Queer Sexual Health
Leela Moza explores the essential nuances of the issues around queer sexual health.
Queering Sexual Education
It is not a secret that the world that we live in is dominantly heteronormative. From the novels that we have read as children to the epic romance sagas we know, the spotlight falls upon a heterosexual couple. Exclusion and misrepresentation, if any, of the LGBTQIA+ community is seen everywhere and sexual education is no different. And even though sex education is sparse in India, the people who are lucky enough to receive it are presented with content that assumes heterosexual, cis-gendered people are the ones listening. The rampant transphobia and homophobia that resides in most people’s psyche historically did not acknowledge the existence of the LGBTQIA+ community. And as a result, the content solely focused on pregnancy prevention and did not include gender-inclusive terminology.
So, what does ‘queering sexual education’ mean? It means that the comprehensive and complete sex education should include people who do not identify as heterosexual or cisgender, it should include gender-neutral terminology, and it should be sex-positive. Complete sex education should account for the nuanced and complex sexual identities, gender identities, and different attractions (if any) that people might feel.
image source: GCN
Why Does Sexual Education Need To Be Inclusive?
Traditional sex education often uses words and images that reinforce the penis as ‘male anatomy’ and vulva as ‘female anatomy.’ Mostly, sex education, if received at all, only talks about penis and vagina sex which leads to the homophobic and transphobic mentality of penetrative ‘penis in vagina’ sex as ‘real sex.’
There is a gap in our sex education that leads to negative stereotypes, misinformation, and prejudice surrounding the LGBTQIA+ community due to their exclusion. This has a ripple effect as it causes health disparities in the community since people either do not have adequate information or their sources are not as comprehensive. Socially, it causes internalized homophobia and transphobia when young people do not see themselves or their desires being represented; it stigmatizes queer sex.
Even in legally ‘progressive’ (regarding LGBTQIA+ laws) countries like the USA, according to a 2013 survey by GLSEN, just 5 percent of LGBTQIA+ students reported having sex education classes that included positive and comprehensive discussions about LGBTQIA+ relationships. Due to the bias in sex education, LGBTQIA+ youth faces disproportionate negative health outcomes. For example, young men who have sex with men make up more than two-thirds of new HIV infections. In this statistic, people of color are disproportionately affected; gender non-conforming youth as well as people who identify as Trans have a higher prevalence of HIV and sexual assault; women who have sex with women admitted that they were less likely to get a pap smear due to the common misconception that STD’s cannot be transmitted from one woman to another sexually, this puts them at a higher risk for cervical cancer.
It is easy to see that exclusion of LGBTQIA+ sex education that is inclusive, accessible, sex-positive, and gender-neutral would help address the barriers that many people from the LGBTQIA+ community might face with the healthcare system. And it would help normalize and de-stigmatize LGBTQIA+ relationships.
Image Source: GLSEN, @GLSEN “There’s still time to register for Wednesday’s “Sex Ed for Some?” live webinar about #LGBTQ inclusion in school-based sex education: http://glsen.org/sexedwebinar1”
Not-So-Straight Sex Education
The social archetype of sex for most of us has always been heterosexual, cis-gendered ‘penis and vagina’ sex. But that is not all sex is. Like the spectrum of sexuality and identity, sex, or what sex means to a person can vary. In all honesty, the people involved–singular or plural–get to decide what ‘sex means to them.’ Traditional sex education puts too much emphasis on the body parts used during sex than actual sexual desire. Honoring your own identity, what feels pleasurable to you and your partner/s, what you feel, and what your partner/s feel is a more inclusive definition of what sex is than the heterosexual, cis-gendered idea that we have carried from generation-to-generation.
The bottom line is this: penetrative sex, non-penetrative sex, oral sex, using toys, etc. Either of these can count as sex; how you have sex does not affect your identity, and the definition of sex is not rigid.
Image Source: Planned Parenthood on Twitter, @PPFA “Condoms are pretty popular. But did you know that there are other barrier methods you can use to have healthy, enjoyable sex?”
