many students. Nonetheless, we would hope that all future students get comprehensive sex education that includes information about the realities of the digital space.
Next, 7 participants (9.30%) learned about abortion, 4 participants (5.30%) learned about body image, and 2 participants (2.67%) learned about the emotional aspects of sex. Students must be given comprehensive and shame-free education around all forms of reproductive health and choices around pregnancy. With regard to body image, research has indicated that body image is linked to sexuality in a myriad of ways. As such, it is disappointing to see so few students receiving education on the topic.
Lastly, we have to highlight all the topics that NONE of the participants received an education on. None of the participants received education about BDSM/kink, sexual racism, relationship diversity/ethical non-monogamy, and sex and disability. As well, no one received trans-specific, queer-specific, or BIPOC-specific sex education.
These findings reflect the phenomenon that sex education in school often only caters to white, able-bodied, cisgender, heterosexual students, and fails students who experience various kinds of marginalization. Heartbreakingly, none of the students received any education about pleasure or orgasm. Given that the reason for most expressions of sexuality is pleasure or orgasm, a lack of pleasure-inclusive sex ed is sex ed that is deeply unhelpful for its students.
Given the topics covered for most of the individuals surveyed, it is unsurprising that 86.70% of participants described their sex education as heteronormative and 73.30% described it as cisnormative. Around half of the sample (53.30%) described their sex education as fear-based and rooted in scare tactics. Further, approximately a quarter cited their ed experience as slut-shaming (29.30%), abstinence-only (28.0%), and religious (21.30%). Participants also shared more details of religious sex education experiences at Catholic school focused around shame and sex for reproduction only.
Only 8 participants (10.70%) indicated that their sex education was evidence-based, 5 described it as comprehensive (6.70%), and only 2 (2.70%) for sex-positive and 2 (2.70%) for body positive. One participant wrote, “I barely had any education about sex at all”.
In this survey, we also asked participants to indicate how relevant and useful for their sex education experience in school had been for their sex life, as well as to what degree their sex education impacted their sexuality journey.
Over three-quarters (76%) of the sample said that their sex ed was either a little bit relevant or not at all. Even more, over 80% said that it was a little bit or not at all useful! And the piece de resistance, NO PARTICIPANTS said that their sex education was extremely useful to their sex life.
Clearly, sex education focusing solely on reproductive anatomy and STIs rooted in fear tactics isn’t cutting it!
We do also want to note that 22.4% of the participants used the label straight, and 24% of participants found their sex education experience somewhat, quite, or extremely relevant. While we can’t confirm this connection statistically, this may suggest, along with the finding that over 70% of participants describe their sex ed as heteronormative, that while straight students are being thrown a bone, queer students are being left the dust.
Interestingly, while 55% of participants did report that their sex education either somewhat or very negatively impacted their sexuality journey, another 40% indicated that it had neither a positive or negative impact. This is interesting given that most of the sample didn’t find their sex education useful. One participant did clarify – “Just want to specify that I put that my sex Ed experience has impacted my journey positively not because it was good or even very useful, but because the lack of sex Ed is what made me seek out my own information and discover sex educators/activists online and motivated me to want to become one as well”.
To conclude this summary of mostly unenthused sex education experiences on an optimistic note, participants were also asked about what kind of sex education they wished they had received. We wanted to share these to paint a picture of what inclusive, comprehensive sex education could look like.
Many wished that their sex ed had included sexual orientation and information on queer sexuality and relationships. Consent and sexual communication were also emphasized. One participant stated, “consent and just being taught there is no shame in exploring sex and pleasure with consent”.
Non-shameful information on vulvar anatomy and how to experience pleasure for people with vulvas was also a topic that was commonly cited. On what they wish had been included in their sex ed, one participant said, “Also, pleasure! I grew up thinking that only people with penises were allowed to experience pleasure”, while another said, “…I wish we’d had a holistic discussion about anatomy and pleasure, how they interact and what’s normal (and not shameful!!) within it.”
Sexual communication, “how to talk about sex with a partner”, was also a common topic, trans-inclusive sex ed, sexual violence, body image, masturbation, healthy relationships, conditions like PCOS and endometriosis, sex and disabilities, BDSM and kink, emotional aspects of sex and more!
From the many variations of SOMETHING, ANYTHING when asked what participants wish they had learned in sex ed (ie “Literally any useful information”), it is clear that we have a long way to go in terms of giving students the comprehensive sex education they deserve. Until then, we hope this survey could be a vector by which individuals can share how they sex ed impacted them, and a springboard for sex educators working to fill in the gaps.
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