What Would Queer Sex-Ed Look Like?

After exploring the reasons why we have never heard about queer sex-ed in our schools in last week’s post, it’s time to imagine what queer sex education would look like.

And to imagine what queer sex-ed would look like, we need to keep in mind these four fundamental things as the foundation for our new sex-ed:

  1. Gender Is Not Binary, Gender Is A Spectrum:

Gender Identity is a person’s inner sense of self. This can be as man, woman, something other entirely or something in between. There are people, whose sex doesn’t match their gender identity, who identify as transgender.

Gender is a social construction because there’s nothing really natural, inherent or essential in a person’s gender identity. Society has constructed gender as a set of norms, roles and scripted expectations that determine how people within the gender binary (man and woman) should look, think and behave.

Our job as educators is to break the gender binary and construct gender as a spectrum. This means that a person’s gender is not about either/or, but about both/and. No one on this planet is made to perfectly fix society’s boxes of “men” and “women” and these categories are not in opposition against each other. Men have feminine traits in their character and vice versa. There are trans* folk who feel that they don’t belong to any gender or have traits of both of them and feel somewhere in between. There are people that feel another non-binary gender in its entirety. There are people that feel they have no gender identity at all.

  1. Sexual Orientation Is Not Fixed, Sexual Orientation Is Fluid

There are many sexual orientations! Think about all the labels people can choose to identify with: gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, queer or no label at all. We know sexual orientation is very diverse and, as such, it is not binary.

Sexual orientation is the sexual or romantic attraction (yes, they are separate things) a person feels towards other people. Much like gender, sexual orientation has nothing natural, essential or inherent about it. In fact, it only became an identity marker around the 19th century (thanks for the info, Foucault).

This attraction felt by people towards others is just pure desire and desire cannot be regulated or controlled by social norms. So, a person’s sexual orientation cannot strictly fit society’s boxes of “heterosexual”, “gay”, “bisexual” and so on. Identitis fluid and can change overtime, but this is not to say that everyone’s sexual orientation changes. Some people know they are gay and identify that way their whole life just as others ‘come out’ many times in their lifetime. It really depends on the individual and his, her or hir past experiences.

  1. Sex Is Not Just Male and Female, Sex Can Be Everything In Between: 

Have you ever heard about a person being Intersex?

Just like gender identity and sexual orientation, biological sex is a spectrum. Some people are born with genitalia that is not exclusively male or female and/or with chromosomes other than XX and XY. Intersex people are born with biological traits that do not fit the sex binary of male/female and these traits can be chromosomal, hormonal and/or physical.

Our society tries to normalise these bodies through corrective surgery from the moment they are born. This is because our society wants to maintain the (binary and limiting) status quo regarding sex, gender and sexual orientation. All this is to preserve the privilege and power of those that are cis-het people with normative genitalia (because they are in power and are wary of people that are different taking their power… duh) *rolls eyes*

Credit: Bruce Lawson (http://brucel.tumblr.com)

Credit: Bruce Lawson (http://brucel.tumblr.com)

  1. Sex ≠ Gender ≠ Sexual Orientation

All these categories have one thing in common. This one thing is what our current sex-ed and society wants us to ignore: sex, gender identity and sexual orientation are not binary, black and white categorical boxes. These identity markers are diverse spectrums. 

Sex, gender identity and sexual orientation do not determine each other, but are extremely linked and influence one another.

And guess what? All of these identities exist, all of them deserve respect and recognition and all of them are normalSo let’s start teaching sex, gender and sexuality as they really are and not as we’ve been conditioned to think they should be.

So what does this look like?

If queer sex-ed has as its foundation the four criteria explained above, it is automatically more inclusive and a more accurate representation of what sex, gender identity and sexuality really are. This means queer sex-ed needs to include traditionally marginalised voices within the queer movement like trans*, genderqueer, asexual, bisexual and intersex.