Safe Sex When You’re Queer
The idea of safe sex being equated to ‘not getting pregnant’ is the fault of the traditional sex education system. Safe sex encompasses a lot more than preventing pregnancy. Knowing what ‘safe sex’ means in the different contexts of types of sex is one way to take charge of your own sexual health. If the people involved decide to use sex toys, it is important to choose a non-porous material that is easily washable and does not trap bacteria. If you use a sex toy made out of a porous material (jelly rubber, elastomer, etc.) it is more likely to pass on infections, STIs to your partners. A condom should be used with non-porous sex toys. Either way, it is important to wash your sex toys after using them to ensure the safety of everyone involved.
- Safe Penetrative Sex
Penetrative sex includes the insertion of a body part or a toy and has nothing to do with gender identity or gender roles. Usually, the person on the receiving end is known as the ‘bottom’ and the person on the performing end is known as the ‘top.’ Identifying with these roles is up to the person itself. On average, the ‘bottom’ is at a higher risk of contracting STIs than the ‘top.’
People who identify as Trans, especially those who are on hormones during transitioning, may go through certain changes that affect their sexual functioning. People on Oestrogen may have difficulty with potency and can make penetrative sex difficult, and people on Testosterone may experience decreased lubrication and there may be a need to use more lube. It is important to keep in mind that regardless of what hormones a person is on if they have a vagina and a womb, they can still get pregnant. Similarly, a person with a penis and testicles can get someone pregnant–regardless of the gender of the person.
There are certain ways to make penetrative sex more pleasurable as well as safer for the consenting individuals involved, including:
- Using either an ‘inside’ condom (used on the front hole, vagina, and anus) or an ‘outside’ condom (used on the penis or sex toys for easy clean-up) to avoid pregnancy as well as STIs.
2. Using a water-based lube (less likely to cause yeast infections) to reduce friction which decreases the chances of the condom breaking and also increases pleasure.
3. If the people involved decide to use sex toys, it is important to choose a non-porous material that is easily washable and does not trap bacteria. If you use a sex toy made out of a porous material (jelly rubber, elastomer, etc.) it is more likely to pass on infections, STIs to your partners. A condom should be used with non-porous sex toys. Either way, it is important to wash your sex toys after using them to ensure the safety of everyone involved.
- Safe Oral Sex
Oral sex is the stimulation of a person’s partner/s with the use of their mouths. While the risk of transmission of STIs is lower during oral sex than penetrative sex, it still is not completely safe. STIs like herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis is commonly transmitted through oral sex. A latex barrier (dental dams, condoms, etc.) can be placed between the mouth and the body part to reduce the chances of transmission.
- Safe Sex With Hands
Fingers and hands can be used to stimulate different parts of a person’s body. Even though fingers and hands are not a common way of transmission of STIs, it is important to be safe. Some people may use latex gloves to decrease the chances of transmission through fluids, lube is used to prevent cuts and pain. If a certain person has sex with a number of people, it is important to use different gloves with different people to reduce the chances of STIs that can be transmitted through the mixing of bodily fluids.
Contrary to popular belief, sex education and sexual health does not just constitute the actual act of sexual intercourse–whatever that may mean to you–but it is also based on self-care. Knowing how to take care of yourself–sexually, mentally, physically–is also an important part of sex education, it teaches young people to break free of the stigma surrounding sex. Ranging from masturbation to preventative care including regular check-ups and STI tests; self-care as the basis of sex education teaches young people, especially LGBTQIA+ youth, to discover their identities, become comfortable with their bodies, and understand that their sexual desires–or lack thereof–are normal.
Image Source: Family Inequality On WordPress
A comprehensive and inclusive sex education that is based on self-care and operates on acceptance instead of fear would not only destigmatize sex, homosexuality, and different identities but also break the healthcare barriers that a lot of LGBTQIA+ youth come across. Due to misinformation and stigma, STIs, sexual abuse, shame that is often connected to sex is more rampant in LGBTQIA+ youth than people who identify as cisgender and heterosexual.
Teaching kids about transgender and gender identity issues, the difference between sex and gender, the fluidity of your sexuality throughout your lifetime, and other issues would make it easier for kids who might identify with these problems later in life. Keeping in mind the high suicide rates for LGBTQIA+ youth, higher rates of HIV infections amongst gay men, as well as higher rates of other STIs, knowledge about their own bodies and sexual desires would act as preventative strategies.