School sex ed and queer youth

The Happy Trail

By Meghan Rogers
Interviewees
Olivia (MN) ‘19 she/her
Benjamin (Midloathian, TX) ‘18 they/them
Luke (Orinda, CA) ‘19 he/him
Castor Kent (Sunnyvale, CA) they/them ‘18

How old were you when you had sex ed? Where?
Olivia: We had sex ed in seventh grade. It was mostly puberty talk with some sex, and then in senior year we had an in-depth course for academic credit year long. You could take it as a class or take it online.

Benjamin: I didn’t have a lot. In sixth grade, we all had a unit on the reproductive system. Y’know, like gonads of male and female bodies. And that was it. We didn’t even learn about semen and vaginas. I never learned about condoms or anything like that. I went to a private school in the South that was founded in the segregation era. We didn’t have sex ed in high school or anything. Isn’t that cool? Sex ed was part of the bio curriculum for us. Our teacher didn’t really know a lot. He also told us that Galileo invented the telescope later in the year.

Castor: We had it three times — in fifth grade, seventh grade, and tenth grade. In elementary school the boys and girls got separated and watched the same videos. That was it. These body parts and these body parts interact and this is how children are made, nothing beyond that. I don’t think we were tested on it or anything; it was also optional and you had to get a permission slip signed.

In middle school in seventhth grade there was an assembly where some 20-somethings put on a musical that taught about what condoms were and what it means to be attracted to someone. They sang songs and it was weird. It felt basic … but if you didn’t get anything at home it was something. I sat at the very back of the bleachers and joked around with my friend.

In high school we had health, which was a quarter class. I think it was supposed to be sex ed … we watched the Biggest Loser and Intervention and my teacher would google people and body shame them.

Luke: First time I ever had sex ed was in the fifth grade, so about 10 years old. Then every year or so in middle and high school they would increase the information. The only official sex ed I got was through school. Definitely information got to me through the internet though.

How was queerness discussed in your sex ed? How did what was discussed affect your queerness?
Olivia: My middle school’s health teacher was a lesbian woman, so many of the students asked about why she was a health teacher if she was a lesbian … People would ask really heterosexual questions in the question box at the end with the intention of making her uncomfortable. She would always say, “Well, I haven’t experienced it but …” A lot of people invalidated her for teaching sex ed as a gay woman. And I would make fun of her too because I didn’t identify as queer then.

Benjamin: No. In fact, at least when I was there, gay and lesbian couples weren’t allowed to dance together at prom. Students weren’t allowed to talk about gay issues at school. There wasn’t a stress to have sex that anyone would find alienating, because there wasn’t even a stress on heterosexual sex. There was just nothing. I guess it was alienating in a way that people just assumed you were straight, but that really wasn’t coming from the sex ed. The sex ed was just such a nothing. It helped that I was gay because gay people are generally better about having classroom communities about safe sex.

Castor: They spent a lot of time on some dude being like, “My body reacts in this way when I see a girl.” There was one openly-gay math teacher and he would help you out if you asked him, but he was the only person. It would have been nice to at least have had the option of having a queer sex ed. … In fourth grade my parents gave me some picture books that sort of explained it but that’s it. I just didn’t find out at all on my own. I also identified as ace for a really long time. I think part of that also is that I didn’t really understand. … There was a GSA at my school and when I became an officer I changed it to GSMA (Gender and Sexual Minorities Alliance) I kind of ran the club in that I had educational sessions every Wednesday where I taught people words and their definitions like “This is what lesbian means. …” So technically but not really. … Gender wasn’t discussed. In 10th grade they divide you up by your science class and everyone gets a cup and you pour part of your cup into other people’s cup and it’s supposed to show how STDs travel. They also showed us a paper heart to explain to us how women get attached, and they tore it in half and were like, “She had sex once.” And then like what’s left for her husband? That’s literally untrue. … I would have loved to normalize conversations about it and normalizing conversations with partners about STDs and consent. There’s nothing about consent ever! And that’s the most important part of sex! Language was deeply heteronormative and cisnormative.
Luke: Queerness was never really discussed, except maybe in passing. I think classmates made jokes about it and everything but never anything more serious. There are uncertainties about what is safe or how to be safe because of this.

Was contraception discussed? How?
Olivia: We talked about consent when they were talking about different sexual terms. They demonstrated it with a video with male and female couple puppets. I have zero memory of them discussing sex between the same gender. They were open with talking about sex in general, but not with homosexual sex. I put condoms on bananas and stuff like that. I just remember everyone laughing about it, because people are so wildly uncomfortable talking about it — even in my senior year of high school. Even I felt uncomfortable talking about it though, even though I shouldn’t. … But everyone thinks it’s funny until they actually experience it and they’re like, “Oh [heck].”

Benjamin: We only learned names of reproductive organs. I didn’t realize myself until now that I literally didn’t have sex ed. We didn’t talk about relationships or anything like that either. There was an assumption that you will only be having reproductive sex if you’re a woman and I guess if you’re a man it’s probably not your problem if you don’t wear a condom.

Luke: In high school, they talked about STIs and contraception, etc. I think one time time we had a weird game where we had to swap cards with people and then at the end we checked them to see how many STIs we got, which was kind of weird and definitely gave a negative undertone to everything.

What could have been done differently in Sex Ed?
Olivia: I was really uncomfortable with thinking of myself as a sexual being. I didn’t masturbate until freshman year of college. Masturbated … I was just uncomfortable with the thought of being by myself because I had only learned about sex between a man and a woman and that was what I was comfortable with and I was grossed out by myself. I feel like earlier in sex ed they could have helped me be more comfortable.

Benjamin: Oh my god, if I had seen a depiction of gay sex … Oh my god, that would have been really good! Or just had it talked about in an okay way … but that’s the thing: it doesn’t just come from the students; it comes from all of the teaching staff and administration on campuses. Everyone was deeply homophobic. Talking about what I needed is just talking about things that aren’t going to happen.

Castor: I think it would be really helpful to have college campuses have conversations on the topic. I personally feel uncomfortable talking about the topic but to have the option or just to have it be a thing run by CHWS or a group of students that people could just optionally come to just to learn in a very matter of fact that would be really cool. Or to have a sex educator come to campus, because I think a lot of people here come from places where there was nothing. Because k-12 lacks so much, I think college could help to fill in those gaps.

Luke: I think they could have been more aware of how different people are, and how to educate queer people in sex ed instead of showing everyone how to put a condom on a banana for the tenth time.

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