When I was about 15, I realized that when I told a girl that she was pretty, it meant something different than what my friends meant. Seeing a pretty girl made me feel butterflies in my stomach, warmth in my face, and tingles in the place we never even talked about - all of the feelings my friends got when they talked about boys. I was worried. What could this mean? I thought I knew what it meant but it couldn’t possibly be; I had been raised Catholic, and had been attending Catholic school since I was 6.

My experience in Catholic school put a lot of emphasis on a man and a woman getting married and taking on traditional gender roles in the home. Sex education was non-existent in both grammar school and high school, and I didn’t even know where to start learning about sexuality beyond that narrow, heterosexual scope. I couldn’t explore myself in an intolerant community and I was constantly being inundated with ideas that told me who I was was wrong.

In a 2017 report by The Guttmacher Institute, “Over the past two decades, the United States has spent approximately $2 billion on ineffective and stigmatizing programming for adolescents focused on promoting abstinence from sex outside of marriage.”

Abstinence-only programs have been proven time and time again to be ineffective. By only teaching abstinence, schools are depriving students of a basic human right “to complete and accurate information about their sexual and reproductive health” (Guttmacher Institute). Obama’s presidency brought about a large and much-needed shift towards comprehensive sex education, but since Trump’s election, sex education has shifted back towards a conservative, pro-abstinence model.

The average age at which Millennials lose their virginity is 17.4 years old, which is on par with the average age for all generations.

Abstinence-only sex education is unrealistic.

Not only do kids not learn how to prevent STIs, HIV, and pregnancy, but other very important topics get lost, including proper consent, self-love and care, and benefits of self-pleasure.

For me, not having proper sex education led to a lot of problems with me not loving myself. Everything I was taught made me feel like who I really wanted to love was wrong. I hated feeling like I wasn’t enough and like I was being ostracized from the only community I ever knew. I never learned proper sex education or contraceptive options for my sexual identity, and I never even thought that self-pleasure was an option for me.

It wasn’t until I was 20 years old that someone finally told me that I could be who I am without worrying about what others thought or being ashamed of myself. It was midway through college, and most of my friends were queer and knew what I couldn’t yet admit to myself. It was a year of finding the courage to come out to the amazing community that was around me at school. By this time in my life, it became so important for me to seek out my own resources to learn proper sex and masturbation because I finally accepted who I was, I am a lesbian.

After avoiding it for so long - I was able to say yes to loving myself, pleasuring myself, and letting others love and pleasure me too. At first, self-love is weird because it comes in many forms, but I think I should’ve been doing it all along, and I was finally happy with the person I was for the first time in about 7 years. I was scared at first to explore - it was a whole new world for me, and I barely had even accepted that I could touch my own vagina. While resources on self-love are out there, they’re not the easiest to find, and they can be embarrassing to search for. I myself was incredibly self-conscious in exploring myself because of the stigma attached to masturbation.

Embarrassed or not, it was important. I couldn’t let myself be scared of myself any longer. As I actively sought out the right sex education for my identity and needs, I became more comfortable with the idea of exploring myself, although it wasn’t a sudden shift by any means. I was uncomfortable for a long time, but that’s just because being gay, masturbation, and sex in general is so stigmatized. If you are in a tough spot and looking to learn comprehensive sex education, there are resources for anyone regardless of sexual education, religion, or any other external factors.

Below are some resources to help you get started with exploring comprehensive sex education:

Sex education for all:

I Wanna Know
Planned Parenthood

Sex between a woman and a woman:

Sex For Lesbians by Autostraddle
Lesbian Sex 101 Video Series by Stevie Boebi

Self pleasure:

Masturbation Tips All Women Should Know by Refinery29
Masturbating Tips and Tricks by Unbound