People of color talk about their experiences with sex education
The other day, my mum saw my profile picture on WhatsApp: a pack of condoms. I even had a profile description to spice things up: “The only thing I want negative in my life is a pregnancy test.”
Then I had missed 7 calls from her, and a really long message.
She later called to ask if I had started having sex. I replied by asking what exactly did she mean by sex, because I had never heard the word before—not from her. By the way, I am 25 years old.
“How did you think I would have learned about sex, mom?”
The silence on the other end was deafening.
Everyone’s experience with sex education is different. As a young Black woman, I was curious to hear about the experiences of other people of color, so I reached out to Clue users for their stories. I was overwhelmed by the replies I received from all over the world.
“Most of my sex ed was from the internet.”
“I was introduced to sex education at age 12, only because it was part of our curriculum in school, but most of my sex ed, I received from the internet by my own research. I still do not feel comfortable discussing sex at school or with parents and adults. I wish my sex education had included more in-depth knowledge about contraceptives and STIs.”
—Mercedes, female, 21, African, received sex ed in Ghana
“Telling a 15 year old ‘you’ll get AIDS and die’ is really dramatic and off-putting.”
“[In my experience] Black religious parents tell you not to have sex until you’re married. And they exaggerate the consequences without any real statistical data. They could work on being more honest and open about the entire subject. Like yes, we can get HIV, but talk about the “how,” who’s at risk, and how to prevent it from happening.
Telling a 15 year old “you’ll get aids and die” is really dramatic and off-putting. We just roll our eyes and keep moving. We also got lost about understanding how important birth control is to reproductive health, and how teens can access it. I know that a lot of teenage pregnancies in my school could have been avoided, we just didn’t know how.”
—Brittanie Elle, female, 30, African American, received sex ed in Germany
“I never felt comfortable talking about sex with my parents. I still don’t.”
“I had my first experience with sex education at age 11, when we were shown little cartoon sex videos in sixth grade. I found it really funny and we all joked about it, but I never felt comfortable talking about sex with my parents. I still don’t. My sex education was quite easy to understand, but it wasn’t overly useful to me through puberty, as I developed much later than everyone else. But I wish we were taught about safe sex.”
— Anonymous, female, 31, Aboriginal, received sex ed in Australia
"It felt like committing a crime when I did anything related to sex."
"I guess I never had any sex ed. I learned stuff in life, talking to friends at school and then seeing for the first time a porn movie scene. I wish I had more openness to this in my young and teenager years. I'm 27 and still haven't had an open conversation about sex with my parents. They realize I'm not a virgin anymore because I was in a couple of relationships. If I hadn't had any relationship, maybe they would think I was still a virgin."
—Juliana, female, 27, Afro-Brazilian, São Paulo, received sex ed in Spain
“I got into trouble for talking about sex, because some teachers thought I was too young to know where babies came from.”
“I was confused when I learnt about sex in fifth grade. We were taught how to put condoms on a wooden penis, but I couldn’t picture how the penis could get erect and fit in the hole. The cartoon pictures and texts in the library didn’t explain that it was a process, and I got into trouble for talking about sex at school, because some teachers thought I was too young to know where babies came from.
Sex is considered a sacred topic in my culture, something not to be talked about and only done between married people of opposite sex. But I wish my sex education had been more open, and involved insights about LGBT sex.”
—Anonymous, gender neutral, 35, Metis, received sex ed in Canada
“Sex education was not done to teach, but to scare us.”
“The sex education I received at the age of 9 was scantily detailed, and I self-taught myself a lot of things after my mom passed away. It was weird when I first learned about sex because it was described to me as something scary. Sex education was not done to teach, but to scare us.
There should be more in-depth knowledge about sex, teenagers should be taught the truth about sex. It shouldn’t be used as a tool to scare them off the act.”
—Anonymous, female, 25, African, received sex ed in Nigeria
“I wish my sex ed involved different sexualities, since I’m not straight.”
“I learned about sex at age 13 at an all-girls school, and we even had a test on it. My sex education was quite comprehensive, but I wish it involved different sexualities, since I’m not straight.
