Here's What Queer Folks Have To Say About Sex Ed
Graphic by Elisa Castillo
Let’s talk about sex, baby… or, maybe not.
Sex education. Most of us got some form of it growing up whether that was the banana over the condom display or a more formal conversation about the birds and the bees from a middle school teacher. Usually, sex education centers on sex between cisgender heterosexual people and fails to touch on the experiences of queer folks. This leaves many queer folks to find other ways to learn about sex in other ways. Some turn to the internet for information, others learn by doing. It can be frustrating to know that traditional sex ed will leave you out. We spoke to a handful of queer people about their thoughts and experiences with sex ed, read about their experiences below.
Nicole | Bisexual | She/Her/Hers
“I think the South’s general attitude toward sex education is awful but especially when it comes to queer folk. I had no idea we had a clinic in my city specially for LGBTQ individuals, and they were especially welcoming to those who were under 18/[or those who] may not be out. Learning about those resources would [have] been great,” Nicole said.
Nicole said she only had a sex ed class sometime in middle school. She also doesn't think her educators even touched on sexuality at all. Instead, the lesson stuck to a photo of a penis and a vagina, STDs and ended with a resolute: don’t have sex.
Nicole says, “I didn’t even think I could be queer because I prefer to give rather than receive. I think if we talked about sexuality in sex ed it’d help normalize it for kids and it wouldn’t be something that they’d feel so ashamed of.”
She ended up learning about sex ed through TV and YouTube.
“The first time I ever heard the word ‘transgender’ was on a Teen Nick show called ‘Degrassi.’ Unfortunately I also used porn, but of course that doesn’t give anyone good info. Once I was in my older years of high school and college where I was making openly gay friends, I could learn from them as well as the pride alliance at the college I went to freshman year.”
One day, when sex education isn’t so heteronormative, Nicole hopes that lessons extend beyond heteronormative relationships to, at the bare minimum, acknowledge that LGBTQ+ people have sex. She also thinks promoting LGBTQ+ specific local centers and resources would be really helpful. Some of her favorite resources are a clinic in Jacksonville called Jasmyn and Planned Parenthood.
Ali | Queer | They/He
For Ali, sex education was basic and not driven by religion. In other words, sex ed covered abortion and sex wasn’t discouraged. Sex ed, in his experience, mostly addressed ways to avoid STDs and the nature of pregnancy. That’s it. Ali doesn’t think his sex education was the worst, but it wasn’t the best and according to him, it was very heteronormative. He always enjoyed the sex education part of class. Ali says, “I was usually the only one not squicked, never looked away during births or those gross STD pictures they use as scare tactics. I was also unaware of my queerness at the time, too.”
Between my passion to learn about sex ed and having a dad who also taught sex ed, Ali was always inclined to learn more about the subject.
When Ali came out, he realized how little he knew about sex ed. “I realized this in a sociology class that talked about gender and sex in a positive and inclusive way. It was the first time I’d heard about my forming idea of my personal identity talked about in an educational setting.”
Even though he was a theater major in college, Ali was forced to take a science elective because of his education minor. They didn’t mind, mostly because they knew they wanted to dabble in sex education later on. Out of about 20 people in their education course, Ali was the only one who was interested in teaching sex education. After taking a few years of education classes and particularly heteronormative sex education that discouraged people from sex more than informing, Ali decided that they want to teach sex ed and have some specific ideas about how sex ed should be taught.
In Ali’s ideal sex ed courses, STDs and births will be covered as will different forms of birth control, including abstinence. But, importantly, an ideal sex ed course would cover how to have sex safely, including between LGBTQ+ couples, ways to have safe sex and prevent pregnancy for couples that could potentially conceive. Ali’s ideal course would also emphasize that just because a couple having intercourse may have a penis and a vagina, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a heterosexual couple.
“Sex education needs to keep queer youth in mind. It needs to stop demonizing sex and explain the risks while also explaining the good parts too. It’s a long road, but I believe queer teachers are the first step to these changes,” Ali said. “With good sex education, down the line, we could see less and less societal pressures of sex and gender. I hope I am a part of that change someday.”
Celia | Bisexual | She/Her/Hers
Celia attended a private Christian school where sex ed was nonexistent. Instead, her school focused on education regarding relationships. Plus, coming from a Hispanic community, sex is a very taboo subject. All the education given was about STDs you can get from having sex. Her class also spoke about the cost of childcare, costs of weddings and other relationship related events and the seriousness of them. They also had am assignment about proposing in which everyone had to propose to a classmate of their choice but weren’t allowed to propose to a person of the same sex.
When Celia discovered she was bisexual and didn’t know much about sex, she anonymously messaged the teaching in charge of health class to request inclusive sex education. The teacher, however, was more interested in finding out Celia’s identity under the guise of personally helping Celia, than providing inclusive education to the class. Even though there were multiple queer people in the class, no one was out to the teachers and the idea that the teacher would need to know Celia’s identity in order to help her seemed false and counterproductive.
“I felt there wasn't a need to know who I was and if they wanted to teach me anything personally then it would rob any other person in the class of the education. They might have needed [the lesson] and [the teacher] would have missed the chance to normalize LGBTQ relations to the rest of the class,” Celia said.
Celia said the teacher did not end up including a discussion of LGBTQ+ sexuality in her lesson. There was nothing Celia could do.
“I was scared I would be outed and wasn't prepared to tell any adults about my sexual orientation. Honestly, I just wished the teacher had spoken about the variety of relationships that exist and sexualities. We didn't even have the stereotypical condom putting on the banana. We didnt speak about sex, we only spoke about possible concequences to sexual relations,” she said.
As an adult, Celia has acquired sex education through being in a healthy relationship and also through sex positive Instagram accounts and YouTube channel. She really likes the Wild Flower Instagram account and also mentioned that she used to watch Laci Green. While the content Green produces is no longer of interest, Celia said it was helpful back then.
Ashlynn | Lesbian | She/They
Ashlynn wishes sex ed had taught her about the existence of LGBTQ+ identities and about how sex isn’t just meant for reproduction.
“In my biology and health classes, teachers would just say that it's how ‘babies’ are made and I even had a teacher tell me that if I had sex I would die,” Ashlynn said.
As an LGBTQ+ kid, Ashlynn felt abnormal for feeling attracted to girls and the lack of inclusive sex education only fueled that feeling. Even now that she’s comfortable with her attraction, Ashlynn receives invasive, personal questions from strangers and acquaintances who don’t understand LGBTQ+ sex. It took a long time for Ashlynn to figure out how to handle these situations, but she thinks her mediator personality really helped. Sometimes, she just brushes off intrusive questions and tries to change the topic. She also tries to think of it in the sense that the person asking are just curious and might not realize their questions are invasive because they weren’t educated on these topics. Having friends who aren’t a part of the LGBTQ+ community also means that sometimes there is a sense of responsibility to educate the people around you.
In Ashlynn’s case, she said her friends ask a lot of questions that “aren’t too invasive” and that they always ask to make sure she’s comfortable answering them.
“I do feel like I educate them a lot when it should’ve been taught in our education system in the first place,” she said.
Ashlynn shared that she learned to become comfortable with her own orientation and having sex as a lesbian because of inclusive resources she found on the internet.
“I feel like I had to put in so much research and way more effort to find myself and have a sex education that made sense for my attraction than many of the other people I went to school with. Even now, I still feel like I need to do research in some aspects of my sex life.”
The needs of queer people are not being met through traditional sex education, so what we’re teaching needs an update — and it needs one quick!