LGBTQ+ inclusive sex education: addressing the gaps – maude Skip to content

Lgbtq+ inclusive sex education: addressing the gaps

LGBTQ+ inclusive sex education: addressing the gaps

Sex education in the US is dangerously vanilla.

Only 38 states mandate sex education. Only 10 states and DC require education on sexual orientation. Four states allow only negative information to be provided on homosexuality, with one state prohibiting instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation entirely. Many schools focus on abstinence as a solution for teen pregnancy, STIs, and eternal damnation. Full states still push anti-gay legislation that restricts the extend to which queerness can even be acknowledged.

There’s no denying that the country’s sex education is limited by conservative policy, which is informed by tradition and interpretations of religious texts. But there are also schools who try their best to break out of this mold and provide queer-informed information to students, working with up-to-date research and a relatively inclusive curriculum. Unfortunately, they too are barred from the so-called “new-age” sexual revolution by our society’s fundamental lack of perspective on queer sex, by which I mean: a resistance to defining exactly what it is and how to talk about it.

The issue with our model of “prevention”

In sex education across the US (excluding schools who attempt to “uphold” abstinence) students learn a great deal through the study of protection. You may call to mind your health teacher applying a condom to a banana, or remember watching videos of live births, and then learning about different forms of birth control available to girls. Protection is a popular means of discussing what sexual intercourse actually is--and what it could become, if you aren’t careful.

Unfortunately, according to research, these lessons still tend to focus on the heterosexual majority, or at least penis-in-vagina sex. Under this limited guidance, queer youth in the majority of schools are given the impression that they are somehow excluded from risk--except from the risk of HIV... but even then, only 10 states mandate HIV education.

Defining queer sex

“Queer” describes sexual or gender minorities which are not considered heterosexual or cisgender. Without cisgender heterosexuality, queerness has no strict attachment to vaginal sex. The opportunities for substitutions are endless, and endlessly under-researched.

For queer folks, this problem doesn’t end at graduation. The same limitations present themselves in medical contexts, due to lack of research, but also because of social bias, stigma, and discomfort among medical professionals.

In 2020, I went in for STI testing and was told by a gynecologist that “lesbians are unlikely to get chlamydia” because the infection is usually passed through penetrative sex. I was tempted to ask if she’s ever seen a video of lesbian sex, or even heard of the practice, but I was worried about undermining her authority, and embarrassed to ask for her definition of penetration. I can only assume that she was focused on STI transmission rates between vulvas, which are lower than those of vaginal/penis sex, but not non-existent. Thus, what she told me was objectively inaccurate, and put my health at risk.

Not every queer person seeking sexual healthcare will have this experience, but it is common enough that it warrants our persistent attention. Thankfully, in recent years, we’ve seen a rise in queer-inclusive sexual healthcare programs sponsored by government organizations like the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). But we still have a long way to go.

A safer way to handle gaps

Researchers use the scientific method to create strict operational definitions, variables, and measures of uncertainty. But these measures of uncertainty don’t translate easily outside of a controlled experiment; that which cannot be defined tends to be generalized or entirely avoided. While we wait for the medical community and our politicians to catch up, it’s essential for educators to address uncertainty with the bravery, openness, and commitment to community that queer people, largely neglected by modern society, have had to demonstrate for so many years.


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  • “Sex and HIV education.” Guttmacher. 1 September, 2023.
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    Hampton BS, Page-Ramsey SM, Pradhan A, Wolf A, Hopkins L. Fostering Inclusive Approaches to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Healthcare on the Obstetrics and Gynecology Clerkship. Med Sci Educ. 2019 Dec 11;30(1):523-527. doi: 10.1007/s40670-019-00886-z. PMID: 34457696; PMCID: PMC8368615.