Anyone looking around the country—or the entire West—would see that things are moving fast. We are throwing out old hierarchies, narratives, and race, class and gender relations. And yet, in the cyclone of this change, one thing remains stubbornly unvarying: sex education for LGBTQ+.
Other articles we’ve released here have dealt with the lack of sex education for youth (straight and queer), yet in reality we ourselves are only beginning our mission in this area.
Take for instance the issue of sexual identity. We all know that gender is fluid, and possibly limitless (Facebook alone allows users to choose from 50+ genders). Despite this, when American youth receive sex ed, it is overwhelmingly about straight sex. A few brave schools or school districts may touch on LGBTQ+ sex passingly, but that’s as far as they go.
Yet, as Brittany Wong pointed out in her April 2019 Huffington Post article on sex education, that doesn’t go nearly far enough to address the expanding gender/identity universe of today’s children and teens. She suggested several subjects that should be the core of any sex education program, and we recap her analysis below:
1. Gender Identity
When should kids be taught about gender identity? Sex Educator Aida Manduley implies that age 3 is not too soon. Manduley goes into detail on the topic, saying, “Even early on, holistic LGBTQ inclusive education should include information about gender identity and expression, as well as discussions of what transitioning can look like, both socially and medically.
For instance, hormones are often named in sexual health curricula, but it’s rarely discussed how they can be managed if you’re a kid and identify as transgender.”
2. Periods are for both girls and boys
Yes, girls have periods, but so do boys. Trying to separate them for education about the menstrual cycle will shame LGBTQ+ children. Sexuality educator Gaila Godel says, “It’s about inclusivity.”
She advocates teaching all children about menstruation, explaining that in such situations, “Trans and nonbinary kids won’t be forced to choose between outing themselves, sitting in a room full of people of a different gender or simply not getting a lesson about their own bodies.”
It also removes the mystery or embarrassment about the whole menstrual cycle, regardless of anatomy or identity. “As a result,” Godel says, “we can remove the culture of shame around menstruation and not force LGBTQ+ kids to misgender themselves at the same time.”
3.Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) risk
Wong notes that America has the highest STI rate in the developed world, and this situation is not helped by having a sexually active youth population that often knows little or nothing about STIs. Wong points out that LGBTQ+ youth face even higher risk of STI and pregnancy than straights.
Myths about disease transmission—such as “lesbians can’t become infected”—should also be addressed. Specific medical risks were analyzed by London-based sex educator Wazina Zondon, who stated, “Truly inclusive sex ed should center discussion of STIs as absolutely normal and commonplace, including conversations about bacterial vaginosis, human papillomavirus (HPV) and yeast infections that impact more than people with vulvas, and preventative meds like pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).”
4 Sex Beyond Straights
Penis-in-vagina sex is just one of the possible interactions on the human sexual option set, yet is usually the sole one taught in schools. Whatever a person’s sexual identity or preferences are, a much fuller range needs to be taught. Explained Godel, “Oral sex, anal sex, digital stimulation (the fancy term for fingering and hand jobs) — these are all valid ways to feel pleasure and intimacy with a partner.
Even mutual masturbation can count as sex, if you want it to. When we teach the diverse ways bodies can interact pleasurably, it allows each person to decide what they feel comfortable with, instead of feeling limited or obligated to have intercourse.”
5. Sexual Identity is Fluid—Forever
Today you’re straight in every sense of the word, but don’t be surprised if next year you’re queer-curious, bi, asexual, or something else. You’ve also swapped pronouns three or four times, and that’s perfectly natural. Said Wong, “Yes, your sexual orientation exists on a spectrum, but it’s also a fluid thing throughout our lifetimes.”
And that change can be surprisingly fast and frequent, and enabled by the wide range of apps and toys that allow you to pick and choose, or just go with the flow of wherever preferences and identity take you. If anything, a single sexual label that remains unchanged for years could mean you’re missing out on what life has to offer.
Francisco Ramirez, a sex educator and cofounder of mobile app OkaySo went into detail on this. As he commented, “We live in the age of identity politics, so it’s easy to get fixated on what we label ourselves ― cis/straight, LGBTQ+ and nonbinary, androsexual, etc. ― but many of us continue to explore, and possibly change, aspects of our sexuality throughout our lives. We’re humans. We shift. We evolve. It is in our nature, and we should never feel pressured to label ourselves if it doesn’t feel right.”
He advises that we teach teens to take whatever time they need or want to feel whatever they are currently feeling, or to safely explore any of the options out there.
6. Free Discussion
Unfortunately, in part due to lack of sex ed both at school and home, many LGBTQ+ youth don’t even have a partial comprehension of their own bodies, If your gender doesn’t suit your anatomy, you may have some degree of confusion, especially if you’re young. Unfortunately, as Manduley explained, this leads too many youth to question whether they are “normal.”
Left out of sex ed entirely, too, is the topic of pleasure. A better model would have human anatomy and gender more closely tied to pleasure, and not strictly reproduction. As Manduley put it, “Relatedly, we would learn about pleasure anatomy and a more complete picture of the body’s erogenous capacity, which includes the nipples and anus.”
Layered under federal, state, and local guidelines, and usually operated by educators with little or no training (or even interest) in the subject, sex ed continues to be one of the most patchily-taught programs in the United States.
Even where it exists, it usually leaves out the LGBTQ+ dimension, so only hetero youth get any bare benefit out of it. Hopefully, Wong and similar advocates can move this critical educational component farther and faster in a wider, more open and more progressive direction.