The sex education system in America is absolutely horrendous. As a 2015 high school graduate, I can say with certainty that the videos you were shown (no matter who you are, young, old, American or other) have not changed dramatically in upwards of 40 years. John Oliver waxed poetic about the appalling state of sex education in the US, but even he did not think of addressing comprehensive LGBT sex education.
I sat down (via the internet) with genderqueer grad student Steph DeNormand, who is currently in school to become a sex educator. Here's what they had to say about sex education and common sex questions for queer people.
Let’s talk about sex, baby!
Do queer people and / or people who are not having penetrative sex need to use protection?
I personally strongly believe that safe sex should always be performed when having sex outside of committed relationships, and when or if both/all individuals are not positive of their STD/STI status. Committed relationships where both individuals are STD/STI free (or where their status is the same) are a slightly different. While it is pretty much always good idea to practice safe sex, there is far less chance of risk in these relationships. It is never a bad idea to get tested if you’re concerned about STDs/STIs though. There are however many queer people who do have penetrative sex, who should also seek out safe sex options in order to reduce chance of pregnancy.
Do queer people not having penetrative sex have to get Pap smears, STD tests, etc?
This is dependent on a variety of factors, and you should speak with a doctor about this. If you are concerned about a particular part of your anatomy, or if something changes that you are worried about, definitely seek out medical care. Most recommendations state that Pap smears for people AFAB should start at the age 21 and be continued every 3 years, however some doctors will recommend waiting a few more years, depending on the specific risks you may have.
STD tests are recommended again if you’ve noticed a difference in appearance, feeling, or function after interacting with another person(s) sexually. Planned Parenthood health centers often offer testing, however many places will require insurance information. If you are under 18, there is also a chance that parental or guardian consent will be required, or that they will be required by law to inform your parent or guardian. Feel free to ask what their policies are before having testing done, so that you can be fully informed about your decision.
What are the risks involved in queer unprotected sex?
Many of the risks that are associated with heterosexual sex also apply to other sex. Regardless of whether or not pregnancy is a risk, STDs and STIs are still a very real risk. Have conversations with your sexual partners about safe sex, and look into STD/STI testing in your area.
HIV is a particular concern for individuals with penises who are having unprotected sex with people with penises. This is an additional risk that should be considered when participating in sex with these individuals.
The level of risk does depend on what kind of sex you are having, but remember that many forms of sex can result of the transmission of STDs and STIs, so be sure to have conversations with your partner(s).
How do people have safe sex involving toys / strap ons?
There is still the potential for STD/STI transmission whenever fluids or sex organs are contacted, so finding ways to minimize this contact is important. Using things like external and internal condoms, or dental dams (varying by the type of sex you’re having) can minimize this contact. Plastic gloves are a great resource as well, are usually relatively inexpensive, and can be used for a variety of purposes.
Also, be sure to clean your toys after every use, and whenever switching between partners or from anal to vaginal intercourse. hand or dish soap and water is enough to clean most toys, although silicone and pyrex toys can be boiled or run through the dishwasher if desired. Hydrogen peroxide can also be used as a germicide if you would like.
How can I respect the sexual and bodily boundaries of someone who is dysphoric and/or identifies as non-cis?
The most important thing is to have conversations about it - and not while you’re mid-sex. I HIGHLY recommend yes/no/maybe charts in order to explore this and other areas within your relationship, whatever that may consist of. This is the best way to know what your partner(s) is interested in, as well as letting them know what you are into. The way that these work is you and your partner(s) both fill out the questionnaire (link below) alone. Alot a good amount of time to this - it’s not short. Then, sit down and talk about your answers together. There are various forms of yes/no/maybe charts, but the one below is the best I have found for LGBTQIA+ individuals.
If this is a more... spontaneous interaction, a quick conversation about what you are each comfortable with is always a good idea, regardless of what their gender identity is.
What specific sort of protection is available for people with vaginas?
The three major things that are available are internal condoms (sometimes called female condoms), dental dams, and plastic gloves.
Internal condoms are the main option for penetrative sex, and typically has directions for use on the packaging.
