Can Queer Sex Queer Sex Ed?

High school is a period in our lives that’s rich with terrible/AWESOME experiences, and this goes double for queer teens. We’ve got both the terrible – bullying, homophobic prom committees, group showers in gym – and AWESOME – making out in cars, summer vacation, group showers in gym – in spades. Health class and sex ed maybe fall into the “terrible” category. I was lucky enough to have gone to a high school that offered a borderline decent background on things like STIs, anatomy, how to use condoms, and ways to say “no.” However, from 1996-2008, federal funding for abstinence-only sex ed climbed dramatically to a total of more than $1.5 billion dollars.

Let’s take a look at the aftermath of this AWESOME use of money.

High school kids got a bum deal. Often, sex ed is the last priority for schools, especially when they have to worry about raising low test scores to ensure they’ll remain open. During the Bush era (which was kinda like 8 years of a cultural oil spill), many schools opted to receive funding for sex education that would later prove inaccurate and ineffective over having none at all (hello No Child Left Behind!). Sex “education” that included some huge lies about things like the effectiveness of condoms, effects of having an abortion, and how AIDS is transmitted (one curriculum even said skin-to-skin contact). But what about the little baby queers? What have they picked up from abstinence-only sex ed?

♦ They don’t exist! Queers aren’t real. And when they are, they’re demonized as unnatural STI-ridden freaks of nature.

♦ Queer sex – especially safe queer sex – isn’t discussed at all. Everything is PIV sex focused (that’s penis-in-vagina sex, which is my favorite thing to make up songs about and sing for friends. Nothing annoys lesbians more than singing about PIV sex.)

♦ Queer families are never acknowledged. It’s assumed that everyone’s parents are hetero.

♦ There’s definitely no mention of gender identity. Sorry, transfolk. You don’t exist either.

♦ Stereotypes around sex and gender are pushed hard: boys only want sex, and it’s the girl’s job to keep them from her precious, precious gem.

♦ Lastly, gay people can’t even get married in most states, so abstinence-only-until-marriage means that gays should live a life without hot, awesome sex. This is lame.

(Sources for all this are here and here.)

Abstinence-only sex education also contributes to a dangerous school climate. In GLSEN’s twice-a-year survey of high schools, they found that queer kids who attend schools with abstinence-only sex ed were more likely to be harassed and feel unsafe.

The weirdest part of all of this is saddlebacking. This is the phenomenon that Dan Savage named after Rick Warren’s church. All the talk about your virginity being the most important part of you has led kids to refrain from having PIV sex and opt for anal sex instead. Let’s use saddlebacking in a sentence: Annie and Jake totes saddlebacked last night, but they’re still both virgins because it wasn’t ‘real sex.’

The counterpart of it is that gay teens are having PIV sex to “prove” their straightness to their peers. So, the straights are having what the general public considers “gay sex” and the gays are having “straight sex.” Yeah. Did you catch that? STRAIGHT kids are having anal sex because they’re scared to have vaginal sex. GAY kids are having vaginal sex because they’re scared to have gay sex. THIS IS OUR WORLD NOW.

What’s even more terrifying is that these kids are having sex with little-to-no knowledge of how to protect themselves; for one thing, they’re not using condoms because they’ve been told they don’t work and not to bother with them.

But things are getting better. Over time, a bunch of states decided to stop accepting abstinence-only money, and then Obama cut all that funding and promised to fund “medically accurate” and “proven effective” (aka comprehensive) sex ed! Awesome!

It’s not over, though. During the health care reform ruckus, abstinence-only sex education found its way back in. The administration continued to fund a few abstinence-only and “faithfulness-only” programs, some internationally. However, this isn’t the same thing as before. The strict guidelines that previously applied are now much more flexible and the information provided must now be “medically accurate.” IMAGINE THAT. MEDICALLY ACCURATE. The gays have given this the thumbs up, for now. After all, abstinence isn’t a bad thing; it is the only surefire way to both not get pregnant and avoid the risk of an STI (contrary to popular belief, lesbians are not “the chosen ones” who escape all risk from STIs). Abstinence can be an important part of providing an overall education about sexual health, but it shouldn’t be the only part – even Bristol Palin at one time acknowledged that abstinence isn’t always realistic. Teens – queer or straight – need balanced information about their options, provided honestly and without judgment, in order to protect themselves.

Were you subjected to abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education? How did you make it out alive?

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!


Blogger at, social worker, cat snuggler, irreverent.

Missy has written 1 article for us.


  1. “STRAIGHT kids are having anal sex because they’re scared to have vaginal sex. GAY kids are having vaginal sex because they’re scared to have gay sex.”

    So then, everyone IS gay, after all?

  2. Well, being from the UK, abstinence is not really taught here at all!
    But no mention was ever made to homosexuality.. except about 5 minutes of one PHSE lesson, and the whole thing basically summed up to ‘some people are gay’. and gay sex was NEVER talked about.

    And that whole saddlebacking thing? seriously? I don’t even know what to say about that O_o

  3. I go to a convent school, the Nuns dislike acknowledging that we have vaginas, and therefore have a ban on all sex-ed. Then our English teacher decided that this was probably not a totally rational decision, and decided to smuggle in a sex-ed teacher who proceeded to show us how to open a condom with our teeth. In retrospect I’m pretty sure she wasn’t an actual sex-ed teacher, and was actually the woman who worked in the photocopying room. This sequence of enlightening lessons were held in the rectory, which is a place where the Priest makes the Eucharist (the bread stuff they hand out out mass), it’s the size of a shoe box and smells like a crack den. Whilst providing me with zero amount of information, the fact that the photocopying/sex-ed lady spilt spermicide and lube everywhere made me feel slightly weird but mostly amused at the next mass when the Eucharist was being dispersed.

  4. The only thing I remember about sex ed class is the boy next to me decided that would be the day he’d try chewing tobacco. And he didn’t bring anything to spit into, so he spit on the floor.

    I went to high school in the early-mid 90s. I got my relevant sex ed from a local queer youth group. If you want something done right, do it yourself.

