By the time I first entered kindergarten, brown bag lunch in one hand and rosary in the other, Catholic school had changed a lot. There were no nuns, no rulers-on-knuckles, and our principal was an educational professional, not the parish priest. We only went to mass once a week — a slightly chaotic endeavor as all nine grades trooped up the hill to church together — and our science classes discussed Darwin and evolution with as much ease as they did Newton and gravity.
But in a church with a 2,000-year history, old habits can be hard to shake. My diocese's sex education program felt much more focused on ensuring chastity than informing students. (To its credit, it's admittedly tough to transition to talking about female condoms when following a recitation of the Hail Mary.)
Though my classmates' sex ed experience was definitely colored by our school's religious focus, its limited scope was and is not unique. Far too few schools, public or private, teach the topic effectively and comprehensively, leaving students less prepared to make decisions when faced with real-life situations.
Here are 21 things I wish someone had taught me about sex as a soon-to-be teenager and future adult.
1. Waiting for marriage is a perfectly fine choice to make, but you do get to choose.
2. Your worth as a person is not measured by whether you've slept with someone.
3. Mary Magdalene was probably a very lovely human being.
4. Your hymen is a thin, perforate membrane — not something to be scared of.
5. It's unlikely that your first time will resemble a scene from any movie, including Titanic.
6. You also can't do a Hollywood-style cut away from the action when things get awkward, so laugh it up with your partner and do what feels right.
7. Consent is all-important — even if you're still working up the courage to kiss them or take their hand.
8. Your body is a good body, and it is yours to direct.
9. There are people in your life whom you can ask questions of and be honest with.
10. Ideally, that list of people includes your partner.
11. Sex is natural and human and enjoyable. (It is also sometimes gross.)
12. Using contraception is a five star decision, and you will be glad you did.
13. Luckily, there are lots of different kinds out there and tons of resources to help you figure out which is best for you.
14. Sexuality is fluid and we're all just living life on the spectrum.
15. It matters whether you have the right partner.
16. It matters less if you're in love with them.
17. No man — not your priest, not your boyfriend — can tell you what is best for your body.
18. But when in doubt, ask a medical professional. Not the internet.
19. Your happiness and your relationships matter so much more than whether you're in a relationship.
20. Virginity isn't something you "lose" or that someone else "takes."
21. And even in new territory, your heart and your judgement can be pretty solid guides.
Cover image via Shutterstock.