Dental dams are a thin sheet of plastic that can be held over a vagina (or any other part really) in order to restrict direct contact and prevent passage of fluids. This is not an effective method during penetrative sex, however can be effective for other forms of sex.
Plastic gloves are also a great option. They are relatively cheap and multipurpose, and restrict contact hand to genitals.
What are the differences between silicone, water, and oil-based lubricant? Are there times I should/shouldn't use a certain kind?There are definitely differences between lubes, and benefits to each.
Silicone-Based Lube: The most important thing to know is that it cannot be used with silicone toys. Silicone lube can break down these toys, and therefore render them unsafe to use. It is however fine with glass toys, and either latex or non-latex condoms. Other than that, silicone lube has a lot of advantages. Because it is not water based, it often lasts a while and doesn’t require very much reapplication.
Water-Based Lube: This lube is safe for all toys and condoms. It may require reapplication depending on how long your sex lasts, since it can be absorbed into the skin. Additionally, it is typically the best of people with sensitive skin, but steer away from lubes containing propylene gycol or chlorhexidine if possible. They are simply more likely to cause irritation for some women.
Oil-Based Lube: These lubes vary widely based on what they are actually made out of, so be sure to read the labels and research before you use them. As a general rule, petroleum based lubes shouldn’t be used with condoms, since they can break them down. Most plant based oil lubes are safe with condoms, but again, check your labels. The other downside to oil-based lube is that clean-up can be more difficult than water-based lubes.
As a final note, use flavored and warming lubes with caution. Flavored lubes can add to fun in the bedroom, but can result in yeast infections or urinary tract infections, particularly when used on vaginas. I would highly recommend a shower afterwards. As far as warming lubes go, test it out somewhere less sensitive before using during sex - you don’t want to end up with an unpleasant sensation during sex.
Can you explain PrEP, Gardasil, and other vaccinations and their impact on queer sex and in queer communities?
Again, I am not a doctor. While I do have some information on PrEP and Gardasil, I highly recommend talking to medical professionals about these options if you are interested further.
PrEP is a great option for people who are at a higher risk of contracting HIV, and is typically associated with gay men, or people who have sex with people with penises who are also having sex with people with penises. While it is possible for anyone to contract HIV, this has long been considered one of the more at risk populations, as well as individuals participating in intravenous drug use, people in serodiscordant relationships (where some people are positive, and some are negative), and individuals who frequently participate in unprotected sex or frequently get STDs/STIs. This can be a great option for individuals who are worried about HIV and fit into one of these categories, however is not comprehensive safe sex. It is still possible to contract any other STDs/STIs, as well as get pregnant or get others pregnant while on PrEP. This is typically prescribed as a daily medication and has been shown to be highly effective in the prevention of seroconversion.
Gardasil was originally designed as a vaccine for AFAB individuals to prevent some of the major HPV strains, as well as to protect against cervical, vulvar and vaginal cancer cases, many of which are a result of HPV. Since then, it has been recommended for AMAB individuals as well, and has been shown to help protect against anal cancer and 90% of genital warts cases. Again, this is a vaccine and therefore will not treat any existing conditions, and does not guarantee protection. This vaccine can be given as young as 9 years old, and has a regiment of three injections in order to be fully effective. This vaccine however cannot be administered while the individual is pregnant, and should not be given to people with severe yeast allergies.
I will again say however that I am not a doctor, and therefore anything that I say should be taken as a lay-person’s opinion. Always talk to your doctor about concerns that you have around your health, and feel free to ask questions if you are concerned - it is part of their job to help you understand your health and well-being, as well as the treatments you are receiving.
Where can queer people go to get more information, birth control, and or / services in a non-judgmental space?
This is going to widely vary depending on where you are located. If you have Planned Parenthood nearby, they often have a variety of services available for LGBTQIA+ individuals. If you have a primary care physician, school nurse, or health center at university, these are also potentially good resources, however may or may not be as accepting as possible. Look for resources online that are specific to your area.
Let me know on twitter or in the comments if you have any more questions, and Steph and I will work together to answer them!
Elli the Intern