    I imagine queer kids are more likely to get sex info from sites like this.

  5. If I remember correctly sex ed is taught in grade 8, and only after they’ve shown you how to put on a condom and numerous contraceptive will they mention abstinence, sort of like well if you REALLY wanna be safe, than just don’t do it at all. And queer sex ed, is taught as well, but only for men. I’m curious though, aren’t STIs taught in science class?

    • yes- 10th grade biology was when i learned about STIs and birth control/condoms etc. before that my only exposure to a condom was to fill it with plaster of paris to make a sculpture in art class.

  6. (I’m assuming this is a bit exaggerated and over the top to get the point across, but it bugs me a bit. It feels a bit unbalanced and as if theories and opinions were formed before the research started – as if you just found the sources that would prove you right. I guess my point is that we, your readers, mostly agree with you on the topics you bring up for discussions, so there’s no need to convince us, just educate us. I’m not saying you’re not right, I just feel like you’re making it so black/white-extreme-allcaps that it becomes less believable. /ramble)

    My teacher told us that waiting until marriage was a stupid idea. What if you didn’t have a good connection and ended up having bad/no sex for the rest of your life/getting a divorce? He’s awesome.

    • I honestly don’t feel this way. It’s pretty thoroughly cited, and a lot of what she’s saying isn’t really disputed except by the same people who think that the gays shouldn’t get married.

      AS’s writing style is not meant to be academic in any way whatsoever, and thank god for that because otherwise my eyes would bleed further after 5+ hours buried in a textbook.

      • Haha, I knew I’d get in trouble for saying this.

        I guess it’s just a matter of taste. Personally, I never go too far towards the end of any spectrum, because I like looking at things from too many angles (which sometimes leaves with me no opinion and too many thoughts). I think AS sometimes go a bit easy on the counterpoints, which I think makes for less interesting discussions (not referring to this post).

        But maybe I’m just afraid of extremes.

        • And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but remember AS’s style in general. THERE ARE LOTS OF CAPSLOCKS AND KITTENS. How can you ask for counterpoints to kittens?

          • More kittens. They provide alternative interpretations of the concept of ‘adorableness’ and ‘snuggability’.
            (what? those are both perfectly cromulent words, and you know it)

  7. Kids are going to have sex. They should receive all the information they need to make healthy/safe choices when the time comes. I absolutely think that good sex ed needs to be in the schools AND I believe that parents have a responsibility to educate their children as well.

    • In Grade 9, my school held an assembly to screen a no-drinking-no-drugs video absolutely PACKED with music videos and strange, useless metaphors made up by people who had probably never spoken to teenagers. At the end, we broke off into homerooms to discuss the “deep impact” this video had on us, and my 24-year-old homeroom teacher sat us down, and said, “Look, I know you’re either drinking or you’re going to drink, and some of you might do drugs. Just learn to do it safely, because you’ll feel a lot better in the morning, and don’t go overboard.”

      And it was the most honest thing any adult had said to any of us about drugs.

  8. this saddlebacking thing is for real?!

    all i know is that guys had a hell of a time trying to lure me into the whole ‘PIV’ thing alone, not to mention ever suggesting poking in the rear. i would’ve been so traumatized, i’d still be a virgin!

    reverse psychology?! doublethink? idk.

    • Saddlebacking is, indeed, for real. I went to church camp for the last time in 2008, and the 15-18 year old girls got together without a counselor and ended up talking about sex, as it goes.
      If I remember correctly, there were twenty of us assembled and about half of us were sexually active, four of those girls (I know, because I remembered their faces) had had anal sex but insisted they were still virgins because they’d ONLY had anal sex.

      So if twenty percent of THOSE Southern Christian Girls (that was the conference theme) were saddlebacking, I’m sure the percentage in a typical high school is at least a bit higher.

        • Dan Savage named the act after Rick Warren’s church. It’s mentioned in the post.

          Dan did a similar thing with former Senator Rick Santorum’s name – “santorum” became the word for “the frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex”

          Take note Republicans – this is what happens when you say stupid shit about queers.

  9. I was in eighth grade in 2003.

    My in-school sex ed was almost identical to the YOU WILL GET PREGNANT AND DIE scene from Mean Girls. We were also told that condoms were unreliable and that 1 in 10 people would get pregnant while on birth control. No mention was made as to homosexual or any non-PIV sex except that you could get STDs in your throat.

    When I graduated in 2008, 1/3 of the girls in my class were mothers or soon-to-be-mothers. That’s not exaggerating at all. My class was 35 people, fifteen of which were girls, 4 of whom already had kids, and one girl was 7 months pregnant. :-/

    I escaped this because I was a bookish child who a.) didn’t want to have sex with guys anyway and b.) spent a lot of time googling sex-related things.

  10. I was provided no info on sex until 9th grade. At that time I was told “Condoms do not protect against HIV/AIDS as the molecular structure of the virus is smaller than the condom.” I also remember being told I had to “marry” a boy in my class to practice being married in the future, and determine how I would solve problems in my future relationships. My least favorite part of all was how my teacher talked to us about being gay. This is literally the ONLY thing she said “I am not allowed to express myself freely on this topic, so I will only say that I… just don’t understand homosexuals.” I remember that so clearly, even 10 years later, because I already identified as queer, had a gay stepbrother and a gay uncle.

    • I always find it strange just how clearly I remember people talking about anything gay related from a fairly young age.. Weirdly, even before I’d ever thought of myself as gay =S
      sorry, slightly OT I guess.

    • i wonder who came up with that condom thing and why? do people really want kids to wait until marriage so much that they are willing to make up completely untrue “facts”? :(

  11. holy. shit.

    my class was also that size, but if anyone had gotten pregnant they would have been kicked out of (private) school.

  12. I’m from the Midwest. I’m in college now.

    In seventh grade, the school nurse separated the girls from the boys and told us that we were turning into “walking pregnancy machines”. She told us that sex involved PIV (but didn’t really explain how it worked that much), that condoms might work but also MIGHT NOT (“like, if he leaves it in his car glovebox… or keeps it in his wallet…”). She then proceeded to talk about how she had to have C-sections on both her kids and how childbirth is no fun. And that therefore abstinence was the only safe method.

