Those of us who had some form of sex ed in school learned the basics: what your period is made of, how fertilization works, how to put a condom on a banana. But there's a lot of ladybusiness that you just don't learn til you're older, from living, talking to people, and (shudder) trial and error. Herewith, a look back at that dark time when we didn't know this shit.
In a lot of ways, I was a lucky teenager and early-twentysomething. My high school's sex ed programs sometimes emphasized abstinence (and sometimes told us weird lies about how premarital sex would destroy us), but also taught me about condoms and birth control. My mom was loving and non-judgmental and took me to her gynecologist — the woman who had delivered my brother — when I asked her to. But I'm still pretty glad that I no longer rely on my mom for gyno referrals and general vagina advice.
The truth is, until I was twenty-three or so, my friends and I didn't know that much about our ladyparts. We were aware of the basics, but when it came to advanced-level stuff, we were kind of clueless. What do you do if sex hurts? What happens if your Pap smear is abnormal? How do you prevent a UTI? These were questions I didn't know the answer to, and if any of my female friends knew, they weren't saying.
Part of this just had to do with the substance of our conversations. My friends and I were certainly talking about sex when we were nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, but we weren't really talking about health all that much. Maybe it's because we still thought we were invincible, or because we were so young we hadn't dealt with many real health issues yet, but I also think we were a little scared. At least I was. I was often worried that whatever was going on with my body at the time, no matter how minor, was abnormal and should be kept under wraps. And then, as my early twenties drew to a close, something seemed to shift and such abnormalities became okay to talk about — and I realized they weren't that abnormal after all.
Some people must talk openly about sexual health from puberty onwards, and I salute them. But at least for me, a certain comfort level with my body and its weirdnesses has come only with time. For younger women, this is something to look forward to — if you find the maze of lady-health confusing to navigate now, rest assured that it does get easier. And for those of us who have noticed that we no longer have to frantically Google things like "vagina hurts," it's cause for celebration. One good thing about getting older is that you've been with your body for a while, and you've learned a little bit about it. And then you can pass that knowledge along to others — or at least let them know that it will come with age.
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