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Why LGBTQ youth need sex education

February 14, 2020

Valentine's Day is a great time to refresh your education about sex and sexuality in order to protect yourself and your partners. For all youth, regardless of identity, sex education can be misinforming and provide information that stunts our ability to understand our bodies, desires, relationships, and health. For LGBTQ and questioning youth specifically, sex ed can be a frustrating and dangerously misleading experience.

According to Planned Parenthood, seven states in the U.S. either "prohibit sex educators from discussing (or answering questions about) LGBTQ identities and relationships, or actually require sex educators to frame LGBTQ+ identities and relationships negatively."

Only twenty-seven states and Washington D.C. mandate that HIV and AIDS education programs are included in sex education. Only seventeen states require that the instructions are medically accurate. And in twenty-six states, including D.C., it is required that the information is "appropriate" for the students' age. 

The subjectivity of what is and isn’t “appropriate” makes sex ed biased in many ways. LGBTQ kids are often–if not always–left out of sex education curriculum because many administrators think it is inappropriate to teach. This is unfair because there are queer, transgender, and intersex young people in every community who deserve to know how to safely use their bodies. Therefore, teaching how to practice safe, consensual sex while including LGBTQ+ relationships is the most effective way of keeping all people safe.

Inclusive sex education should teach consent, how to avoid and treat sexually transmitted infections (STIs), how to use protection, and what healthy relationships look like for people of all genders and sexualities. Teaching abstinence is not effective and it is unrealistic; many young adults have sex, and that is normal! If sex is healthy, consensual, and fun, then teens and college students should not be shamed for having intercourse.

Teaching consent is also highly important for youth in sex ed courses. Consent is when no means no and yes means yes. Consent can be reversed at any point in time during sex. If someone looks upset or uncomfortable–that is not consent. Silence or passivity is not consent.

Planned Parenthood uses the acronym FRIES to explain consent in an easy, understandable way. Consent is:

Freely given: Doing something sexual with someone is a decision that should be made without pressure, force, manipulation, or while drunk or high.

Reversible: Anyone can change their mind about what they want to do at any time. Even if you’ve done it before or are in the middle of having sex, you can still change your mind.

Informed: Be honest. For example, if someone says they’ll use a condom and then they don’t, that’s not consent.

Enthusiastic: If someone isn’t excited or really into it, that’s not consent. Silence or passivity is not consent. Yes means yes and everything else means no.

Specific: Saying yes to one thing (like going to the bedroom to make out) doesn’t mean a person is saying yes to another thing (like oral sex).

Teaching consent is fundamental to keeping people safe. Although teaching consent will not stop sexual assault all together, it significantly helps. LGBTQ students are often left out when colleges and high schools teach about sexual assault, but the statistics show that it is happening to LGBTQ people at an alarming rate. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that forty-seven percent of transgender people are sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime. Also, forty-six percent of bisexual women have been raped, compared to seventeen percent of heterosexual women and thirteen percent of lesbians.

A majority of sex ed programs only teach about abstinence or condoms–if they teach about protection at all. This makes sex ed heterocentric and cisgender man-centered, insinuating that other genders do not have sex for pleasure.

As a bisexual woman, teaching myself inclusive sexual education was crucial. For instance, I learned that protection should be used with partners of all genders. Many sexually transmitted infections like Chlamydia can be spread between people with vulvas during oral sex and the infection can progress without visible symptoms. 

There are more ways to protect yourself against STIs such as using dental dams. Dental dams can be placed on the vulva or anus to protect against oral STIs like herpes, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. Another form of protection is condoms and internal condoms, which are condoms that are inserted in the vaginal canal. If sex toys are being used with multiple partners, it is also important to use condoms. Protection and forms of birth control are often free at local health centers, Planned Parenthood, and college health centers.

Digital resources like videos on YouTube can be an appealing and entertaining platform for teens to learn about sex. YouTuber Stevie Boebi is a cisgender, disabled, lesbian based in Los Angeles, California who has a YouTube platform on “queering sex ed.” On her YouTube channel, Boebi discusses tips for queer sex, teaches how to use protection, and gives advice on having sex after being assaulted. This is one of the only YouTube channels that discusses exclusively queer sex ed and it is important that this information is provided to adolescents of all genders and sexualities.

If you are choosing to be sexually active, remember to get tested, use protection, and ask for consent!

Alyssa Stenson served as GLAAD's Youth Engagement Intern and is a Women and Gender Studies Major at Rutgers UniversityNewark. She is passionate about sex education and representation for Black LGBTQ youth.

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