    We never talked about birth control pills to my knowledge, or Plan B, or what to do if you accidentally let your baby-making powers get the best of you (of course abortion was completely off limits).

    We never talked about other forms of sex. I didn’t figure out how male-bodied couples had sex until I was a freshman in high school. I didn’t figure out how female-bodied people had sex together until closer to the end of high school. I didn’t learn what transgender meant until roughly the same time. Everything I know about sex I learned from my parents, my friends, the internet, my local library, and sex educators on my college campus.

    (Scarleteen, Planned Parenthood, and Go Ask Alice are great
    resources, btdubs.)

    I really wish we would just teach kids what they need to know to do it safely.

  13. I don’t remember sex ed. I remember “health” class where I learned about how the reproductive system works in 8th grade and about STIs in 9th grade.

    I learned about how birth control pills work in 12th grade chemistry class.

    Of course my mom tried to have “the talk” with me, but I was so mortified, I’ve blocked out most of that memory in self-defense.

    When you look at it like that, it’s a wonder I know anything about sex at all. I guess I learned it from TV and the internet, just like my mom probably feared.

  14. Ours was pretty comprehensive – I had it twice, once in fifth grade at private school (it was a really liberal artsy school, and it was age appropriate), and then again in 10th grade.

    However, I know that I’m the exception to the rule. I’ve heard horror stories from relatives over in Utah/Idaho… /shudder.

  15. My high school offered some real options about sex, if you were straight. (There was quite a few girls who had gotten pregnant when I was a freshman, but that declined because the gym teachers stepped up their game so to speak.) The only mention of queers ever was only associated with AIDS. We watched And the Band Played On and wrote a report about it.

    I learned about safe queer sex by looking it up on the internet and talking with my gyno, who definitely got too excited about it. Apparently I was her first queer lady since she started working at the Center for Women’s Health. (I just wanted to state that because I really like the name and the philosophy behind it.)

  16. I took health class in 10th grade which satisfied the sex-ed requirement, and I have to say it wasn’t half as bad as the experiences everyone else had. PIV sex was really one of the least talked about topic, and it definitely wasn’t abstinence only either. My teacher realized that kids were having other kinds of sex more often and discussed those (fingering, hand-jobs…). Though the ‘gay’ topic wasn’t addressed directly, a lot of it wasn’t really gender specific. I have to say it was a pretty good tactic.

  17. The sex-ed, if you can call it that,I recieved was in my 8th grade science class. Our school followed a program called “Worth the Wait” and at the end of it we signed a pledge to save sex until marriage…and got a cool tee shirt.
    I don’t really remember what they taught other than not to have sex, which worked out so well seeing as how through my 4 years of high school about 15 girls got pregnant and a whole hellofa lot more were sexually active.
    I just don’t get the fear that comes from teaching the truth about sexual activity. In my humble opinion everything would run smoother on this track if there was honest information and not just pictures(which we got in our 10th grade health class) of “You’ll get this disease that makes your stuff look like that if you have sex…so don’t you do it!”

    And seeing as how I’m from deep in the heart of Texas, nothing AT ALL was even mentioned, or suggested, about being gay/gay sex…that is far too taboo. In the opinion of most(I live in a highly religious area) around here you’re going straight(haha) to hell for even thinking the word gay/lesbian/queer.

    *I’m not tech-savvy so if you want to see the worth the wait website here is the address…

    I read somewhere that we’re supposed to source our info, so consider it sourced :)

    • I also live “Deep in the heart of Texas” but my experience was much more different. In 5th grade we learned about our anatomy and how our bodies would be changing and we even got a “lady kit” with some pads and deodorant. I imagine the boys got something similar. Then in high school all the 9th graders had to take health class. Not only did we discuss Sex Ed, we also discussed drugs, violence and learned CPR. The Sex Ed lessons were very informative. We learned about STDs and how you get them, different types of sex and how to put a condom on a banana. Abstinece was only mentioned as a thing some people practiced but was never forced on us. Gay sex and straight sex were both referred to equally. I think that was mainly because the health teacher was a lesbian and also my softball coach.

  18. Also the parents of most of the kids that go to my alma mater would positively freak out if safe queer sex was actually taught or at least talked about. It’s hard to be queer there. For example, some of the parents actually tried to get me fired last summer from coaching basketball once it was found out that I’m queer. Luckily the school district that I work for welcomes LGBTs to be teachers/coaches and one cannot be fired for it.

  19. Im now in grade 12 in Canada and i remember back in grade 9, when i just came out, taking health class and how they would teach us about PIV sex and gay sex but although we learned about the subject of gay sex we (the 3 other openly gay students and i) were still not very well informed, for the information that we should have learned in class we had to join a club known by bullies as the fag club to learn more about safe gay sex form the one homosexual teacher. they should not only teach us just how to us a condom and birth control in class also but how but safe sex for the gays works too.

  20. Oh, sex-ed…I remember it just like it was last semester…
    Pros-Actually learned the ways AIDS is transmitted.
    Cons- the consequeses of oral sex plastic model with a herpes throat

  21. Oh, sex-ed…I remember it just like it was last semester…
    Pros-Actually learned the ways AIDS is transmitted.
    Cons- 1.the consequences of oral sex plastic model with a herpes throat.
    2.the movies advocating “protection”, which we never discussed
    (I’m pretty sure these movies aren’t actually allowed to be shown to us as per Texas law because they use the word “protection”
    3.Watching the movie “Fireproof”. Summary- D-bag husband has a porn addiction and his wife should be more sensitive. They want to get divorced, but Jesus says thats not cool, so he reads a book about “being nice” to your wife.
    What I learned-
    Marriage is for life.
    Jesus can save your marriage.
    According to Texas, there are no queers.

    • I hate fireproof! My Boss swears by it which is extremely obnoxious. I liked Kurt cameron better in growing pains.

