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The Adult Sex Education Gap And How To Fill It

American adult sex education is un-education. What the hell do you need sex education for? Aren’t you just supposed to know this stuff? What indeed.

Sean Christopher
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“Aren’t you just supposed to know this stuff?” The words sounded plausible, but it literally made me shudder at how easily they slid out of his mouth. I was struggling to find the words for what I wanted to do in my new sexuality career. I didn’t want to be a sex therapist or counselor. I learned that our world needed desperate help with adult sex education. I settled on sex educator. “What the hell do you need a sex educator for? Aren’t you just supposed to know this stuff?”

What indeed.

Sex education in the United States is mostly focused on youth in schools and community programs. The assumption is that by the time a person reaches adulthood where sex actually happens, information about sexuality should become self-evident. Consequently, sex education in youth contexts circumvents the real issues of sex, sexuality, and sexual fulfillment, instead of painting a picture that obviates sex till adulthood. Unfortunately, no adult sex education happens then either.

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Un-Education Is Adult Sex Education

The debate twixt abstinence-only sex education and comprehensive sex education rages in the United States. According to Guttmacher Institute, currently, only 13 states require that when sex education is provided that it be medically accurate. At the same time, 37 states require that information on abstinence be provided. Of those, 27 require that abstinence be stressed.

Questions of sex prevail in the minds of youth:

  • “Is my body normal?”
  • “What happens when people rub body parts together? And, exactly which body parts can we rub together?”
  • “What do these sexual feelings mean for me?”
  • “How, exactly, do you do that?”

Youth sex ed doesn’t address real questions about sex. While sexual curiosity catalyzes experimentation, the clanging message and only relevant information in the clever minds of educators are this:


Profound, isn’t it? Youth are motivated to experiment and have real questions which, incidentally don’t go away in adulthood. The main message? Don’t.

American sex education, while front-loading a stern abstinence-only message, delivers a back-end healthy dose of “shame on you” for entertaining those immoral questions in the first place. Youth sex ed persists in side-stepping real-world relevant sex information through those all-important developmental years. Then it launches young adults into the abyss of sexual ignorance. Where exactly is the demarcation which finally permits relevant sex education for those young adults coming of age? And, by the way, where is adult sex ed?

Seems to me there’s a gap in there. An adult sex education gap.

Sex ed which we are duped into thinking is actually relevant falls into three areas.


Moralistic sex education is nestled under the purview of religious institutions, families, and communities. And incidentally, abstinence-only sex ed is run by the moralistic camp as well. Here, restriction rules by enforcing conformity to sexual behavior and pronouncing strict definitions. Restriction of sexual behavior and thought ensures that attitudes toward sex remain comfortable for those desiring to control the lives of others.

The downside of religious sex ed is the decidedly measured thinking and the scant sexual opportunity it offers. Sex play is anything but play leaving the sole act of sexual expression to that of “stick this in that”. That’s pretty much all you need to know, right? The massive mouth-watering menu of sexual imagination remains untouched. Creative configuration of sexual relationships would scarcely enter consideration amid interminable social battles over gender, sexual attraction, and sexual expression.


Sex education from the medical slant, while critical, is mistaken for the substantive stuff that adults need to fill the gap. It leaves them without a functional framework for their sex lives. In short, sex ed from a medical perspective is more about what’s not working right than about how sex actually works.

Go talk to a doctor about an erection concern, and you’ll see what I mean.

Here pathology with regard to sexual function and mental health dominates the conversation with things like erectile dysfunction, performance anxiety, waning testosterone, and prostate issues. The result?


The downside of this kind of sex education is that an American adult audience has little or no personal sexual structure or personal sexual values. Just anxiety about their sexuality. Given information about a dysfunction, they flounder as to what to do with it as they may have reached mid- or late-life and still don’t know or haven’t even considered what sex means for them.

Perhaps they never will.

Public Health

Sex education initiatives in the public health realm are intended to move statistics. Agencies spend dollars to improve teen pregnancy stats, STI, and sexual violence figures. While moralistic and medical sex ed both evade human emotion, pleasure, and meaning, public health sex education actually comes close to some feelings. Public health sex education must consider and discuss sexual behavior — like what body parts you rub together. Did you ever learn to put a condom on a banana? This is the sort of thing I’m talking about.

What it can’t do, though, is impact how sex helps people to know themselves. This is really the main and I might venture the only real reason for sex — to know yourself. Public health sex ed can’t impact the meaning of sex in people’s lives. It doesn’t create a sexually well-adjusted society. You may have noticed that.