I never talked about sex with my parents, and it is not frequently talked about in public because it is considered a taboo in our society. Girls tend to be hated if they talk about sex too obviously.”
—Indigo, female, 20, Chinese, received sex ed in Taiwan
"I wish the church didn't preach that sex is something to be hated."
"I had a bit of sex ed at school and with my girlfriends, but I found out what proper sex was doing my research, alone. I never felt very comfortable, specially because I came from evangelical background where we were taught to oppress our feelings and carnal desires.
The way church preached about it made me think of sex as something dangerous, dirty. This is only reason for panic and is harmful during puberty."
—Jennifer, female, bisexual, 24 years, afro-indigenous, received sex ed in Belém do Pará (Brazil)
“We could not learn enough sex education because birth control methods are not allowed to be taught in compulsory schools.”
“I was introduced to sex education at age 10, in fifth grade. It’s a shame that my parents didn’t tell me about it. At school, most of the textbooks only warned, “there are some mistakes in sex information in the media and the internet.” I resolved most of my troubles and questions about sex using the web.
We did not get enough sex education because birth control methods are not allowed to be taught in compulsory schools. We could not access obstetricians and gynecology clinics easily, because they were mostly considered for pregnant women. If you were to visit those clinics as a young person, you would be regarded as pregnant or a slut, because you started having sex at a young age.”
—Anonymous, female, 29, Japanese, received sex ed in Japan
“What I appreciate about my sex ed is that they didn’t teach us to avoid sex.”
“I was introduced to sex as being a recreational activity only, since I first learned about it through porn. It wasn’t until third grade that I was taught sex ed in school, and learned that sex was done for other reasons. My parents never gave me a formal sex talk, but they had minor chats about pregnancy, as well as the “scares” about having sex at a young age. The dynamic changed in high school, I learned a lot more about sex, and we were introduced to safer sex and given birth control packs. There were also many lessons on consent, rape, and what to do in certain situations. It was helpful because it inspired me to pay attention to my sexual health, and also allowed me give my friends information that I learned.
What I appreciate about my sex ed is that they didn’t teach us to avoid sex. Sex at a young age is inevitable for teens, at least we could share quality information among each other. I gained great benefits towards my sexual life from the extensive sex education I was introduced to.”
—Lena, female, 17, Latino, received sex ed in the U.S.
"In science class I learned the physiology of the thing, but it doesn't count, right?"
"The first time I talked about sex was with the boys from school, when porn was the subject. It didn't feel comfortable. This was a big issue, specially as it took a while to figure out what I was into.
I had to deconstruct my catholic girl from medium class thinking, that thinking that feeling sexual pleasure was wrong, that being horny was a sin and sex was dirty. Masturbation helped me a lot, making me understand even my sexual orientation."
—Anonymous, female, 27, afro-brazilian, received sex ed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
“My sex ed was uninteresting to me because it seemed like something that happened to me and not with me. ”
“When I first learned about sex at the age of 10, I was uninterested in the prospect of having sex because it seemed like something that happened to me and not with me. I felt comfortable discussing sex with my friends, but they knew just as little as me. However, it was made very clear to me that I couldn’t talk about sex with my parents.
I wish my sex education was a lot more extensive, specifically I wish I had learned about lesbian and gay sex.”
—Anonymous, mostly female, 19, Asian, received sex ed in the USA
“I wish my sex education included information on how porn misrepresents realistic sex.”
“I was pretty excited when I first learned about sex at age 13, and I felt mostly comfortable discussing it with my biology teacher, but never with my mum.
I don’t think there’s an actual word in my dialect (Twi) for sex, they’re all homonyms for other verbs. Most commonly, we refer to having sex with someone as “eating” the person. Everything concerning sex is veiled with proverbs and cryptic language that essentially amounts to sex being a dirty, wayward thing to talk about.
I took out my tampon every time I needed to pee for years, because I didn’t know that’s not where urine comes from. I wish my sex education included information on how porn misrepresents realistic sex, and a more varied education on contraceptives.”