  22. Also I thinnk it’s important for the students to ask questions when given the oppurtunity. In 9th grade when a lesbian and a gay man came to give their yearly class visits, some classmates and I took the oppurtunity to ask them a whole bunch of questions, which they were more than willing to answer.

    • My high school’s policy was to not mention queer sex unless a student asked a question about it. Once my brother figured that out, he and his girlfriend would ask questions about queerness in every health class they had… :D (It was actually the teacher who told them about it with a wink and a nudge. Whenever they asked, the teacher would say “I’M GLAD YOU ASKED!” and launch into a discussion of whatever… lol)

  23. I was really lucky when it came to sex-ed.
    Not only were we taught thoroughly about stds and ways to protect ourselves from infection and pregnancy (without them pushing abstinence on us) we were also taught about homosexual safe sex practices; and not even just for gay men, we were taught about safe-sex practices for queer women as well.
    Plus half of our sex-ed was taught by a lesbian (who also happened to be our gym teacher…)
    But then again, I went to a very liberal private school on the West Coast of Canada.

    • Also, we had discussions on the difference between sex and gender.

      god, I am so grateful for growing up where I did…

  24. I am went to a hippie school where my gay teacher said something very valuable to my current (almost) gold star status. “Only have sex, when you want it so bad, that you can’t stop yourself.” It’s kinda abstinence in the cool way. He also started the sex ed class, by saying that he was a good teacher in this subject since he had slept with both men and women. :)

  25. I never had “the talk” with my parents. Knowing my habits, they quietly left a book on the subject on a shelf where I’d be sure to find it. The mechanics were covered in 8 th grade health class, but nothing was said about contraception and the existence of homosexuality was not even mentioned.I was abysmally ignorant about the mechanics of sex until I was personally confronted with it in college. I thank my lucky stars that all this was before the era of HIV and that I made it through those years relatively unscathed. I am a huge supporter of comprehensive sex education, because kids deserve better than that.

  26. I know enough of America to know that marketing ANY part of health class/sex ed as “safe gay sex” will never make it through the system (unless it’s smuggled by some rogue teachers). that being said, I think some of the comments i’ve been seeing up here about teachers discussing various sex acts but not making them gender-specific, are awesome.

    i grew up in the white/asian, liberal suburbs of silicon valley, CA, and i was totally sheltered. though i heard a lot about bill clinton, the sierra club, and recycling in that era, i never had “the talk” with my mom about sex. things that stand out to me from sex ed are:

    1) 5th grade my history teacher putting a condom on a banana and showing us how to put in a tampon
    2) 7th grade a thermal imaging of a straight couple having sex (no clue how they got a camera in her uterus for the big moment, but for many years afterwards i thought PIV sex only involved one big thrust and that was it)
    3) 9th grade at my catholic high school with my lesbian pe teacher showing us a video about how the aids virus replicates and destroyed t-cells. been paranoid about that ever since.

    does our country need a sex ed makeover?? fuck. YES.

  27. haha sex-ed was a joke. they did include gays and our teacher basically told us that it does’t matter WHO you have sex with, there’s always a risk of STDs. so that was okay, but what was weird was that we were shown a video of a girl debating whether she should have sex, and she kept getting followed by a little girl in a white dress,(which i guess was supposed to represent her virginal conscious) which just seemed fucking creepy to me. where do these people get these videos?!
    anyways, i learned more in that episode of roseanne when dj and that girl from the l word are making out and she pulls out a condom. i loved that show.

  28. I had abstinence-only sex ed from 6th through 8th grade.

    In 6th grade, I had no idea what a condom was and spent the entire time baffled by the fact that everyone else seemed to know what one was.

    In 7th grade, the fact that our virginity was like a “million dollar vase” (read: vaaahhhhz) was drilled into our heads.

    By 8th grade, I knew I was queer and didn’t care about sex ed. We signed a “wait until marriage” pledge – it was pink – and were told to put it in the back of our underwear drawer. I threw mine away after class.

    Basically ALL of my sex ed came from the Internet. It’s not like I expected to learn anything at school.

  29. Omg!!! I went to elementary school and middle school in Maryland and had sex ed the first time in 7th grade. It was all pretty sex-positive. Everyone had to stand up and say “sex” (which, can you imagine a room full of 12-yr-olds doing this?). It was pretty informative. It was mentioned that gay people exist in the world which is neither here nor there. Nothing beyond that though.

    THEN I MOVED TO TEXAS FOR HIGH SCHOOL. HOOOOOOLY CRAP. In 10th grade they passed around pictures of STDs and basically told everyone they were going to suffer horrible consequences if they had sex.

    THE TEACHER ACTUALLY TOLD PEOPLE THAT YOU COULDN’T GET BIRTH CONTROL UNTIL YOU WERE 18. UMMMMMM. RAGE. I was on the bcp the whole time I was in high school! I knew I was a huge lesbo then but my teenage years did something nasty to my ovaries and those pills basically made everything regular enough so that I could survive.

    Then she showed the class a picture of a latex condom. The latex had holes in it and it was basically like “EVEN IF YOU USE THESE YOU CAN GET PREGNANT AND DIE. SEE. THERE ARE HOLES. BIG ONES.” Um, yeah. There are holes in NATURAL latex but condoms are made of SYNTHETIC latex. No holes. See how that works?

    Oh man and she mentioned gay guys having AIDS. Some kid said we should just kill all the gay people so that there would be no AIDS. The teacher didn’t even react. My soul died a little.

    So yeah. Now I’m depressed just thinking about it D: D: D:

    But saddlebacking? Really? Whaaaaaaaaat. Nooooooooo. D: Trauma.

  30. My high school didn’t schedule me into the “sex-ed for straight people”/health class until 11th grade.

    I avoided “the talk” completely by coming out when I was 12.

    I hate to think of what I would think about sex if I didn’t have the internet to inform me.

