I’ve always been a bit shy when it comes to talking about sex. This might surprise you – I co-host a podcast all about sex and gender in which we talk in depth about the ins and outs (pun intended) of the sexual knowledge we gain and awkward experiences retold in the books we read. The girls on the podcast joke that I’m a prude – whilst I’m happy talking about kinks, anal sex and nipple tassels, as soon as we veer towards discussing personal experiences, I run a metaphorical mile. Even writing this blog post, I’ve backspaced and re-written at least four sentences, and we’re not even one paragraph in. I don’t know why, but talking about sex that relates to my life in any way just freaks me out.
Why am I so afraid of talking about my sex life? I guess it stems from being an awkward, uneducated teenager. I remember my mum sitting down with me when I was twelve and checking that I had been taught in school about the birds and the bees, and that’s probably the closest we ever got to a discussion about sex. From then on, we had an unspoken rule that unless my sister or I got pregnant, any implication that we were having sex was not to be mentioned. I was absolutely fine with that.
And sure, I’d been taught about sex, but not the comprehensive kind of education you can get from the internet today. I was online – I was playing virtual solitaire and downloading MSN Messenger – but YouTube was in its infancy, and sex-ed vloggers and websites with information and resources were scarce. All the teen magazines had to share were heavily-censored problem pages, and young adult novels portraying any sexual activity as almost juvenile; a cheeky snog behind the bikesheds didn’t feel all that relevant when I already had friends who were having sex behind said bikesheds. Just being taught how to avoid pregnancy and being shown scary pictures of genital infections didn’t really arm me with the knowledge I needed to have healthy sexual relationships.
So throughout my teens I lived in a world of relative naivety. While my friends and I did talk about sex on our lunch break, it was more like, “Oh, we had sex here and he has a tattoo saying ‘Kavos 2012’ on his buttcheek,” not about the actual deed itself. I didn’t know what was normal in a sexual relationship, and that led to a lot of ignorance on my part. I still thought that having lots of sex was “slutty”, and that certain sex acts were super explicit and only happened in porn.
I remember a nurse coming in to give us a talk on sexually transmitted infections (STIs) when I was seventeen, and she gave each of us a swab so the whole year group could get tested for chlamydia. I was so uncomfortable about this – what if I had an STI? I’d only had sex once! That couldn’t be possible, right?
That’s why it is so important to have those discussions. Whilst I didn’t end up having an STI, I remained anxious about it for the whole week that I spent waiting for the results. For some reason, I’d imagined chlamydia to be this terrifying, painful disease that would make my vagina green and mouldy. I didn’t even talk to my friends about it, as I thought they would see it as gross to even consider that we might have caught something.
But in reality, it’s not like that at all. 70% of females infected with chlamydia will have no obvious signs or symptoms. The treatment is easy, for most it’s a simple pill. Chlamydia is the most commonly diagnosed STI in the UK, so if you’ve ever had unprotected sex, there is a strong chance you might have caught it without even realising. So it’s important to get tested, as left untreated, STIs such as chlamydia and gonorrhea can have damaging long-term effects such as infertility.
Here are the statistics I should have been taught but I didn’t know: In the UK, women continue to have higher diagnosis rates of STIs than males. Chlamydia is the most commonly diagnosed STI in the UK, with 62% of these diagnoses occurring amongst heterosexual young people aged 15-24. This is why it is important to talk about sex, and our sex lives, as much as possible. STIs spread easily, and we can avoid all the worrying and panicking if we just talked about it a little more.
Since educating myself about sex, I have been so much more comfortable with the things I encounter as a result. I don’t panic when I have pain, or strange discharge – I know that I need to see a doctor. I have been getting tested for STI’s at least once a year since I became sexually active, which has given me real peace of mind over the years when it comes to casual sex. I used to be so worried about sex and everything it entailed, but I have slowly made some progress.
Now, I think it’s time to take the next step. I am determined to get more comfortable discussing my own sex life because, at the end of the day, the only way I was able to reduce my own anxiety about the topic was to be open to learning more. As I’ve got older, I’ve had some very frank conversations with friends and I’ve read a lot of books. It’s important to me that I up the anti and keep talking about it too, as that’s one of the best ways to decrease the stigma surrounding sex. Whilst I’m already on that journey when it comes to my public life, my conversations with friends need to get a little more explicit in order for us both to benefit. When you start talking about the weird and wonderful aspects of your sex life, everything starts to make a little more sense. I wish I’d had that kind of reassurance when I was seventeen.
So let’s start with the basics. Hi, I’m Lucy and I have sex. I love learning about sex, talking about sex and having sex. I think it’s important to be knowledgeable and safe, and since that seventeen year-old chlamydia screening, I get tested every year to make sure I’m okay.
I think that’s a good start.
This post was made in partnership with The Mix. If you’re getting some, then get tested – if you haven’t had your STI test this year, or have a new sexual partner, visit https://gettingsomegettested.co.uk/ to find your nearest clinic.