At the age of 20 I found out that urine doesn’t come out of the clitoris. I’m a woman with a vagina.
Needless to say, the sex education I received in high school was comically brief. Outside of school, my parents never discussed sex with me, but my mother informed me about menstruation when I was 9 years old. When I heard this unfortunate news, I started crying and saying that I should have been born a boy. After that, we never had sex talk again.
What I learned in sex education was that STDs are scary. That was my biggest take away.
During health class, our teacher clicked through slides of the worst cases of STD symptoms while the class laughed, winced, and even screamed in terror. Our teacher didn’t scold us for being immature, but instead nodded in agreement.
The vagina has many – let’s call them “quirks”. Whenever I experienced any of these “quirks,” I thought I had an STD, which led to immense anxiety.
Let’s start with smegma. According to Healthline, “Smegma is a secretion of the oil glands around the genitals.” When you hear about smegma, you usually think of penises and foreskin.
However, the vagina is also prone to “smegmic” tendencies. In women, smegma occurs in the folds of the labia and around the clitoris. When smegma builds up around the clitoris, it can cause keratin beads. Keratin beads are tiny, hard, and pearl-shaped.
We are not taught that women suffer from smegma. Of course we’re learning about discharge, but that ends up in your underwear. Smegma, on the other hand, is hidden in the folds of the vagina.
Not knowing what smegma is and seeing a thick, white paste in my labia was worrying enough. But seeing keratin beads really made me fear something had gone horribly wrong.
They can also be quite painful, especially if you try to remove them, which you shouldn’t do. Basically every medical website you look at will tell you not to try to remove keratin beads.
Of course I tried to remove them. To get it out, I squeezed the bead until it came out. They don’t pop because they aren’t liquid. It’s like pushing a grain of sand out of the clitoris.
It was very painful and I do not recommend it. If they don’t bother you, just leave them alone. If they really bother you, there’s a wonderful-sounding procedure that, according to The Centers for Vulvovaginal Disorders, “breaks up the adhesions with a fine metal probe, and then removes the keratin beads.”
Side note: “Clutching my keratin pearls” was an alternate headline for this article.
Aside from keratin beads, I also thought the pimples on my ass were the result of an STD. They weren’t, but they weren’t pimples either.
Ask any girl and they’ve probably dealt with what we commonly refer to as “butt picks.” The technical term for these outbreaks is “folliculitis.” Folliculitis is typically caused by infection of a hair follicle.
According to Medical News Today, “A pimple is the result of a clogged pore. A boil or boil is a pus-filled lump caused by a bacterial infection.”
These bumps are not the result of an STD. Instead, they are actually God’s sixth plague, boils.
The difference between pimples and boils is not really significant. If the boils are persistent or bothersome, you can drain them, but they often go away on their own.
It’s just the idea that they’re boils that make them seem so gross and worse than pimples.
I could go on and on about the normal tribulations of vaginal health that I thought were STDs. Honorable mentions include yeast infections, urinary tract infections, and ingrown hairs (the classics).
The problem with the sex education I received is not only the lack of depth but also how I was taught to fear STDs.
My sex ed teacher discussed many things that could go wrong but didn’t mention the things I would experience if I had genitals at all.
Although my sex education was flawed, I was fortunate to go to school in one of only 17 states that require medically correct sex education. Oklahoma, in particular, does not require universal sex education in schools, but does require HIV prevention to be taught.
Oklahoma’s HIV prevention curriculum focuses on abstinence and emphasizes that gay sex and promiscuity are “primarily responsible for exposure to the AIDS virus.” At least I wasn’t taught abstinence-only-homophobia in California.
Regardless of your state’s laws, there is room for improvement. In high school, I was taught to fear STDs and that the only way to be completely safe is to abstain. Much like the only way to avoid car accidents is not to drive.
We got the birth control game. Including but not limited to diaphragms, dental dams and con-dams. I have learned important information. But when it came to STDs, the message was clear: if you’ve contracted one, you’re gross.
STD prevention is important to learn. Even so, we should not be taught that a disease or infection transmitted through sex is more morally shameful than non-STIs.
Going through puberty and learning about sex is confusing and disconcerting enough as it is. Teens, especially women, need more general information about their genitals before they even get to STDs. Then, by taking the stigma and fear out of sex education, teachers can properly inform students without causing undue anxiety.
Molly Myers can be reached at [email protected]