  31. I learned everything I needed to know from Seventeen Magazine!

    Actually, I was lucky. I went to a private school for gifted/drifted kids in a liberal town so we had fully comprehensive sex ed in 7th grade (anyone could opt out via parental request, I don’t know if anyone did) which included a run-down of all methods for protecting yourself from pregnancy and stis/stds (including organic/natural options), a day where four HIV positive people came in to share their stories, and two blissful days of watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes where the robots watched old sex ed videos from the 50’s, so we could all discuss the myths shilled by old school sex ed and get real.

    We had it again in high school, and many assemblies on the topic etc. Ultimately I think it did make a huge difference. Most of my friends, including me, did go on the pill when we became sexually active with guys, we all at least said we were having safe sex, the gays knew what to do as well, nobody was shamed, and now here we are.

    Also I still believe that our weirdo crazytown health teacher (who was always doing middle-school-level unforgivable things like forgetting to zip her fly or not noticing a shirt button come unbuttoned and wearing weird skirts with sneakers and socks) telling us that she loved having sex with her husband and loved orgasms probably did more to promote abstinence than any abstinence only sex ed program could have.

  32. Is this an American-only thing?

    I live in Australia, and went to a public school.

    I think it was seventh grade when I started learning about sex. I can’t remember the teachers pushing abstinence onto us, and the teachers told us things like use a condom, the pill prevents pregnancies but not STIs; it was basically all pretty sex-positive. Everything I learnt on the Internet about sex just reinforced what I was taught in school.

    However, it was all pretty heterosexist. It was all PIV stuff, AND THERE WAS NOTHING ABOUT LGBT. Everything about LGBT, I had to look up on the Internet, that included things like coming out, “Am I really gay?” etc.

    • I did sex ed in an Australian public school as well. In the 7th grade they made everyone go away on a sex ed-themed school camp to talk about condoms etc. I had a similar experience as you – sex positive teachings, but no acknowledgment of homosex.

      In Year 10 I transferred to a private school in the city that had a large number of out queer kids, and so the teachers there acknowledged both hetero and queer sex.

    • Go the Aussies! *ahem*

      My school showed us at least 8 contraceptive doodads, and were very much acknowledging that we were going to have sex. Just not gay sex. Yeah, um, hi, WE EXIST.

      Luckily, I have the Internet and my imagination. So yeah.
      They also made us take a written test on it, so we’d actually learn it. And they were great with information on STDs. But yeah. No gay sex.

    • Australia here also. All I remember was getting shown a video of a little sperm in a top hat, winning a swimming race and penetrating an egg. So I resolved never to have sex with anyone in a top hat. No babies for me!


        I think there was also a rubber ducky in that video too. Gave me nightmares.

        • DEFINITELY watched the rubber ducky video in the jerz public schools. There was a couple who rumbled under the sheets, kinda like the sims. With funky Rocko’s-Modern-Life-esque solid purple backgrounds w/ funky shapes. Most of the people I was in class with have since gotten STDs from strai’sex. bummer.

  33. I went to Catholic school K-12. Co-ed parochial school K-8 and all girls, nuns-live-on-campus 8-12.

    In 5th grade, sex-ed was taught as part of religion class and was called “Family Life” and parents were given the option to have their kids removed from the class room, which was a social no-no. All I remember is that boys and girls were separated, and we got pages with black and white outlines of ovaries and uterus (front view) and penis (side view). No vagina diagram. I remember being horrified/finally understanding how sex works when I found out the penises got hard and, in my mind, sprang to life, becoming a third arm. I didn’t have any brothers.

    My high school was surprisingly liberal and sprinkled sex-ed in amongst health, religion, and biology classes meaning it depended on which teachers you had and classes you took to what info you got. I’ll break it down.

    Religion Class: SEX IS AWESOME. A little-known fact is that Catholics love sex. I remember my teacher had a bowl cut and wore turtle-necks with skirts to her ankles and sneakers. She closed her eyes, rolled her head back and groaned about how great sex was and literally talked about G-d being in bed with the couple, making it sound like it bordered a sacrament/drug high. BUT ONLY AFTER MARRIAGE, OBVI.

    Health Class: We had the usual watered down STIs, condoms, birth control thing but spent most of our time on Catholicism’s gift to humanity: NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING. This was taught to us like it was an actual science that was proven to work and super-duper easy to follow. NFP involves taking your vagina’s temperature and handling your vaginal excretions to measure the viscosity of cervical mucus. EVERY DAY. You also track how tender your breasts and back are. If you do this, you may be able to kind-of guess when you ovulate and not have sex during that time. The woman who taught us this had TEN CHILDREN. Just sayin’. This was all to avoid using contraceptives, which is a no-no according to Catholics.

    Natural Family Planning had a few plus sides. 1) It was very female-body positive. You were supposed to love your vagina and get all up in there all the time. 2) It encourages this line of thinking: sex is bad ONLY when you are not open to having kids, therefore gay sex = straight sex before marriage = a married couple on birth control = married couples using condoms. So, it makes arguments against gay sex arguments against any kind of contraceptives, which makes it ridiculous.

    I also remember the day of the NFP talk, my English teacher lead the class in a discussion of how stupid it is.

    Biology: Gave us a more complete run-down of everything reproductive, including way too many details about periods, but it didn’t stray too far into the sexual.

    Overall, gay sex was not mentioned, but neither was any non-reproductive sex? Unless you were makin’ babies any kind of sexual contact (including masturbation and sometimes kissing) was bad, but the same level of bad. There wasn’t really that “PIV or bust!” feeling, it was “babies or bust!” and that is so ridiculous that I didn’t take it seriously and everyone just decided sex was ok?

    This maybe explains my “if we’re gonna kiss we might as well just have sex” mentality. I’m sure that’s what the pope was going for!

    aaaand I’ll end this novel now because no one cares!

  34. My sex ed was great in the “this is what can happen to you if you have sex irresponsibly, and this is how you have sex responsibly” department. It was also very heterosexist. I remember distinctly a conversation with a friend in the cafeteria:

    Her: “I really hope I don’t have Ms. ___ for health class.”
    Me: “Why?”
    Her: “She teaches girls how to masturbate. Like talks about how you do it in class. And that’s because she’s a lesbian, and that’s how lesbians have sex. With their hands.”
    Me: “Don’t be ridiculous. That’s not how lesbians have sex.”

