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Queer Representation in Sex Education

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June 11, 2013

“We’re not supposed to do it until marriage, okay?” I repeated. “But what if we’re not allowed to get married? Like me. How long am I supposed to wait?”

Chad muttered, “Until the cows come home. Mooo.”

I spun around and flipped him the bird.

Chad held up his hands defensively.

Errasco ignored us and erased the board.

“I’m serious, Mrs. Errasco. How does this abstinence theory apply to us? Are we never supposed to have sex? Ever?”

She set the eraser in the chalk tray and faced front. The atmosphere in the room shifted. Desks creaked. A pencil broke. Minds? Did they shake loose? Doubtful.

“Well, Aimee.” Errasco’s eyes lit on me. “I guess that’s between you and your god”’

(from Julie Anne Peters’ “Abstinence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder”).

It’s a Start

Too many of these conversations have worn me out. Yes, some queer people believe in God, yes we have sex, and yes, some of us do abstain! But I’m not here to rant, I’m here to talk about the lack of queer representation in sex education.

I went to a Catholic, all-girls high school and took health as a sophomore. Most of my friends knew I was gay, and I even came out to my health teacher, Mrs. Barton. Mrs. Barton was extremely open and honest with her students, so I had no problem sharing with her or asking questions. During a conversation about STIs, a friend of mine was too embarrassed to ask if anything can be transmitted through masturbation, so I asked for her, and Mrs. Barton answered openly and directly.

Despite this amazing and open education, I now wish we’d focused more on queer relationships. Because in contrast to what many people think, good comprehensive sex education doesn’t exclusively teach about condoms and birth control. It will also teach young people about the varying range of positive relationships and how to engage in their own healthy ones. This is so important for youth, particularly for queer youth whose invisible identities and individual circumstances lead them to be much more vulnerable to the dangers of abstinence only education.

I can say with complete conviction that Mrs. Barton didn’t leave queer youth out of the conversation on purpose. Her use of pronouns in lectures was always very general, and I know that if I had asked a specific question, she would have answered it. Nevertheless, if they’re allowed, educators need to take the initiative in including the queer community in their lessons so that no one is left out of the conversation.

But I’m Still Half a Virgin

Fast-forward two years. I’m a senior, sexually active, and at the doctor’s for a general check-up. I don’t know why doctors make me nervous, so I still have my dad in the room with me.

“Are you sexually active?” my doctor asks. I think back to my last check-up. The question didn’t even come to mind.

I hesitate, but eventually say, “No.”

I don’t know what makes me do it. Is it that I actually wonder whether or not I’m “sexually active”? Is it because my dad is in the room? Or is it because I am sexually active, but I don’t think I can catch anything from what I’ve been doing?

Unfortunately, situations like these happen far too often. Too many people are under the impression that the only type of sex that “counts” is penis-vagina intercourse, and everything else is only “half” sex, or “kinda” sex. This is problematic for many reasons.

Heteronormative ideas like these completely negate the fact that being queer exists, and that sex comes in all different shapes and sizes, especially for those in the queer community. The fact that virginity is generally based solely on first-time penetration or the breaking of the hymen is completely patriarchal in essence, a way to control women and their sexuality. All this is doing is leading people to believe that if they aren’t having P-in-V intercourse, they’re not having “real” sex. Because of this, they probably aren’t being as safe, physically or emotionally, as they would be, and this affects both straight and queer people. For those of us having queer sex, it took a while for some of us to figure out that yes, that first encounter was actually sex, and no, it absolutely wasn’t our fault for not thinking that.

We need comprehensive sex education because people still say that they’re “half a virgin” because they’ve only had oral or that they’re surprised they have an STI because they “haven’t had sex.” We need representation of the queer community in sex education because the lack of it is harmful to everyone, straight or queer, and can lead to complete erasure of one’s sexuality.

 

Screen Shot 2013-06-03 at 4.56.33 PMAlyssah Roth is currently a Creative Writing major and Women’s Studies minor at The University of Texas at El Paso. She is heavily involved in UTEP’s Choice USA chapter, FMLA, and has been for three years. Alyssah is consistently looking for new ways to make an impact through various types of social justice activism and strives everyday to try and build a stronger community. 

 

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2 Responses to “Queer Representation in Sex Education”

  1. Marifer Valenzuela

    First of all, great article! I went to the same school as you did, only a year behind you. I agree with everything you said. I never knew this was a problem until I went to college and started to learn about how sex education is taught in the U.S. It is wrong to exclude the LGBT community when it comes to sex education. It is also wrong to think that only a penis can make a lasting change in a woman’s body, such as an STD. Schools should teach women not only about different ways to get an STD, but also about the different kind of relationships they might encounter.
    After I moved to college, I realised that for going to an all-girl Catholic school, our sex education was quite broad and was not as restricted as most people would believe. We were lucky enough to have someone like Mrs. Barton to teach sex education. However, even in her classroom there is still a lot to be taught. Hopefully, more and more teachers will realise that they have LGBT students in their sex ed classrooms and that they also need to learn how to protect themselves.
    Great job Alyssah!

    • Alyssah Roth

      Hey, Marifer (I totally remember you)! Thanks so much for this response; it makes me really happy that students who know Mrs. Barton and the school and the class agree with what I wrote. You’re absolutely right! I think that women should be taught about the different types of relationships they’ll encounter through their lives, like you said, because sometimes those will have more of an impact than any sexual encounter!
      I’ve also had exactly the same experience as you. After coming to college, I’ve realized how good of a sex education we actually did have. I never felt restricted in that class, and I’m usually one of the few (if not the only) people in the room who had a positive sex ed experience. But you are right- there is more progress that needs to be made, but it’s coming. No one should have to feel left out in a classroom or uncomfortable.
      Thanks again for reading and responding, Marifer!