There are no assumptions of anyone’s gender identity, sex or sexual orientation and this means two things. Firstly, this creates a safe space and opens the conversation about how everyone feels and identifies, without being judged or considered an outcast. Secondly, the class needs to be taught accordingly, queering pedagogical methods (like using examples of queer people, asking for preferred pronouns, diversifying the literature to include queer voices).

Queer sex-ed should be leading the way towards a pleasure-based sexual health education. This means that, unlike abstinence-only education that focuses on babies and the (false) consequences of sex and contraception, queer sex-ed should be about learning to safely pleasure oneself and one’s partner. And this pleasuring should be without boundaries, which means acknowledging every gender identity and sexual orientation.

Queer sex-ed should be sex positive. Sex positive goddess Laci Green explains that sex positivity is about embracing one’s sexuality (no matter what that is) in a safe and consensual way. Sex positivity goes against the fear, shame and judgement that sex-negative societal attitudes seek to reproduce (mostly through sex-negative abstinence only ed), like slut-shaming. Sex-positivity calls for the freedom to express one’s sexuality alone or with a partner (or many!). But most importantly, sex positivity emphasises the need for consensual acts and advocates that only yes means yes. Important to say that ALL sexual relationships need consent, regardless of the genders and sexual orientations involved.

Yes only means Yes! Credit: http://tumblr.safercampus.org

And last but not least, queer sex-ed should be body-positive. This means that part of sexuality education needs to focus on developing a positive and healthy relationship with our body image, regardless of gender and sexual orientation. This should focus on building acceptance, respect, love and admiration for our own bodies no matter what size we are. Also, to broaden our understanding of diversity, body-positivity fights against ableism, since this is another axis of oppression in relation to bodies in our society.

Surprisingly, there are a few organisations and academics (like me in the future, just saying) that are developing general guidelines and building curricula to queer sex-ed or make sex-ed queer. And this is not only regarding sex-ed, but to queer education in general. These awesome people have realised that in regular sex-ed, or even worse, abstinence-only education,  queer sexualities and non-conforming gender identities are not only invisible, but they are considered threatening and immoral. 

Think of the stigma, depression, loneliness, anxiety, sadness, bullying and other horrible consequences queer and trans* kids face in school (if not all of their lives) because they are taught that their experiences are considered unworthy of acknowledgement (to say the least!).

Credit: US Teen Culture

Beyond including facts and figures about the LGBTQIA+ community, queering sex-ed is about challenging the status quo. This surely sounds like big words to you, but it is indeed a big thing to celebrate. Queering sex-ed is about pushing boundaries and re-imagining the world we live in. And in doing so, paving the way towards a more equal and fair society.

Are you still not convinced of the need to teach a queer sex-ed? No? Okay. Just ask the following question: why is queer sex-ed important?

Well, basically because it is important that members of a marginalised community have the right to know how to have safe and consensual sex and be represented in the school curricula: LGBTQIA+ YOUTH. This type of education validates their experience in a world that constantly tells them that they are wrong and they shouldn’t exist.

This type of education promotes and promises LGBTQIA+ youth a better relationship and understanding of their identities, their bodies and their desires. They will learn how to have safe sex and enjoy it. They will learn how to prevent STIs and HIV. They will learn that consent is necessary in all kinds of relationship. They will learn that they too can form families.

Queer sex-ed not only benefits LGBTQIA+ students but everyone. This means that cisnormative heterosexual students can learn to accept and respect people that identify differently. This means that this cis-het students will learn about their identity privilege and will be encouraged to engage in active self-reflection about their role in oppressive structures.

Queer sex-ed dismantles the taboo status regarding sexual education (queer or not, to be honest!). It helps to see other identities and orientations as normal and helps dissolve the tension and fear of coming out. It will, by default, decrease the homophobic and transphobic bullying that is so rampant in our schools.

Queer sex-ed teaches gender identity, sexual orientation and biological sex as they actually are and not how we have been conditioned to think they should be. 

So, I don’t know about you, but this sounds like my cup of tea 😉 I love me some queer sex-ed.

If you have any suggestions or ideas that you think should be included in queer sex-ed, please feel free to post them in the comment section 🙂

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Why Haven’t You Heard About Queer Sex-Ed?