    Seriously, I didn’t know how lesbians had sex, but I was pretty sure it was more exciting than hands. I don’t know what I was expecting. I certainly didn’t learn it from Health class.

  35. They pretty much just skim over sex ed in my school even with the mandatory aids talk (in a nutshell: And it can also be transmitted in OTHER WAYS ~look that means he doesn’t wanna say sex~) So I’ve done the responsible thing: Go on the internet and learn about it.

  36. my (not so) short story:
    CA public school system: we got basic stuff in fifth grade, which was more like a puberty overview; girls and boys were split up.
    then more anatomy specific things in seventh grade, including stuff about boners and how to be slick and hide it behind your binder at school so you didn’t get embarassed! and a video of some lady giving birth for reals which pretty much scarred every single 12 year-old who ever saw it.
    ninth grade biology had penis/vagina worksheets with labels you had to fill in so everyone knew all the parts. we also had a one-semester health class which was basically sex ed + first aid, so we learned about condoms, healthy relationships (and the cycle of abuse/rape/date-rape), STIs, birth control kindof, and plan B.

    Oh, and that you’d have to swallow a gallon of spit in one sitting from an HIV-positive person to become infected just by kissing. (Or some obscene amount like that, basically dispersing the “get AIDS through kissing” myth.)

    hetero-centric, PIV-centric, though blowjobs may have been mentioned like twice. I didn’t even hear about dental dams til about two years later (i don’t even remember where, probs the internet.) it also took me about that long to figure out how lesbians had sex aside from hearing vague references to “scissoring” and thinking “Wtf does that even mean?”. Of course, i also wasn’t even super interested in sex til early senior year of high school. literally, i was like “sex, whatevs. i just want someone to make out with/cuddle first”.

    • oh, and one of the clearest ways i ever heard lesbian sex explained was that episode of Skins where Naomi asks, “so like…how do lesbians do it?” and Emily says “I think they do to each other what we do to ourselves.” Or something of that sort.

      (Yes, I feel young, and yes I feel sad my first/clearest for awhile explanation of this came from TV. I guess I should be grateful they can air stuff like that in the UK! In Amurrrrca I don’t think any of the big networks like ABC/Fox/CBS/USA would air that.)

  37. Like Shannon, I went to Catholic schools so sex ed was minimal to non existant. Last year of primary school (I was 12) we had CFLE – Christian Family Life Education which had a bit about puberty, feelings around all this and how babies are made pretty much.

    High school – non existant. We had the Tampax lady come in, and in biology we learnt the biological side of it all but it wasn’t sexual in any way.

    So all up, it was pretty shit and also sadly hilarious because a good proportion of the girls were sexually active anyway. As in, highly sexually active so for a school of 400 girls we had a good few girls getting pregnant. And don’t start me on the bizarre residual catholic guilt which played a big role in staying firmly inside the closet during my mid teens. Good times.

  38. I went to a small seventh-day adventist private school (it was a K-10, the most students they ever had while I was there was 75, there were usually like 5 people in my class). We never had a sex ed class, maybe STI/STD’s were mentioned in biology but that was it. Abstinence was pretty much assumed and reinforced as the only acceptable option (as mentioned above, you would get kicked out if you became pregnant)

    I learned everything from the internet.

  39. I went to a small private middle school where twice weekly health began in fifth grade. My teacher was well meaning but we very rarely even discussed sex. One of the few times we did, I remember being shocked when my teacher revealed that the penis actually went IN THERE. I thought sex was sort of just a big naked hug.
    By high school (I switched to catholic school), I had learned to rely on the internet for sex information and advice. I also learned a lot about pregnancy and STI by devouring CosmoGirl and Seventeen.

    I don’t really remember if my education was abstinence only, but I do know most of my peers were having sex, or at least experimenting with other people. As someone terrified of STIs and pregnancy, I have always been amazed by how careless my peers are. Several girls I knew wound up having abortions before graduation, and even more had multiple scares.

    As for saddlebacking, I did know one girl who started having anal when she was 14 to avoid losing her virginity. So, so creepy.

  40. This post brings back a lot of memories…that I want to forget.

    I had sex-ed twice, in 6th grade and 9th grade (about 1997 and 2000). Both were a complete joke and waste of time.

    The takeaway point of 6th grade was, “The safest sex is no sex at all.” I vaguely remember something about the fallopian tubes and impregnation. (Maybe…I always got in trouble for staring out the window.) There was absolutely no discussion of sex acts and I was basically unaware of how it “worked” until college.

    10th grade was all about STIs and more abstinence brainwashing. My teacher actually scared us with an urban legend about a girl who caught HIV during spring break, the deeply creepy “Welcome to the world of AIDS” one. (“She went to a school not to far from this one…and she was DEAD by senior year!!!”) I also remember watching an animated film about a girl who wants to have sex with her boyfriend at Makeout Point or someplace and then is guided back to abstinence by her willow spirit. There was also a raccoon…or an owl. Maybe both.

      • Haha no, I ended up finding it online. It’s called If You Love Me, Show Me. “He was thinking tonight…she was thinking forever.” The description makes it sound so benign, but I know it had an abstinence message.

  41. I, um, kind of skipped high school sex ed. XD (Managed to waive health class due to mad skillz.) But I remember my first sex ed class in 5th grade where the teacher put a box at the front of the classroom where you could ask any questions you had. I put in a fairly convoluted one (I think it involved fraternal twins from two fathers…) and the teacher read it and was like “…um. I don’t know. I’ll have to get back to you.” And she never did.

    Also I remember watching a video about AIDS where your body was a house and cold viruses could get through holes in the fence but for HIV you had to OPEN THE GATE. Did anyone else see that one? I think it started with a little league game.

