Sexual education is important, not only for our physical health and safety, such as the prevention of STIs and unwanted pregnancies, but also for our overall mental health and wellbeing. Sex education in Australian schools just isn’t cutting it.
Sure, maybe if you’re lucky and your school has the funding you get taught the basics. Almost everyone has nervously giggled their way through sliding a condom on a banana or filling out word searches naming all the different STIs. For the most part, you learnt that sex would lead to pregnancy, and depending on your school you might even have been taught – to quote Mean Girls – “don’t have sex, or you will get pregnant and die.”
But did you learn anything you really wanted to know? Did you know that internal female condoms and dental dams exist? Or that virginity doesn’t physically exist, and that it does not in any way matter how many partners you’ve slept with? Or, most important of all, were you taught anything to do with negotiating consent and establishing healthy relationships and sexual boundaries? We could create an endless list of the things we’ve had to find out on our own, mostly through stumbling across educators such as Doctor Lindsay Doe, who presents videos on the YouTube channel Sexplanations, a channel which we highly recommend watching.
The main point here isn’t about the negligent state of sexual education, although it is appalling. Consider how boring and mostly irrelevant your own sex ed classes were in high school. Maybe you didn’t have a partner, or had no interest in sex, or maybe your school just didn’t teach anything your parents already hadn’t told you about. You just kind of tuned it all out and sat through it with a glassy-eyed stare. Now, imagine that you were same-sex attracted, or somewhere on the queer spectrum and couldn’t imagine any of this applying to you in any way because you knew you’d never be interested or engaging in ‘traditional’, aka penis-in-vagina, sex.
It might be fair enough to assume that same-sex students can figure out the basics, but simply being left to figure out the basics isn’t good enough when it comes to our physical and mental health. Nor is it enough to expect us to do all the research for ourselves, especially for things they might be embarrassed or ashamed about. Leaving queer perspectives out of sex ed encourages the thought that there’s only one ‘right’ way to have sex, which isn’t remotely true and is not only harmful for the normalisation and acceptance of queer relationships, it is also harmful to anyone having a healthy attitude towards sex and sexuality in general.
Over the years we’ve had attempts at queer-inclusive comprehensive sex ed. In 2003, SHINE SA began SHARE, a program that was like the recent Safe Schools program in that it sought to normalise queer relationships and teach inclusion for all, with the added bonus of also teaching about safe and healthy sex. Topics covered by the SHARE program included sex positivity, pleasure, desire, gender, and power. Unfortunately, as you can probably guess by the fact you’ve probably never heard of it, SHARE was shut-down after the end of its trial period in 2005, as a fear campaign turned away even those who may have otherwise approved of it. The backlash against it was generated by conservative lobby groups and the media sensationally promoting it as a ‘sex course’, even though the curriculum was not graphically explanative. In fact, it was no more so than the average explanation of penis-in-vagina sex, except with the inclusion of non-reproductive acts.
You can’t be blamed for thinking with marriage equality now being legal, people are going to be more open to the idea of an update to the sex ed program to make it more inclusive. Unfortunately, we’re not even close. Think of the recent and ongoing backlash towards the Safe Schools program. Safe Schools is specifically and only about queer awareness and inclusivity, it was about providing support for young people who desperately need it. And yet, the same fear campaign that arose from SHARE was again spread, this time nationwide. If we as a nation are not even willing to have and understand the need for a program such as Safe Schools, what hope is there for one like SHARE?
And so, we ask that people take their own initiative as someone’s friend or sibling, to be educators. Research sexual education issues, going far beyond what is taught as ‘traditional’ and pass it along. We know it’s not your job, but isn’t it worth taking the extra time to make sure everyone has a healthy attitude towards and full understanding of sex? It’s worth noting here, by ‘healthy attitude’ I do not mean you must want to have, or even enjoy having sex. Shout out to Asexuals, you are also completely valid! Pass on what you learn, share pleasure tips if people want them, make sure they know that even BDSM has to be “safe, sane and consensual” and then hopefully, one day we won’t have to pass on our knowledge anymore. It’ll be normalised to the point where people learn it in sex ed class, just like they should.
Words by The Rainbow Club
Illustration by Maria Dizazzo