A couple of months ago, I shot my friends an all caps message letting them know that your vagina actually gets deeper when aroused—a fun and interesting fact I learned by way of Cosmopolitan magazine’s Snapchat story.
It’s not unusual for me to learn about my body online. In fact, most of what I know about my vagina I learned via social media, including critical information like the connection between not peeing after sex and getting a UTI—something I’m sure many people with vaginas wish they learned a lot earlier.
But we didn’t—because the reason plenty of people like me are seeking out information about the intricacies of sex and the very existence of different sexualities and gender identities on social media is because the formal sex education we’re being offered at school failed to clue us in on what matters most to us.
There are absolutely no federal laws shaping sex education, or even mandating its existence or the medical accuracy of what it offers students across the country—which is why 27 states require abstinence-only education, and only nine require discussions on sexual orientation to be inclusive. Allowing states and school districts to establish and design sex education programs means too many end up being built not for helping students navigate their bodies and sexualities, but instead for providing inaccurate information and teaching girls that their bodies are like pieces of chewed-up gum.
This could explain why LGBTQ individuals are five times as likely to search for health information online than non-LGBTQ individuals, and why websites and Instagram accounts dedicated to sexual and reproductive health have pioneered digital spaces. Entire generations of sexual beings have walked out of sex ed feeling confused, lost or even invalidated—forcing them to turn to the Internet for basic support and information.
Growing up and all the changes that comes with it should not be deemed gross or shameful. But when all we learn about our vagina’s is that we get our period and it’s such a big secret that the boys in the class don’t even get to hear about it, how are we expected to think?
Don’t get me wrong: The Internet’s power to foster safe communities and help educators provide free and easily accessible information about sexuality is great. I’m glad resources exist for people who need them, especially in the current landscape where sex ed is so politicized. But digital literacy and access also isn’t necessarily an area of equity, and the information we find online can too easily be medically inaccurate or similarly ideologically motivated.
Whether or not we understand our bodies and our sexualities should not be a matter decided at random—by Facebook algorithms, or Google search results or whether we feel motivated or curious enough to DM an influencer. Comprehensive sex education can empower adolescents and help them locate the comfort many of us didn’t grow up with when it came to issues of sex and reproduction.
We deserved better. We still do. And the legions of teens frantically typing their sexual anxieties into a search bar do, too. Sex education online isn’t bad—but it would be even better if we made sure it was happening offline in every school district across the country, too.