Dropping Zoella for speaking about intercourse toys pushes the concept feminine pleasure is shameful
By the time I was 16, I’d got most of my sex education from free online porn and the backs of my mom’s Cosmopolitan. By the time the school nurse in the class awkwardly waved a condom-covered banana and made us fear God for sexually transmitted diseases, I had already decided I knew the important things.
Sex meant a penis going into a vagina until the man finished, and then you would pray that you would not get pregnant. A decade later, the online sex positive communities saved me – but it seems schools continue to censor sex education; make it a low priority issue at best; and in the worst case dangerous and shameful.
I probably don’t have to tell you that sex education is far from appropriate in the UK. You have probably had your own experience. However, the toxic attitudes towards sexuality in schools made headlines again after it was announced that Zoella would be removed from AQA’s GCSE Media courses.
The pioneering blogger, who has been posting videos on her YouTube channel since 2009, has been on the course since 2017. However, it was removed after she published a guide to the best sex toys to “spice up your life”. AQA said its content was “not suitable for GCSE students”.
Zoella, aka Zoe Sugg, is now 30 – and said she didn’t even know her brand was on the curriculum until AQA decided to remove it.
“I actually disagree that teenagers shouldn’t learn about this stuff,” she said. “Maybe not in her bloody one [exam curriculum] But how else will teenage girls learn more about being a woman? “
AQA’s decision to remove Sugg from their curriculum isn’t exactly an issue in itself – after all, she may own a recognizable and relevant brand that speaks to teenagers, but she has never presented herself as an educator.
The real problem is denouncing them as “unsuitable,” which sends a clear message that sex toys and pleasure – especially female pleasure – are wrong.
Sugg has stated that the purpose of the Zoella website, composed of “a team of women who all share a common passion for other women,” is to “talk about taboo subjects.” She said she wants to open up conversations with experts who are asking the less heard to use their voice – and trying to have a really diverse range of topics to help people, inspire them, or make them feel “less alone” to feel.
The sad fact is that female pleasure is already portrayed as “taboo” in society unless it is for male pleasure. At 16, I and most of my friends used shower heads, toothbrushes – or pretty much anything we could get our hands on – to explore our bodies … not that we admitted it back then.
Boys masturbated and girls pretended not to know about orgasms. By removing Sugg from the curriculum for a post on sex toys, the schools are reiterating the idea that female masturbation is something to be ashamed of. Not only is this archaic – it is dangerous and can seriously affect formative sexual experiences. It was mine.
As a strange woman who didn’t come out long after leaving the classroom, I got very used to not seeing myself in the sex and health education my secular school made as the norm. If I wanted to learn about the type of sex I wanted to have, I had to turn to porn. It felt wrong and it scared me.
In school, sex was portrayed as a purely functional activity between men and women. Joy and approval were not touched and I didn’t even know where to start when it came to LGBTQ + relationships.
When looking for alternatives on the internet, I was faced with a world of free porn. Uneducated and on my own, I learned that yes and no meant nothing; the louder you are, the better; and one partner always seemed to take something from another.
The first time I was kissed by someone without my consent, I was 15 years old. When I gathered at a party in the sticky basement, I told my friends that it was uncomfortable and that he had hurt me – but that’s how it should be, right? He liked it and it was over quickly.
I was 18 the first time I was attacked by a partner. and when I was 20 I found myself facing persistent offers of “real sex” from strange men on evenings when I was standing next to my girlfriend. Now, looking back after hearing hundreds of the same stories from all of my friends who simply weren’t given the language for approval and pleasure or the tools to say “no,” I feel lucky that they weren’t so was much worse.
If you are fooling yourself that 16 year olds are unaware of sex toys, intimacy, or pleasure, then you are naive. You may find it too uncomfortable to create a safe place to learn about consent and choice, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t looking for it.
Sexual pleasure is healthy, but when teens see the adults upholding the culture of shame in their lives, it always ends badly.
For the past five years, the developers at TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube have made it their business to spread a sex-positive message that emphasizes consent, choice, and diversity. Is it any wonder that young people use the platforms at their disposal to teach each other about pleasure and autonomy where adults have failed in their lives?
Zoe Sugg is not a sex educator, but by excluding her, schools teach teens that pleasure is something that needs to be hidden. Sex education in your formative years can mean the difference between building boundaries and having a healthy relationship with your body – and years of traumatic experience. And spreading the misconception that female pleasure is “taboo” is detrimental and only adds to the culture of silence in sex and consent.