The last story I would tell is the first time I was in a classroom teaching sexual health to high school students. I had started a Master of Public Health and was part of a program that saw a group of mentors teach students about health topics. As I was specialising in sexual health, I took it upon myself to take the lead when it came to the sexual health workshop and start off teaching that lesson. The first topic was Sexuality and Gender Diversity. Before diving in, I decided to ask if students have heard of the LGBTQIA+ acronym and go through what each letter meant.
All I had to say was “L is for Lesbians” when I heard snickering from the back of the room. In that moment, I was so disappointed. In a group of teenagers, there’s more of an expectation for them to laugh when at the word penis in sex ed lesson than lesbian. It was 2018, Australia had just changed legislation to make same-sex marriage legal in late 2017. I thought as a society we were more educated and more accepting.
I also didn’t know if there were any LGBTQIA+ students in the class, and even if there wasn’t, I wanted students to know that regardless of where you are and who you meet, you need to be respectful. Everyone deserves respect regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and shouldn’t feel mocked, uncomfortable or unsafe when they encounter new people.
This solidified the importance of talking about sexuality for me. Sex education for so long has been taught through a heteronormative lens and this needs to stop. No one ever giggles when we describe someone as straight, so there shouldn’t be laughter when we talk about any other sexual orientations. If conversations about sexuality were normalised, everyone could feel safe discussing queer identities in healthy way.
I talk about sexuality because I want young people to know that sex, sexuality and relationships are healthy. There is so much that I wish I had learnt about when I was younger that would have made navigating all aspects of dating less scaring.
I don’t want young people to not feel comfortable discussing pleasure with their partners, and consequently have unpleasurable, painful or non-consensual sex.
I don’t want young queer people not knowing that their sexuality and identity is valid, I want them to grow up knowing how to have safe, enjoyable sex.
I don’t want these conversations to be taboo. I talk about these topics because they are normal.