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Inclusivity in Sexual Education

So, you want to start talking about/teaching sex? Awesome!

In my opinion, talking about sex is the best way to start learning about sex. Conversation paves way to learning more about staying safe, understanding a partner’s boundaries, and gives you more room to ask questions when you’re unsure about something or eager to learn more.

But there can be some issues when you’re talking about sex, and especially when you’re teaching sex ed. While there’s a level of awkwardness involved when you first begin, the other big issue is that we want to be inclusive and open to people of different genders, sexualities, and experience levels. Where and how should we start?

Your first step is to understand that there is no one way to have sex. This is true of heterosexual couples, homosexual couples, and people of all genders. Not all heterosexual couples have PiV (Penis in Vagina) sex, not all homosexual male couples have anal sex, and not all lesbian couples use strap-ons. Don’t assume someone’s experience of sex based on their sexuality or gender, and don’t assume that because you’re heterosexual or homosexual or otherwise that you need to have sex a certain way.

The next step is to start trying to take gendered language out of your vocabulary. Instead of saying ‘women’ try saying ‘people with vaginas’. Instead of saying ‘men’ try saying ‘people with penises’. This makes the conversation inclusive of trans people who may not identify with their gender assigned at birth, or who may not identify as a man or a woman. In an environment where the aim is teaching, I’d also recommend dropping your slang terms as well. Try to stay away from words like ‘cock’ or ‘pussy’. These, aside from being inappropriate for kids and teens, are also usually gendered. If you’re with friends, using these words may be more acceptable, but always ask before you begin using them.

When you’re discussing sex it’s also important, as always, to be respectful, to listen carefully, and to ask questions if you’re unsure about something. Ask someone what terms they like to use for their body and for the sex they’re having. If someone brings up a position you’ve never heard of or a toy you’ve never used, ask about it and be respectful of their answer (and also respect if they choose not to explain). If you want to know how someone has sex, make sure first that it’s a topic that they’re comfortable with and respect their boundaries on the subject. And while you may have heard differently in your classes, Wikipedia can be your friend here, with explanations on a lot more sexy things than you probably ever realized. If someone drops their kink into a conversation, you can always ask Google for help if you can’t ask the person who first brought it up.

In my life, I’ve had to become adept at and comfortable talking about sex. I run a club on a university of campus that is a space specifically designed for talking about sex. We speak about relationships, health, sexuality, and much more. In our meetings, since we’ve grown close as a community, it is not uncommon to hear slang words tossed about. We say pussy, cock, dick, and the new-ish term ‘bussy’, referring to ‘boy pussy’, referring to the anus (it’s one I’m still learning to use comfortably in conversation). But when we get serious, or someone is asking a question, we all immediately turn back to our inclusive and educational roots. If someone asks about pegging we explain, “So, someone with a vagina, but not always, will put on a strap-on so they can have anal or vaginal sex with their partner who can be someone with a penis or with a vagina.” And then someone tells a story and we dissolve back into giggle fits and talking about first experiences and funny stories. I give this example because I think that especially when we are teaching it is incredibly important to remember that we aren’t all cisgender and straight and that by gendering our language we could be putting someone off of learning something new about themselves or trying something they’re interested in.

The same goes for assumptions about the kinds of sex someone has. I can remember gay men in our club feeling awkward and wondering if something is wrong with them because they don’t like anal sex, giving or receiving, and that they would rather have sex some other way. I have met heterosexual people who feel disgusted or uncomfortable with PiV sex. I have met people with vaginas who have no interest in penetration at all, and people with penises who have no desire for a blow job. We can’t assume that because this one type of sex is associated with a certain sexuality or biological sex that everyone with that sexuality or sex will be doing it that one way.

To summarize, when we talk specifically about teaching sex ed (a subject I, myself, am still learning a lot about), I think the best thing we can do is speak with inclusive and non-gendered language and to explain as many ways to have sex as we can. Don’t assume that everyone you’re teaching is having the same kind of sex, is going to use the same types of contraceptives, is going to need the same kind of knowledge. Be broad in your explanations. Teach about PiV sex, teach about anal, teach about hand-on-genital sex, oral sex, talk about toys, talk about contraceptive options and their effectiveness and risks, and always teach safe, sane, and consensual sex.

See you next time!

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