If you went to a Catholic School like me, it is most likely that you’ve never heard of Queer Sex Education or about how to have safe queer sex. Hell, you might not even have  heard of sex at all, since it probably was abstinence-only education.

One of my dearest friends (who identifies as a girl and received that same education) recently expressed to me that she was nervous to engage in sexual activity with another girl because, “what if she has any STDs?”

And this is a legitimate concern. 

If we are barely taught in school about safe cisgender heterosexual (cis-het) sexual acts and consent, what is there left for queer sex? If cis-het people engaging in sexual activity before marriage is still considered a taboo, what about young people having queer sex? What about gender non-conforming people having enjoyable sex? How does my friend, as a queer woman, have safe, consensual and enjoyable sex?

And what is this division between heterosexual and queer sex anyway? Sex is not only about penetration. Sex is not all about the penis and the vagina or exclusively between men and women. Sex is sex. Period.

By now you are probably imagining the infinite possibilities and ways in which sex can happen or simply realising that heterosexual folks are not the only people with the right to know about how to have safe sex. Everyone, regardless of their gender identity and sexual orientation, has the right to know about how to have safe, consensual and enjoyable sex. But before we get to the part where we imagine what that would look like, let’s focus first on the reasons why you have never ever heard of queer sex education in school.

4 Reasons Why You Didn’t Hear About Queer Sex Education in School

1. An Exclusive Cis-Het Approach to Sex Ed

I know I mentioned in the paragraph above about people being cis-het, but most of you might be asking, “what does that even mean?”. Am I right?

Cis-het is the abbreviation used to describe a person that identifies as cisgender and heterosexual. Being cisgender means that a person’s gender identity matches with the sex they were assigned at birth (i.e. the doctor claimed you were a female based on your genitalia and you grow up feeling, acting and expressing yourself like a woman). Being heterosexual means that a person is attracted to the opposite gender (i.e. men attracted to women and women attracted to men).

As being cisgender and heterosexual in our society is considered ‘natural’ and ‘normal’, the privilege granted to cis-het identified people by institutions remains unchallenged. Cisnormativity (the normalised assumption that what you have between your legs determines your gender) and Heteronormativity (the normalisation of heterosexuality as the standard and natural sexual orientation) are constantly reproduced and maintained by institutions such as the educational system.

If the school does teach sex-ed, it probably focuses on heterosexual sex acts like vaginal intercourse, (mostly male) masturbation, how to correctly use a condom (oh, that good ol’ banana demonstration) and other mainstream contraceptive methods like the pill. If you’re lucky, you might hear about the morning after pill.

How To Put a Condom By Amy Poehler

There is unchecked cissexism and heterosexism in our educational institutions since these norms dictate which identities and practices are accepted in our society and which are not. Queer sexualities (like gays, lesbians, bisexuals, asexuals, queers) and gender-non conforming identities (like genderqueer, transgender, a gender, genderfluid) are usually marginalised, excluded, silenced and oppressed from institutionalised cisnormativity and heteronormativity. In short, queer sexualities and gender non-conforming identities are erased and deemed nonexistent. 

So, if the mainstream is all about reproducing and privileging cis-het identities and furthering the invisibility of non-conforming individuals, why bother teaching queer sex education?

2. Abstinence-Only Education

*Cringes*

The goal of abstinence-only education is to normalise abstinence from sexual activity until marriage in our society. This is because (most) of this education is founded upon religious values such as chastity, marriage and the traditional family structure.

Abstinence-only education is inherently cisnormative and heteronormative as it exclusively requires men and women to abstain from sexual activity until they are married. Since marriage (and apparently procreation), in its religious definition, is something that “can only happen” between and man a woman, trans* and queer folk are completely out of the picture.

