A terrifying moment for me is – and it’s repeated with alarming frequency – hearing young (cis) lesbians say:
“Sex ed is irrelevant to me. When am I going to need to know that stuff?”
Anna*, Sociology, Psychology and PSHE teacher
Whilst young gay cis men may well get the message about condoms and STDs – usually in the context of AIDS – typical sex education misses a great many elements of safe practice for sexual acts that don’t involve penis-in-vagina, leaving students at a much higher risk.
I remember teaching the school nurse about dental dams, wondering if she didn’t know, how on earth could the kids? It was quite worrying.
Harrie*, High School English Teacher
My sex education never brought up things like using protection for sex toys, or oral sex and fingering. By the time I did find out, I’d already been exposed to that risk.
There is also an implied assumption that students are both heterosexual and cisgender, alienating and distressing LGBTQIA+ students.
Cissexism is the assumption that everyone identifies as the gender they were assigned at birth. SRE is quite probably the worst area for cissexist language – and it really needn’t be.
|Boys and girls||Explored further here [link to pg 6], this phrasing erases non-binary students. Try “students”, “Class X”, “folks”, “Year 10” instead|
|Men/boys (meaning anyone with a penis); women/girls (meaning anyone with a vulva)||People with [body part]|
|“Lady parts”, “men’s bits”||“Gentitals” or refer to the body part by name – this has the added bonus of destigmatising use of correct terminology|
|“A woman’s time”, “women’s troubles”, etc||Period, menses, menstruation|
It’s also important that pregnancy risks are still discussed when talking about LGBTQIA+ sex education: to do otherwise excludes trans and non-monosexual students, again placing them at higher risk.
If in doubt, ask yourself if what you are saying works on the assumptions that:
a. only men and women exist;
b. that all men have a penis and testes, and all women have a vulva, vagina, uterus and ovaries;
c. that all partnerships are (cis) man and (cis) woman.
If the answer to any of the above is ‘yes’, you need to change your language to counteract these assumptions.
[Trigger warning: the following sections include photographs with scissors. Please be advised that staff and students triggered by blades should avoid this section. We are happy to email an image free copy of the text to those who request it.]
Students should be aware that condoms are not only for penis-in-vagina sex. They should also be used in oral sex, as well as over any sex toy which may make contact with the genitals. They also make for handy DIY dental dams.
Dental dams are a piece of latex (or another similar material) for protection during oral sex. They are placed over the vulva or anus to create a thin barrier.
It’s important that the dams are not accidentally flipped over: if the user is uncertain which side was in contact with the vulva and which was in contact with the mouth, the dam must be thrown away.
Sadly, dental dams are not widely available in the UK: they can be ordered online – which may well suit lesson purposes – and more LGBTQIA+ inclusive GUM clinics or LGBTQIA+ centres may give them out, but by and large, the cheapest and most accessible option is a DIY version.
There are two methods to this:
Using a condom
Cut the tip off the condom, then along the side.
You may find it easier to unroll the condom after cutting the side.
Using a latex glove
(Other similar materials should be used if a user has a latex allergy – these typically contain Polyeurathane, but will usually be advertised as being latex-free)
Cut just below the fingers of the glove, then cut along the side.
It should be noted that cling-film and other plastic wraps create insufficient barriers and therefore should absolutely not be used to make dental dams.
As well as making handy DIY dental dams, gloves should be used for any digital stimulation or penetration – especially if there are any cuts or abrasions, however minor, on the hands. They can usually be found in the first aid aisle in most chemists.
Hormonal “birth” control
Students should also be taught about how hormone-based contraceptives can have benefits other than pregnancy prevention.
As well as helping regulate periods, or easing heavy or long-lasting periods, hormonal contraceptives can help give a sense of control over the menstrual cycle, including limiting or even eliminating periods altogether. For trans individuals whose menses cause dysphoria, this can be an intense relief.
Ultimately, LGBTQIA+ sex education benefits everyone:
For further information, Gendered Intelligence have produced a sexual health booklet by and for young transgender people.
*All names have been changed