Sex education programs designed to delay sexual activity, increase contraception use and reduce teen pregnancy fail to do so — and some may make the problem worse. This is a reality that Shannon Boodram knows all too well. We sat down with the celebrated sexologist and YouTube starlet to talk condoms, consent and chlamydia — and here’s what we learned.
1. We don’t know what we’re doing
According to a report released by the National Conference of State Legislators, only 21 states require schools to teach sex education, and only 18 states require that the information be medically accurate. Boodram believes that avoiding the subject, however, leads to teenagers having erroneous information regarding sex.
“We understand that we crave sugar even though it’s not healthy for us,” she explains. “But because we know why, we decide to make better food choices. When it comes to sex and relationships, we’re left to our own devices.”
Better sex education plays a vital role in helping young people make well-informed, responsible decisions and forming healthy relationships. But where do we start? Improving communication.
“Something as simple as saying, ‘Once a month you’re going to feel super horny because you’re ovulating at that time,’” she urges. “Without those conversations, it can feel like you’re making the wrong choices or that there’s something wrong with you and your body.”
2. You’re sexy — leg hair and all
Am I stubbly? Do I smell? Is the lighting bad? These are only a few of the questions that sidetrack us when we’re in between sheets. Shannon believes that a healthy relationship is contingent on partners giving each other the space to be imperfect.
“Find somebody that treats you the same on the day you were just waxed and have a face full of makeup as the day you come off of your period and you haven’t shaved in a week.”
3. We get trapped by bad habits
We all have a friend who seems addicted to someone who’s bad for them. Our brains can get locked into negative patterns and fixate on people who aren’t good for us.
“It’s like cigarettes,” cautions Boodram. “Even though they’re not great for you, you can get addicted.”
Her fix? Shannon recommends looking at love not as a feeling, but as a neurological condition, such as hunger or thirst.
“It’s extremely important to make sure that who you spend time with is a healthy person, because your body can get addicted to people who aren’t necessarily the best for you.”
4. Consent is crucial
Much of the recent conversation surrounding consent focuses on the phrase “no means no,” but Boodram warns against the promotion of an outmoded concept of consent.
The belief that rape is something that occurs with anonymous men in dark alleys is a dangerous one. While it certainly can play out this way, rape happens far more often by acquaintances in familiar settings. According to the National Institute of Justice, about 85 to 90 percent of sexual assaults reported by college women are perpetrated by someone known to the victim.
“Keeping the conversation as broad as possible is important because it could be your boyfriend, it could be your teacher. It could be so many things,” Shannon outlines. “Rape is really defined by the moment that you decided to say ‘no’ and someone doesn’t respect that.”
5. Don’t jump off the condom cliff
Planned Parenthood reports that condoms are used by couples only 25 percent of the time during intercourse. Of those in long-term relationships who didn’t always use condoms, 62 percent said they stopped using condoms at the two-month mark in their relationship.
“A few months into a relationship, most couples jump off the condom cliff and stop using them,” Boodram says. “I was in that position.”
For many, she explains, the intangible statistics — that one out of every two people under 26 will contract an STD — don’t seem factual because no one owns up to being a statistic.
“I found out I had chlamydia at my mom’s clinic. I was in a relationship, which is how I discovered that I was being cheated on.”
Today she’s using her platform to encourage young people to be smarter about getting tested.
“The good news about having a sexually transmitted infection today is that we have WebMD and Google at our fingertips,” she highlights, “so most people who have any type of illness know everything about it inside and out.”
6. Express your sexual quirks
Many couples hit a wall when it comes to discussing the steamy stuff that happens inside the bedroom.
“As women we’re pseudo-brainwashed into making certain faces or saying certain things or making porn sounds,” Shannon explains. “It’s more of a performance than it is an authentic expression of self.”
A new study by Durex reveals that while 42 percent of survey respondents said they discuss their sex lives with a close friend, only 27 percent said they talked to their partner about their desires or satisfaction in the bedroom. Her advice? Pay attention to the details.
“If someone says something as small as ‘go slower,’ or if someone jolts in a certain way when you graze the back of their knee, pay attention and do it the next time,” she suggests. “It’s about listening and wanting to be better.”