Opinion: Let's Talk About Sex
It's no secret that sex education is sorely lacking in the UK, but for LGBTQIA+ people it's practically nonexistent. It's time for that to change
Every September, droves of freshly independent young people descend upon universities and colleges across the country. From there on, the potent mix of alcohol and an ongoing pressure to experiment create an atmosphere of sexual availability – and an expectation that you should be having as much sex as possible. Most freshers, however, don’t arrive at uni fully prepared for this sexual marathon; emotionally, practically or otherwise.
Though you might have been subject to ‘The Talk’ from a well-meaning relative, many families deem these topics too taboo for dinner table conversation. Consequently, it’s only really in school (from peers or in dedicated sex ed lessons) that you’re taught about sex. And, while the necessity of contraception is drilled into most by the time they reach Freshers’ Week, the sexual education we’re teaching in schools is not up to scratch.
From the rising number of people testing positive for sexual infections, it’s evident that the current system is failing to teach young people about how to protect themselves from STIs. But the problem is much broader than this. When it comes to lessons on consent and LGBTQIA+-specific material, the sex ed curriculum is sorely lacking.
Generally speaking, if you’re successfully protecting yourself from STIs and/or pregnancy, you’re deemed to be within ‘safe sex’ territory. But what if you (or other participants) are being subjected to unwanted aggressive or coercive behaviour? In terms of mental health, an experience with someone who makes you feel vulnerable or uncomfortable is profoundly unsafe sex. Our idea of what constitutes safe sex needs to move towards a perspective that accommodates emotional wellbeing. For that, we need to be taught about consent, and about how to respect the boundaries of prospective partners.
We could achieve this by restructuring the way sexual education is taught in schools; the fact that sex is still something of a taboo has led to a scarcity of user-friendly information – not just on STIs, contraception and abortions, but on issues surrounding consent, slut-shaming and abuse. Covering such issues within the classroom would give new generations the tools to effectively navigate the maelstrom of emotions that sex can conjure.
What's more, we need to give young LGBTQIA+ people the sexual education they deserve. LGBTQIA+ representation and resources are so lacking that it can be a struggle to know how to act on your sexual impulses or to see yourself as desirable. It’s hard to find your niche and feel sexually included within such an exclusionary sex education system.
The move into the more LGBTQIA+ friendly environment of university can lead to more reckless sexual behaviour, particularly due to the lack of sexual health information catering to individuals who are not heterosexual or cisgender. What’s more, asexual students often find that the pressure to be seen to be having sex can make expressing their own preferences difficult.The sexual experiences of LGBTQIA+ people are completely different to hetero and cis sex. Only covering the challenges, risks and emotional impacts of straight, cis sexual partners is a dangerous disservice to a large portion of young people.
To help combat these problems, there must be an onus on educational authorities to come up with accessible, comprehensive resources for the LGBTQIA+ population. Including these materials in the curriculum would work to present sexuality and gender as a spectrum of different identities, removing the stigma and the need to explicitly ‘come out’.
After all, if sex education isn’t enabling all young people to have sex as safely and as responsibly as possible, then frankly, what’s the point?