—Okornore, female, 28, Black African, received sex ed in Germany
“All my life, I have been told to close my eyes for even so much as a kissing scene.”
“Sex has always been a taboo subject in my culture. In my entire life, there were only two times sex was brought up in an educational setting, during which we mostly talked about periods and puberty. I felt fairly uncomfortable whenever the subject was brought up (sometimes I still do!) and I was mostly grossed out by this very foreign topic. All my life, I have been told to close my eyes for even so much as a kissing scene, so sex was never discussed in any capacity.
At school, girls and boys were separated during our two sex education classes and we never spoke about it to each other. My mother has probably said the word sex out loud directly to me, maybe five times in my entire life, and I don’t think any of my friends got a sex talk from their parents. Even as a young adult, I still refer to online diagrams to fully understand certain aspects of reproductive health.
I wish my sex education had been recurring, practical and shameless. Mostly I wish the topic of sex had been destigmatised regularly, and I wish my parents had felt comfortable enough to speak directly to me about it! So many “normal” things that happened during puberty were surprises to me, or only informed by the internet or my Clue app.”
—Anonymous, female, 29, Arab, received sex ed in the USA (Islamic middle school)
"I couldn't tell anybody when I had my first time."
"I never had contact with any sex ed. At home, ‘sex’ was always considered a taboo by my family. I remember talking a lot about sex when I was still virgin with my cousin, which had the same age as me.
When I hit puberty the hormones started throwing a party in my body, and alone I browsed about sex online. At the same time I exchange info and facts with that cousin and other friends. Never with my parents and at school!
Due to my lack of education and the tabu of female sex and pleasure, it took a while for me to understand properly all this new information. As I was always very aware of my experiences, I quickly noticed the importance of orgasm and how a good orgasm was necessary to not have that sorrow feeling after sex, that feeling of being 'used'."
—Anonymous, 31, afro-Brazilian, heterossexual, received sex ed in Salvador (Brazil)
“I can’t comprehend how I believed this lie about sex for 26 freaking horny years!”
“The sex education I received at age 13 was scary, and it felt like something I must never talk about to anyone. All I was taught by my mom was that, sex is the evil thing that gives you unwanted pregnancy, pauses your career and life, and turns you into a single mother that the society scorns (at least in the African setting where I was raised). Basically, sex is the misfortune that can happen to me, to make me turn out like my own mother—sadly that was how sex ed was delivered to me.
I am 26, a virgin, and it has hugely affected all the relationships I’ve been in, because most of my partners wanted penetrative sex. I was taught that sex in relationships damages the relationship, because your partner begins to disrespect you, and will eventually leave you for someone else, a virgin—who he will “take home to mama”. If anything, I have seen relationships of my other female friends who are sexually active, blooming. I can’t comprehend how I believed this lie about sex for 26 freaking horny years!
My cultural background shaped my orientation about sex, mostly. There are over 200 cultures in Nigeria, and the Yoruba culture where I come from has an old tradition to sex and marriage (which my family still upholds, sadly). Ideally, on my wedding night (heterosexual, because it’s Nigeria), my husband’s parents will be waiting outside the bride and groom’s room, while they have their first sex.
A white fabric is usually spread on the bed for this first intercourse. Once the sex is over, the groom’s mother has the liberty to enter the room to check if the white bedsheet is stained with blood (that means the bride was a virgin). If it is not stained with blood, the groom’s parents return to the bride’s parents’ house with a half-filled wine bottle and almost empty matchbox, to insinuate that “the wife they married into their family is not whole or complete.” So, because of this old tradition, we are compelled to stay virgins until our wedding night, else we bring reproach to our family."
—Olamide, female, 26, Yoruba, received sex ed in Nigeria
“What benefited me most was that my mother was really open to talk about sex.”
“My first sex education was awkward because we learned it in science class, and our male teacher was also quite awkward about it. In my culture, sex topic is a taboo if you’re unmarried, but what benefited me the most was that my mother was really open to talk about sex. I feel like most parents should be that way, it goes a long way to help the child.”
