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!)

Advertisements

Your Partner Does Not Define Your Sexual Orientation

“How do you know you are bisexual if you’ve never had queer sex before?”

I’ve had to answer this question just as many times as I have come out to my partner and my selected group of friends and family members. The answer always is, “How did you know you were straight before having heterosexual sex with someone else?”.

That usually catches their attention because, really, how did they know? Perhaps they have never questioned being straight.

But I have. Many, many times.

And my bisexuality – one part of my identity that gives me a sense of self – often gets dismissed with comments like “but your current (or past) partners are male though”. 

I know, but this does not define how I identify myself. And to understand this, we need to realise that sexual orientation does not equal sexual behaviour or sexual identity and that this way of thinking contributes to bisexual erasure and biphobia.

Sexual Orientation ≠ Sexual Behaviour ≠ Sexual Identity

Michel Foucault, the king of sexuality studies (LOL), explains in the History of Sexuality: Volume II, that sexual identities such as ‘gay’ only became a thing in the 19th century. Before this, sexual acts defined the status of a man, not his sexual identity or sexual orientation (since they usually had wives and same-sex sexual acts were a rite of passage into manhood).

We can never assume people’s sexual orientation or how they identify themselves because of their sexual behaviour; and I will explain why through The OBI Model:

As one of my badass feminist idols, Melissa Fabello, elaborates more in depth in this article, the OBI Model was created by Don Dyson and Brent Satterly in 2010 to explain the complexity of what we usually think of as sexual orientation. They separated it into three related elements: Orientation, Behaviour and Identity (OBI).

O is for Orientation: describes the gender(s) the person feels sexually attracted to and fantasises about. I would add (not the original authors) that Orientation can be romantic and sexual, which are two different things.

B is for Behaviour: describes the gender(s) of the people the person engages in sexual activity with. (This sexual activity is not limited to intercourse, it can be anything!).

I is for Identity: describes how the person identifies/considers himself, herself or hirself*. Yeah, the label the person uses to better understand their inner sense of self (like queer, bisexual, gay, lesbian, pansexual, etc). Some people feel more comfortable not using a label to describe themselves at all, and that is valid too.

So listen up, straight folks! If you equate sexual orientation to sexual behaviour, then, your heterosexual identity before having sexual activity should be dismissed too, since you could not have known you were straight before having sex. And what happens to the straight people who engage in sexual behaviours that are not heterosexual? We cannot assume or force them to identify as something else because of that. Their identity labels (or lack thereof) can only be decided by them and them alone!

Disclaimer: I’m talking about heterosexual folks because that has been my experience when coming out to my friends and family. But people from the queer community could also question how I know I am bisexual before having queer sex.

Bisexual Erasure and Biphobia

To say that sexual behaviour determines sexual orientation and identity contributes to bisexual erasure and biphobia, and this is something both heterosexual folks and the LGBTQIA+ community alike reproduce in our society.

Biphobia and bisexual erasure go hand-in-hand. They usually cannot live without each other, but this is not always the case. Biphobia can be defined as the hatred, discrimination and fear of bisexual people. Just like homophobia, biphobia thrives on the belief that bisexuality is a threat to our heteronormative social order (since heterosexuality is supposed to be the norm). Bisexual erasure is the idea that bisexuality, as a sexual orientation, is not real. And this is an extreme form of biphobia.

Bisexual erasure and biphobia co-constitute each other, which means that they contribute to each other’s existence, they fuel each other’s fire. And simultaneously, they are both reproduced by the deep monosexism ingrained in our society.

Monosexism is the idea that a person can only be truly attracted to one gender, reinforcing binary thinking and legitimising the experience of straight, gay and lesbian folks. In our monosexist society, if a person that can only be attracted to one gender *feels* sexual attraction (because not everyone does!) to that one opposite/same gender engages in sexual behaviour, this person is considered either straight or gay.

So, if a bisexual person is engaging in sexual behaviour with someone of their opposite or same gender, this person is “not really” bisexual, they are just really straight or gay. Right?

NO!!!

Equating sexual behaviour with sexual orientation reproduces bisexual erasure and biphobia because bisexuality is dismissed by the gender(s) of the partners. If a bisexual girl is in a relationship with a guy, this does not make her straight. If a bisexual guy has sex with a guy, this does not make him gay. Even if passing as straight or gay, the person remains bisexual because they feel attracted to more than one gender. Or as it is also said, the person is bisexual because they feel attracted to people regardless of their gender, not because of it. Unless they identify as something else with time, because identity is contingent and fluid.

queerbits

The sexual behaviour = sexual orientation equation furthers the stigma, myths and stereotypes bisexual individuals struggle with on a daily basis. The most common misconceptions are that bisexual people are closeted gays and lesbians; that they cannot be faithful or monogamous; that they feel equal attraction to all genders; that they are promiscuous and have more risk of getting HIV; that they are confused; that they are 50% straight and 50% gay; and that they are greedy, attention-seekers that are just going through a phase. Or that in reality, they are just barsexuals.

Ugh.

So, next time we assume someone else’s sexual orientation because of their sexual behaviour or because they pass as such and such, we need to think more critically about this. Think about how a person’s experience can be completely dismissed by one hurtful comment or assumption about how their identity is not real.

Remember that only YOU have the power to determine your sexual identity and that your experiences are always valid.