Paucity of Pleasures

Sex ed for youth and adults dodges the often ambiguous and storied discussions of meaning and pleasure. Teens who conform to the purity demands of their families and religious communities miss the important window of curiosity and experimentation during which they form their sexual identities, discover the delights of sexual expression and witness their own attractive sexual character. This window isn’t something you suddenly open one day when you realize now’s the time! to suddenly become sexual. You were sexual all along. Somehow we neglect to tell young folk that.

The Cost of Distress

No end of pain vexes our society because we dance around sexual issues. Isolation from our sexual nature is not natural. The issues are rife:

  • Confused social roles due to our awkward silence
  • Inaccurate personal views regarding our own desirability and ability to give or receive sexual pleasure
  • Shame from lacking basic knowledge about sex
  • Guilt about sexual behaviors
  • Confusion about how to talk about sexuality (when I first meet my clients no one — no one! is able to confidently talk about themselves using sexual language!)

These issues and more leave us absolutely misinformed, unable to function, and steeped in self-loathing.

Where to Know What You Don’t Know

Most people succumb to the internet to locate the sexual information they seek. Unfortunately, people are met with a lot of snippets of information and trite sayings which only leave them wanting.

I’m stunned by the beliefs my own clients and students bring into my consultation rooms and classrooms. Consider these:

  • Menstrual fluid is full of infection (no, actually, it’s very clean.)
  • Oral contraception doesn’t work most of the time (actually, it’s almost 99% effective with perfect use.)
  • Interest in anal stimulation means you’re gay (sexual attraction and sexual pleasure have little in common. And I’m pretty sure we’ve learned that gay is good — haven’t we?)
  • HIV runs in families (HIV is a virus. Viruses aren’t passed genetically).
  • Viagra will get you in the mood (ED drugs don’t give you an erection or impact your libido.)

Intentional and Adaptive Adult Sex Education

Wouldn’t it be nice to possess easy attitudes toward our sexuality which allowed us to shift our behavior and change how we express ourselves sexually with the passing years of our lives? I have good news!

We can!

Accurate and Relevant Sexual Information

Traditional models of sex ed are extremely limiting because they only discuss sex in conceptual or theoretical terms — not in terms of real sex.

  • What we need is sex ed for adults which allows us to go home and try something.
  • We need sex ed that tells us to put this here and rub that against that and you might feel something better or at least really interesting.
  • We need sex ed that helps us expand orgasm.
  • We need sex ed that uses pleasure to teach.
  • We need sex ed that helps us develop our self-concept to continue to learn who we are.

In order to accomplish all of that, you can’t have a sex education teacher or mentor who is skittish talking about sex. You can’t have a doctor who (my god, this happened to me!) asks you “How is everything down there?” Geez! No, what you need is someone to guide you who loves talking about semen, penises, erotic energy, masturbation, fantasy, porn, and yes, poop.

Insatiable Sexual Desire

If you don’t feed your sexual self, it will eventually get discouraged and just go away. If you don’t talk about sex both casually and intently with people who are sexually intelligent, you shut down and dissociate from the subject of sex altogether. If you don’t cultivate your curiosity and become informed about the current issues in today’s sexual society as well as the relevant issues of your own life, you’ll wind up struggling to locate your sexual self.

In three words, you stop existing.

Here’s where sex ed for seniors becomes a hot topic. People assume that loss of sexual interest is natural. That couldn’t be further from the truth. What is true is that sex looks different as the decades pass. What becomes necessary is senior sex education to point out the issues and creative ways to express ourselves sexually and find means of sexual pleasure with our changing bodies, lifestyles, and relationships. Sex, expression, and pleasure are always possible no matter our age or physical condition.

From our teens to our nineties, sexual experiences are our best teachers. Experimentation is how we learn from the day we’re born when we mostly used our mouths to intimately sense everything around us. While we pile a lot of inhibitions on ourselves in order to avoid putting things in our mouths in public, we can certainly use all of our body parts to discover our world, those with whom we want to sexually play, and stay in touch with our own meaning. Sex is an amazing way to do all of that.

Get Unstuck From Un-Education

If you find yourself in a sexual pause no matter what your age, a mentor can guide you, provide you with relevant information and help you set goals, and devise strategies to save you years of lost opportunity. When we recover our sexual selves and begin to think in terms of what we’re doing today and how it will impact us a decade or three from now, we become sexually adaptable. We become adaptable when we take in hand:

  • accurate and relevant sexual information
  • dynamic and flexible sexual relationships
  • ongoing sexual experience
  • a commitment to cultivating our sexual desire

Feature Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

Stick around. See what happens!

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