I once auditioned for a community theater production of the musical, Rent. Theater camp in my younger days had prepared me for audition protocol: to slate (state my name, what I was reading, and the part for which I was about to audition), to be memorized if possible, and to sing or read until the casting people stopped me. Little did I know, that for this type of production, it was preferred that those auditioning sing a song from Rent, and bring their own sheet music.
Young and nervous, I went in prepared with a ballad from Legally Blonde: The Musical. If you’re a Broadway fanatic, you’ll know that these shows are less-than-similar. I sang (sans sheet music, because I didn’t realize I’d need it), nervous about my ill-preparedness, and then was asked to sing a song from Rent (obviously). Regardless of the fact that the Music Director gave me the sheet music and lyrics, and I had listened to the music on my own, I was so panicked about being ill-prepared that I botched the audition. I did not get a part.
While sex is not an audition nor is it a competition of any kind, without the proper sex education, you might find yourself in a similar position to 14-year-old Sarah: nervous, unsure, feeling like you missed something. And with such a high cost of unplanned pregnancy (about $12 billion/year for publicly funded unplanned pregnancy medical care), more and more programs are being put in place to properly educate all ages about how to have safe, enjoyable sex. Still, not all programs that are currently in place are as comprehensive as they could be.
You Can Get STIs from Oral Sex
Cosmo lists this as one of the top things they wish they had learned in sex ed. The Palo Alto Medical Foundation lists chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea (and a less likely genital warts in the mouth) as infections that can be contracted via oral sex. While you may not hear it often, using a condom for oral sex is always the safest option, especially with hookups you may not know all that well.
Communication is (the most) Important (after safety)
It is absolutely critical that you tell someone what you want during any sexual act. Say what you like or what hurts—preferably before the pain ensues. This includes saying “no” if you don’t want to do something, no matter how far (or shallow) you have already gone.
“Blue Balls” is never an excuse or a guilt-mechanism to be used
If someone tells you that you have to finish an act because they will otherwise have blue balls, feel free to leave immediately (and make yourself a sandwich with their cold cuts on the way out).
Casual sex is not something to be looked down upon
Be safe and do what you want. Don’t let your gym/health teacher tell you that you must be in love, you must be in a serious relationship, or you must have at least $20,000 in your bank account plus sex insurance (or whatever bullshit, scare tactic they use). I should be kind though, I did have some solid health teachers that told things how they were. Still, no one spoke about casual sex as if it were a reality, just something to be dealt with if it happened—as if it would be an accident that would only happen if you were drunk enough? Any person can choose, soberly, to have casual sex.
Not everything will be everyone’s cup of tea
Oral sex is made out to be the most incredible experience beside sex itself. But that is not always the case! There are a myriad of reasons you might not enjoy oral sex, or you might not have a reason; you just don’t like it. So what? If you’re not into it, you are certainly not missing out on anything. I have friends, both male and female, that are just not into oral sex at all. Some enjoy foreplay more than sex itself. Don’t judge, listen to your partners, and don’t make fun of anyone for what they do or don’t like. Relax.
Keep details to yourself
Post-coital conduct is not discussed nearly enough. Do not share details about another person’s sexual habits, lingerie, fantasies, etc. with anyone unless it is for medical purposes or some other emergency. Everyone tells crazy sex stories, sure, but that does not mean it is appropriate or humane to bring someone else’s private life to light. Say what you want about yourself, but not your partners.
You can carry condoms too
It’s chill for women to keep condoms on hand. Classes often emphasize that it is the “man’s responsibility”, but you can take equal responsibility for your safety. Keep your birth control method on hand if that’s what makes you feel safe and confident.
Test products before you use them
MID-SEX IS PROBABLY NOT A GOOD TIME TO FIGURE OUT THAT YOU HAVE A LATEX ALLERGY OR THAT YOUR THROAT SWELLS WHEN YOU USE CHOCOLATE-FLAVORED LUBE, IDK.
If you get pregnant, you can ask for help
Planned Parenthood is a wonderful organization with a wonderful set of resources and transparent information. Use clinics, use your friends, use your family. Abortions are legal and possible. You might realize you’re in a great place in your life to raise a child—and that’s great if that’s what you want! Just know that if you end up preggo, you are not done and out of options.
You can ask your partner questions if you’re unsure about what they like or want. I’m trying to cover a lot of what sex ed missed, but there will inevitably be topics and personal preferences that I cannot touch upon.
This is a lot to take in, I know, especially if you missed this stuff in high school sex ed. Don’t feel like you’re left behind though, because I’m definitely not the all-knowing-expert. Google stuff, keep your mind open, and always be prepared. Take care of your body first; listening to your own instincts and values will ultimately get you where you need to be. And if you're going to sing a song from Legally Blonde, at least bring the sheet music.
Resources: NCSL Report, Cosmopolitan, Palo Alto Medical Foundation