As Jessica Valenti explains in The Purity Mythabstinence-only education is not really about sex, it’s about social norms. If virginity, family values and marriage between a man and a woman is something to be strived for and celebrated, something other than that is considered disruptive of the status quo (as if queer and trans* folk cannot form healthy family values around love, respect and commitment). With its heteronormative values, queer sexualities and trans* identities are not considered or mentioned at all within an abstinence-only education framework. Queer sexual activity is simply seen as impossible and immoral. 

Heteronormative and cisnormative expectations are damaging for young people, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The social need to be straight and cisgender, to wait to have sexual activity, to want to marry and procreate rob young people of knowing and loving their own authentic selves.

These expectations are detrimental to everyone because they reinforce traditional sexist (and outdated!) gender roles. Girls are taught that their worth is defined by their virginity while boys are taught that they have no self-control (since girls need to be the sexual gatekeepers). These constructs contribute to sexism, misogyny and the reproduction of toxic masculinity.

Mean Girls Sex Ed

But what’s the deal when a lesbian-identified female has sex with another girl? Is she a virgin forever because she was not penetrated? Are heterosexual boys forever virgins or are they just exempt from the virgin status?

Abstinence-only education contributes to queer and trans* erasure and invisibility in our society, while reproducing social norms that are harmful for every young person out there.

3. No Pleasure, Just Babies

Both regular sex-ed and abstinence only education are concerned about baby-making, not sexual pleasure. 

Sex for pleasure? Sex for fun? Sex because is enjoyable? What is that?!

The assumption is that men and women have sex to reproduce. Period. There is no other purpose to engage in such an activity.

*Rolls eyes*

It is funny to think that in this day and age, where everything is about sex and sexualisation, people still want to make believe that sex is not for pleasure. Even solo acts – masturbation – are seen as a taboo and young people that engage in it feel dirty, alone and full of shame.

Only now are schools allowing the sex-ed curriculum to be more comprehensive by including a pleasure-based approach to sex-ed, and some cover queer sexualities; but these curricula are still pretty heteronormative. This is because they might not use gender neutral language, they might follow a monogamous framework or the wrong assumption that queer couples follow a heterosexual mould (one is the guy and one is the girl).

When will we teach about other enjoyable and pleasurable relationships like polyamorous ones? What about queer couples able to reproduce? How can queer woman have safe, enjoyable sex? How to best pleasure your trans* partner whether or not they transitioned? How can we talk about these things without stigma, positioning pleasure as our goal?

This knowledge is vital to engage in healthy and pleasurable relationships, no matter the gender identity, sexual orientation or type of relationship.

4. The Walk of Shame

Our approach to sex-ed uses fear and shame to teach young people to fit in with mainstream social norms. Kids are scared to be queer or trans* because they know they are not “normal” and feel shame. The same happens if you lose your virginity too young or too old, if you are seen as a “slut” for having sex for fun, if you get any STD or HIV. They teach us that wshould feel ashamed of our choices.

This is especially true when it comes to STDs and HIV. These are taught in school as the worst thing that can ever happen to us. They teach about safe sex under the guise of fear, just so people don’t engage in it, because they might catch an STD. And so you think not engaging in sexual activity at all is the best way to go. It’s kind of a masked abstinence-only education, right?

Schools portray people living with these conditions as if their life is over. Schools educate young people to think that if your sexual orientation is other than heterosexual, you are most likely to get one of these infections/viruses. So, people learn to fear those who are queer since they might have a contagious disease. Those that are queer feel ashamed of who they are. Nobody wins.

This is part of a campaign by The Stigma Project that aims to start a conversation with young people about how to eradicate the stigma, dehumanisation and fear around people living with HIV +. For more images, click here.

Credit: The Stigma Project

The majority of our schools are places that teach how to maintain the status quo rather than how to challenge it.

It is important that we ask our schools to implement a comprehensive curriculum that seeks to revolutionise our society for the benefit of us all, not only those that are religious, cis-het individuals.

Imagine what a happier place the world would be if sex-ed focused on how to best pleasure ourselves and our partners? 😉

PS: this post will have a shorter Part II later this week discussing what queer sex-ed should look like (it won’t be a real curriculum, just a compilation of ideas!)