What is the meaning of life? Is there such a thing as heaven and hell? Can you pee with a tampon in?
These philosophical questions have been the cause of many head-scratching debates throughout history. Everyone from our greatest Greek thinkers, to that guy you matched with on Hinge last week, have all silently wondered if in fact, people with vaginas pee and bleed out of the same hole.
I’m kidding, of course. Well, kind of.
Let me back it up to a sweltering summer night in 2020, when I was laying in bed with my then 24-year-old, ex-boyfriend. I was getting up to use the bathroom, when he grabbed my arm to stop me, eyes wide with concern.
“Aren’t you wearing a tampon?” He asked.
“Yes…” I replied, not quite sure where he was going with this.
He strained to understand, and I saw the gears of his mind, body, and soul go into overdrive.
“But how are you—wait—is it possible to pee with a tampon on?”
You know that part in every war movie when an explosion goes off, and the main character hears a long, ear-piercing siren while the world around them turns to slo-mo? That was me. Except instead of an explosion, it was my realization that the man I’d been sleeping with for three years didn’t know I had a urethra.
I squinted my eyes, looking for any sign that he was being disingenuous or pranking me. Was he mad that I wouldn’t have period sex but would… pee? I thought. “On?!” How can a tampon be on? My brain searched for answers with little to no success. Oh God. I paused. He’s being serious.
I should probably clarify for anyone who may be wondering at this point that yes, you can pee with a tampon in (not “on,” unless you’re using some electronic device that I haven’t heard of yet). A tampon is inserted into the vagina, while you pee out of the urethra, making the two holes neighbors, not roommates.
As my boyfriend waited for an answer (and I was on the brink of pissing myself), I considered my options. I could A) Break up with him, B) Politely educate him, or C) Tweet about it.
My bf just asked me if it’s possible to pee with a tampon on
— scary bradshaw (@stefdagz) July 15, 2020
The next morning, I woke up to thousands of retweets and replies, and hundreds of messages flooding my inbox. Little did I know that my boyfriend’s innocent question would send me down a sex-ed wormhole.
The first thing I learned was that many people had had similar experiences as mine. My boyfriend thought you wrap the wings of a pad around your thighs, one girl wrote. Another shared that her boyfriend asked if she could just pour out all her period blood at once. The more I read, the more I thought to myself: HOW?
Which is what lead me to this upsetting fact: As of October 2020, only 30 states and the District of Columbia require public schools to teach sex education, and only 22 require that if provided, it be medically accurate.
That is—and I’m paraphrasing here—fucking nuts. Imagine if we were allowed to teach math wrong. Or take creative liberties with biochemistry. This probably explains why every man I’ve ever slept with has touched my clitoris in the same manner that they might, say, start a fire in the woods. They probably have no idea how painful it is, much less that the clitoris is a highly sensitive body part with over 8,000 nerve endings.
The problem is, a lack of streamlined, medically accurate sex education has very real consequences. Ones that go way beyond awkward pillow talk and unfulfilling sexual experiences—although those things definitely suck too.
With the decision on the status of Roe v. Wade hanging in the balance, I’ve yet again begun to see evidence of how little people really know and understand about sexual health, especially when it comes to the health of people with vaginas. Last week, I came across an old article where someone referred to birth control as an “abortion-inducing drug.” That comment, by the way, was from Senator Ted Cruz, and is, simply put, not true.
It’s also not that surprising when you consider how sparse, and relatively new, sex education is in this country. For context, it wasn’t until 1980 that New Jersey became the first state to require sex education in all its public schools. You know it’s bad when the birthplace of Snooki is at the forefront of innovation—and I can say that, I’m from New Jersey.
Sex education is an umbrella term that can and should include things like sex (all kinds of it!), masturbation, pregnancy, abortion, contraception, gender and sexual identity, consent, and much, much, more. Things like the former Trump administration’s rollback of funding to the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, which offers grants to programs that teach pregnancy prevention, and Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill, which prohibits any discussion of LGBTQIA+ related themes, completely stifle comprehensive approaches to sex education, leaving swaths of children scrambling to learn these things on their own.
And while this all may seem oceans away from my ex’s original question, it all feels like scenes in the same Sexually Misinformed Cinematic Universe, ones that start with absurd middle school rumors about blue balls, and end with lawmakers spreading false information about birth control.
Since I first tweeted my ex’s question, it’s become my mission to revamp sex-education in my own digestible, lighthearted ways. Last year, for example, I started a series on TikTok in which I interview men about vulvas, and I’m currently developing a podcast on the topic.
@stefdag SOS 🥵 #fyp #boyfriendcheck #period #TikTokGGT @joeydardano ♬ Circus – Britney Spears
The results were hilarious and shocking, but more importantly, have led to countless conversations between myself and strangers online. As a comedian, this approach makes sense to me, but I also think we should tackle these topics from a place of sincerity rather than shame. We need to be radically fearless in our defense of sex education and the conversations surrounding it, especially at a time when our country’s leaders are threatening policies aimed at protecting our bodies. There’s no need to feel embarrassed about what you don’t know, especially when no one’s taught you otherwise.
Image: Martin Pisotti / Deathtothestockphoto.com; stefdagz / Twitter; stefdag / TikTok