—Nadhirah, female, 28, Malaysian, received sex ed in Malaysia
“I was made to believe women don’t enjoy sex as much as men do, and men always think about it.”
“When I first took sex ed in fifth grade, I was excited because I finally got to know why I was starting to feel certain ways. I also got a better understanding of my body, because I started puberty at age 10 and it was a whirlwind. Sadly, I was made to believe women don’t enjoy sex as much as men do, and men always think about it. My sex education was fairly comprehensive in terms of heterosexuality, which was useful for me as a preteen. But in high school, as I was figuring out my sexuality, it wasn’t enough. I wish I had been taught about homosexual sex, birth control options, and that sex is fun and not just for making babies.”
—Anonymous, female, 29, African American, received sex ed in the USA
“I would say that what I learned on my own about sex was more useful than anything else that was taught to me.”
“I began masturbating at a young age, so I got a head start on discovering my own body on my own, and how it works. I would sneak and watch sex scenes of movies and pornos that would come on late at night as well.
When I eventually received sex ed at age 16, it was just a very surface clinical-based teaching on genitals, how babies are conceived, STIs, and how to practice safer sex. But I would say that what I learned on my own about sex from puberty through my 20s was more useful than anything else that was taught to me. Although I was open for discussions around sex at age 16, I was told I was too young and needed to stop trying to act “grown.”
I wish my sex education provided a safe space to ask questions, and not being demeaned or shamed for having an interest in sex. I believe Europe’s sex ed programs are way more advanced than America’s, and I wish I had their kind of curriculum growing up.”
—LaKeisha R. female, 32, multicultural, received sex ed in the USA
“I just got comfortable talking about sex two years ago.”
“I first learned about sex at the age of 16, it seemed dangerous and disgusting. There is a lot of information that is intentionally left out about sex, and most young people in my culture do not fully understand it. There are many myths surrounding sex that we were told, and this indirectly affects our understanding of the topic.
I wish I had learned way earlier, the way having sex or not affects your relationship with your partner. My sex education was not comprehensive at all. I learned about sex in bits and pieces; I had to do the digging myself and put the bits together.”
—Anonymous, female, 27, African, received sex ed in Nigeria
"I grew up in a house full of women and still sex was taboo."
"I learned sex by myself when I was like 14 years old, talking to girlfriends among laughter about things we knew nothing about. We found the boys very cute and played imagining how it would be, but my family never gave me any advice on sex. I wish they had given me more openness to talk about it."
—Gabriela, 29, female, Afro-brazilian, received sex ed in São Paulo (Brazil)
“My first sex ed was really out of the blue… My mom wanted to make sure that my knowledge about sex came from a credible source.”
“My first sex ed was really out of the blue. My mom sat me down and explained to me what happened during a heterosexual sexual intercourse and I didn’t see it coming. And because my mom was pretty straightforward and not awkward about it, it didn’t feel awkward to me at all. And I guess at that age (9), I didn’t know that talking about sex would normally make people feel awkward. My mom said she wanted to make sure that my knowledge about sex came from a credible source (her) and not some random forum on the internet.
However, my sex ed in high school was not comprehensive at all, when my facilitator was going through the female reproductive system, she said that the clitoris is what we use to pee. I had already started masturbating so I knew my anatomy really well and I got so angry, but I didn’t want to say anything because I was afraid that the response was going to be “how did you know that?” and I didn’t want to say.
I wish I was more informed about contraception when I first learned about sex. Contraception is very affordable and accessible in my culture, but only for married people. Young, unmarried people still get stares from healthcare professionals when they go to the clinic to get birth control.”
—Valerie, female, 22, Asian, received sex ed in Indonesia
Want to continue your sex education?
Learn more about the vagina, vulva and clitoris, how pregnancy happens, and how to have safer sex.
Wondering how to make sex education better?
Check out our interview with Dr. Sara C. Flowers Melina Gaze about how to make sex education more inclusive.