    My girlfriend went to Super Christian School from 6th to 10th grade and she pretty much got the “SEX IS BAD AND DIRTY AND ONLY SHOULD BE BETWEEN TWO PEOPLE WHO ARE MARRIED AND LOVE EACH OTHER” talk. Nothing about the gayness, obvs. Then in high school her two best friends ended up pregnant – and one wasn’t even sure who the father was, as she had unprotected sex with two guys that day. -_-

  42. That picture with Riese, Alex and Carly is one of my fav. I wish Alex was not blocking her face with that vodka bottle.

  43. In fifth and sixth grade we had the talk where the girls and boys are split up and the girls learned about getting our periods and then were sent on our merry way with a goodie bag of pads and a mini Teen Spirit deodorant. But I don’t remember getting any actual sex ed until health class when I was in twelfth grade in 2000-2001. Crazy, right? It wasn’t abstinence only (thankfully), but we most certainly didn’t touch on queer sex. One positive aspect of that health class was that there was discussion about relationships and domestic violence.

    My mom tried to have “the talk” with me on a few occasions, and I refused to hear anything. Instead, all of my sex ed came from reading my grandmother’s Cosmopolitan Magazines (yikes…) and eventually reading my mother’s copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves from 1973.

  44. I went to three Canadian high schools; two are Catholic and Anglican schools, and other one is a public school. Sex education class was rather graphic in my public school (Grade 7). The teacher showed us some videos that demonstrate the process of pregnancy and teen growth. As a naive girl who just moved to Canada from Hong Kong (a conservative city), it was quite shocking to see the virgina and the penis. Sex was not mentioned until I was in Grades 9 – 10. By then, my Catholic and Anglican schools mainly focused on the safe sex for teens but there’s no mention of gay people. I needed to borrow books from school library (Anglican school:Grades 9-13) and got to learn more about LGBT. In fact, it was quite impressive for the library to keep these books and no one ever questioned a 15 years old girl on the type of the book. I think it is partly because it is a girls-only school and some teachers were assumed to be gay/lesbian/bi.

  45. The sex ed at my private New England school was fairly comprehensive for straight folks. You had STI-prevention 101 in 7th grade, the whole practice-taking-care-of-an-egg thing in 8th grade, and then OMG YOU’LL DIE OF AIDS in 9th grade. In the 9th grade version, which included a drop-box for questions we were too scared to ask, I dropped in a “what about gay folks” card, which got answered roughly “Well, they can get STIs, too, so they should use condoms, too.” Which confused me, as I was intending not to have anything to do with penises.

    Luckily for me, I also went to a hippy camp run by the Unitarian Universalist Association, and we got VERY comprehensive sex ed there, both formally and informally. Which meant I then went back to my preppy high school and educated my friends.

  46. In 5th grade, my mother tried to give me “the talk.” She sat me down and mumbled a lot, the only clear thing being “sometimes, it feels good.” Two days later, the girls were taken out of class and we got the “you’re going to start bleeding, which means that you can make babies!”

    In Sex Ed, we were told about PIV sex, STIs, and condoms. As the bell was running one day, the teacher mumbled “and sometimes, people are gay.”

    The Internet has taught me most everything, which is so not the way to do it.

    • Haha my mum was the same. “Uhhh sex is great, but umm don’t do it just yet, uhhh here read this book”.
      The book had like line drawings of boobs in it, which was basically porn to my little pre-internet self. Thanks mum :D

  47. The good was that I learned the actual truth about HIV/AIDS in grade four, the bad was that it was through a weird video where, to illustrate how the immune system worked, actors DRESSED UP IN FUZZY GERM COSTUMES AND PLAYED BASEBALL. (“I’m a t-cell! My batting average is off the charts!”)

    I still feel like a bit of a weirdo about this, but I thought puberty was like, the neatest thing when I was nine and ten. Like, OH MY GOD, our bodies ACTUALLY CHANGE? WHAT DOES IT MEAN? I had an actual COLLECTION of puberty books, which ranged from the basic to the radical and sat on the shelf next to the “Where Did I Come From?” picture book I got when I was three. Clearly, my mom indulged this, and I entered puberty knowing more than I would ever need to know.

  48. In my high school we had a speaker come in and it was about PURE LOVE. How we have to make a PROMISE to GOD about how we will stay abstinent until marriage. We had to sign a card saying we were going to wait until marriage to have sex. The though process was that when you found your ONE TRUE LOVE, he (or she, but always heterosexual couples, of course) would have the same card, signed and dated on the same day as yours.

    Since I was gay, I didn’t care. I signed. Still a virgin, for their standards.

  49. I was lucky(?) that we barely even talked about actual SEX in Health class. Somehow we always worked around the subject and talked about other “health” related things, and not sex.

  50. Thanks for sharing all your sex ed stories!

    Most importantly, thanks for continuing to use the awesome phrase “PIV sex.”

    I feel my work is done here.

  51. Uh, I guess the conversation on this article is kind of over, but I just wanted to comment about the sex-ed at my high school, in Canada.

    Our teachers don’t teach us sex ed. They bring in speakers from this thing called Teen Talk, and the speakers talk about everything. Everything. Oral, vaginal, anal – uhm, digital? I dunno.

    It’s super open. They answer stupid-teenage-boy questions with straight faces, they put a condom on a dildo and try to explain the female condom. Religion isn’t mentioned. Abstinence isn’t even encouraged, it’s just offered as an option.

    Sex ed is probably the least confusing this about high school, and my life, right now. So, that’s all.

  52. NYC Public School. We had “health” twice: 5th grade (2000) and 11th grade (2006). No mention of sex in 5th grade as far as I can recall and while the sex-ed was alright (ie: not abstinence only, they did tell us about and shows us condoms and even female condoms and dental dams) it was primarily straight oriented and holy crap ELEVENTH GRADE IS WAY TOO LATE! Seriously- at this point I had already learned everything they tried to teach us from my very liberal, loved to talk about sex and give me lots of books about it and other related things, mother, and plenty of people I knew were already having sex. Mostly I feel like we talked about pregnancy and STDs/STIs.

    Then in twelfth grade we did projects on STIs for my elective science course (epidemiology) and through the brilliant independent research done by myself and my friends we learned what Chlamydia and Gonorrhea look like where they are stuffed animals:

  53. I’m about to graduate high school in the US, finally a senior. I’ve moved around a lot so sex ed for me, a so-called baby queer, hasn’t been great at all.

