INTRODUCTION: WHO NEEDS SEX EDUCATION?
Nowadays it is easier than it has ever been to view and read about sex. References and allusions to sex are everywhere in the media, and the internet has made pornographic images and video available at the touch of a screen or keyboard. Strangely, though, most people are not much better informed about sexuality than previous generations were. Yet this relentless exposure to sex can easily make a person feel as though they’ve already seen everything and done it all. Unfortunately, sex as presented by the media has very little to do with reality. Long before they’ve ever kissed anyone, let alone slept with another person, a lot of young people have watched porn movies. And porn films are full of bizarre practices and misinformation. What they definitely do not show is real, fulfilling, genuinely shared sex.
In this book we want to talk about sex as it really is. That’s why the photographs are such an important part of it: they show real couples having real sex, young people who care about each other actually sleeping together.
Our book has been written for young people who are just beginning to have sex or thinking of doing so. We start from the idea that everyone has an innate ability to become aroused, but that sexuality (and how to enjoy it) has to be learned. We want to encourage you to find out as much as you can about what goes on in your own body and how it feels, and to work out what your own preferences are and where your boundaries lie. Then you’ll be equipped to discover the pleasure you can have with a healthy sexuality that’s been defined by no-one but you.
Anyone can learn how to have good sex just as anyone can learn how to swim or ride on a skateboard.
The learning process begins much earlier than most people imagine. A child’s first experience of arousal is likely to have been in the womb. To the amusement (or, occasionally, disgust) of his parents, ultrasound scans sometimes clearly show a male foetus having his first erection. It is, of course, harder to make out female arousal on a scan, but we now know that it happens.
For newborns, some of their very first sensual experiences happen when they are touched, squeezed, stroked, kissed. Every time a touch is felt, a sound heard, a change in temperature or breath of air registered, neural pathways are laid down in the brain, and then followed repeatedly. Memories of loving caresses are stored away, and gradually the baby learns to recognise them. This is how our personal inventory of sensual pleasure starts to be compiled; it’s the beginning of appreciating a sense of well-being.
This is why it’s a good thing, and important, for young children to discover and investigate their own genitals. Small children should be allowed to touch themselves freely and without constraint. As they find out how this feels, they will naturally develop a positive sense of their own sex organs. These early experiences will have a significant bearing on their future sex lives. Learning about sex begins very early on.
Many parents find it embarrassing when their children touch themselves or start playing doctors and nurses. When they feel this way, they are confusing their own sexual history with what the children are experiencing. The child is not aware of any sexual desire: he or she just knows what nice feelings one’s own body can produce. It’s not until much closer to adulthood that this kind of touching becomes linked to sexual awareness.
As a boy’s genitals are on the outside of his body, they are clearly visible. He sees them every day and touches them when he urinates. When a boy goes for a wee with his dad or his friends, he does so standing up and, pretty much from the start, learns to take some pride in his penis.
It’s different for girls. They pull their pants down, urinate, wipe themselves, pull their clothes up again, and they’re done. This alone means that, from an early age, boys’ and girls’ levels of awareness of their respective sex organs are very different. That apart, however, neither girls nor boys know much at all about their own bodies or those of the opposite sex. These days, although a lot young people have heard about the G-spot and know about some fairly weird and unusual sexual practices, they often have very little knowledge of how their own bodies actually work.
Most girls grow up without ever having looked properly at their own genitals. Only a few will have had the kind of parents who were open enough to encourage them to use a mirror to take a look. Unfortunately, they’re much more likely to have been told not to touch themselves, or even that ‘there’s nothing down there’. As a result, the female sex organs are shrouded in mystery, invisible and, in the opinion of too many adults, preferably never referred to.
That’s why hardly any women have a name for their genitals that they feel comfortable with. The most commonly used term, vagina, actually refers only to the inner female genitalia. But people often use it when they’re talking about the female sex organs in their entirety. The most visible, outer part of the female genitals is called the vulva – a name that sounds slightly comical and is more likely to make people think of Swedish cars than a part of a woman’s body. That’s why Charlotte Roche, among other female authors, has invented her own terms: in her book Wetlands, she calls the inner labia ‘dewlaps’, the outer labia ‘ladyfingers’ and the clitoris a ‘pearl trunk’. Not a bad try.