    4th Grade- Was in a charter school in Philadelphia. I’d already gotten my period by this time. I started when I was 9, one of those extremely early cases. We had the boys and girls separate talk about periods/breasts, and I groaned internally the whole time. I felt like losing that much blood would eventually kill me, that it was disgusting and God was punishing me, even though my family was/is not really religious.

    5th grade- Was in a public school in South Carolina, AKA: Bible Belt. I tried my hardest to get out of it but my mom made me go. I blocked most of it out. But don’t remember anything about safe sex, there might have been a video about abstinance.

    By 7th grade- Still in SC, I had a crush on a girl and some of my friends had already had sex. I knew how sex worked, though I never had the “talk” with my mom. She’s one of those really open people who would’ve told me absolutely anything I asked. But I didn’t ask, I avoided the subject at all cost, it was too weird. I turned to the internet search bar and fanfics/lesbian erotica for all of my questions.

    10th Grade- Was half in FL and half back in SC. In my FL health class, the teacher was a total babe, I spent most of the time fantasizing about her. And when I did listen during the sex ed parts I commended her for being able to say penis, vagina, testicles etc. in front of my immature classmates, who mostly said dirty things in Spanish because they knew she couldn’t understand. But luckily, I was bi-lingual enough to be a good teacher’s pet and tell her they were being inappropriate. We were told about STDs, AIDS, maybe condoms, but it was all heterocentric and involved diagram worksheets. Also there was a questions box, inwhich I put a question about queer sex, that wasn’t answered, to my dismay.
    Back in the Bible Belt- My health teacher was not a babe, he was a grumpy old guy. We learned about some STDs, the abuse cycle, abstinance. There were no worksheets and when someone brought up intercourse the teacher said “Y’all know how that works, lets move on,”. There was a lot of time spent on drug use, particularly pot. Nothing even remotely queer or female body possitive was mentioned. I learned more from MTV and limited experience that year and the next year.
    I actually didn’t think lesbians needed to have safe sex until this summer when I read about it online. Also, I was confused about whether or not you can lose your virginity to another girl until I did it with a girl and decided that I could. I’m about to turn 18 and I feel like I don’t really know anything about safe queer sex. I recently discovered the existance dental dams, but have yet to see one in person, not entirely sure I know how they work. Queer sex ed and hetero sex ed need to be fixed. I have two friends, one bi and the other straight and they’ve had four or five combined pregnancy scares in the past two years. I feel like if people were more open about sex of all kinds and the media didn’t hype it up then we wouldn’t have these problems. Most of us teens don’t like to talk deeply/honestly about it, we’d rather just sneak around and do it, then never really talk about it to each other. Someone help us.

  54. I guess I was in the lucky category. I go to a performing arts high school(Yes, like in fame) and we go A BLURB in the texts book and our nurse told us how to use plastic wrap for oral… To top it all off, those three sentences told us all that experimenting is ok, but its PROBABLY a phase.

  55. Our sex ed (in our private Christian school) separated out the boys and girls and told the boys how not to get the girls preggers, and taught the girls how God wants us to have good relationships and how to be good, submissive wives, and how it’s a sin to have sex before marriage, not that they’re telling us what that is or how to do it.

  56. I live in Canada, I graduated a few years ago but I had real sex-ed every year since grade 4. Apparently 9 years old was a good time to inform us Penis goes in Vagina.
    After that I’ve had sex ed every year, includingonce in French class, a couple of times in Biology and once in a Volunteer program taught completely in French then English along with a discussion from my roomates about how often they masterbate, when and where.
    All except thefor last, gays didn’t seem to exist. The last one they even taught us about properly using a Dental Dam, of course by this time I was 18, and my roomates were as old as 21.
    Better late then never I guess?

  57. I had that stupid compromise kind called “abstinence-plus,” where we did learn about condoms and stuff, but not as much as the kids getting real sex ed, and we were still told that if we were smart and responsible, we would pick abstinence.

    It’s funny because the teacher ended the class with a speech all about homosexuality and why it’s a perfectly wonderful thing and homophobia is wrong, and I remember noticing the hypocrisy in that message coupled with the “abstinence until marriage” message he had been preaching the whole class. If gays can’t get married, and you only believe sex should happen in marriage, are you really for full equality? (And I realize this teacher probably didn’t get much choice in what he had to say, but still…)

    There was one really cool section of the class where we were allowed to ask him any question we wanted, anonymously, about sex, and he would answer them, no matter how out there. Of course, some people took it as an opportunity to show off all the ridiculously gross things they learned from Urban Dictionary, like about bestiality and stuff – which the teacher did answer, believe it or not, while stressing that these are not “standard” things. Not to his credit, though, he answered my question about abortion by saying it’s a choice, but making sure I looked at some magazine he brought in about fetal development. Ugh.

  58. I got sex-ed three times throughout my public school career–at 10 yrs old, at 12, and at 15 I believe–and it was…okay? I remember the second round of sex-ed was abstinence-focused, and we even had a little booklet that defined abstinence and stuff, but all that was turned on its head in the next round of sex-ed, in which we learned about STDs in depth by looking at pictures on slides :/</p?
    We never talked about queer sex though–I didn’t know that AIDS was associated with gay men until embarrassingly late, because my sex-ed classes just never acknowledged that the gays existed. As a baby queer (or a very curious straight person, which is how I thought of myself at the time), that was pretty confusing. So I just got all my sex-ed from like, searching “cunnilingus” on Wikipedia, and Scarleteen, and bad erotica. It seemed like the obvious solution and I kind of assumed that that’s what everybody did. Turns out they don’t, though…

  59. Up until middle school, the gays were not mentioned at all in sex ed. The teachers mentioned gay, bi, ace, trans and genderqueer people, but I’m pretty sure they got the trans definition wrong and there was no talk about safe queer sex or even how queer sex works. High school’s basically been the same.

Comments are closed.