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back to ba(sex): a push for equality in sex education

Image: Tom Morris

Image: Tom Morris


Join Sarah Iuliano for Lip’s 
new fortnightly column ‘Back to Ba(Sex)‘ for all things, sex, sexuality, sexual health, and more! 


Sex education is one of the most important lessons in life. Unfortunately, for some of us it is a cringe-worthy experience in school (and for many, our first and last point of contact on the birds and/or bees and STDs.) No, it is not cringe-worthy because you may have had to put a condom on a banana or watched some tacky cartoon featuring swimming sperm about conception. It is because up until now, many individuals are not given information relevant to them.

The facts of life – i.e. how to/not to get pregnant or a sexually transmitted infection – as they are presented do not embrace all students lectured to in high school health classes across Australia. This is due to an array of schools not catering for gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans*, intersex and queer identifying people, in spite of policies promoted by school boards like New South Wales’s Department of Education and Communities.

Sydney-based sexologist Giverny Lewis believes there’s a varying degree of inclusivity in schools, but generally their report card doesn’t rate well.

‘Unfortunately, the predominant narrative that pervades current sex education in schools is very binary (cis) and heteronormative, meaning that it’s assumed that students’ genders align with their assigned sex at birth, and that they are sexually attracted – or, at least, will have sexual interactions – with members of strictly the opposite gender,’ Giverny said.

‘We know this just isn’t the case, with 10 – 15 per cent of young people identifying as gender diverse, intersex and/or same-sex attracted.’

Alex*, a proud lesbian friend of mine, found her 21st Century school sex education to be an example of this. Not out at the time, she told me she just wanted to feel accepted and that her sexuality ‘wasn’t “less than” because a penis wasn’t involved’.

‘Instead I sat in class hearing about erections and the joys of what happens when a man and a woman love each other very much,’ she said, stressing that she was taught how to use a condom but never where she could find a dental dam.

Of course, sex education is never necessarily a complete process: research into sexually transmitted infections and diseases and contraception continues, and new partners must learn what consent looks, sounds and feels like for them. For older people who have missed out on the basics (or intermediate,  advanced and master classes), state level agencies like the AIDS Council of NSW (ACON) and Family Planning provide a number of workshops and resources to fill the gaps. Both of these providers deliver specialised material for people of diverse genders and sexual identities, particularly ACON which focuses on safe sex for same-sex attracted men and women.

As Alex grew older and became out and proud, she turned to ACON and her university’s queer collective for more information on how to protect herself sexually. But she found resources to still not be perfect there was a distinct focus on the prevention of STIs (read: HIV/AIDS) in gay and same-sex attracted men.

‘I understand the importance of this, but the way it is pushed has almost ignored lesbians [and same-sex attracted women],’ Alex said. ‘There are advertisements for free sex health checks at ACON and the caption always stresses it is for men. I don’t see campaigns pushing to have lesbians use protection or get themselves checked.’

ACON does have some initiatives prompting lesbians to get an STI test, such as I Love Claude, but their promotion seem to be failing.

‘It’s patriarchy simply transgressing into gay culture: where the importance of women being informed and kept safe is not of high priority.’

These limitations aside, ACON and Family Planning are filling voids left by standard sex education in schools. Slowly, schools are becoming more exposed to notions of equality and inclusivity in their sex education curricula by these agencies too. One initiative which is due to roll out in NSW later this month is Family Planning’s Safe Schools program which will be offered to schools across the nation for free to promote the inclusion and acceptance of same-sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students not just in sex ed, but across their board in their studies.

So yes, sex education is for everybody. Yes, there are more initiatives to be inclusive of diversity. But we’ve got a long way to go before all are seen as equal in sex ed.

Stay Tuned for next fortnight’s instalment of Back to Ba(Sex) with Sarah Iuliano on Lip, where we will be looking at the steamy world of sex and fitness…

 

*Not her real name.

Note: this article has been written predominantly using labels such as ‘straight’, ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’ and etc. to streamline copy (the way it reads.) The author acknowledges that sexual identity, orientation and behaviours do not always fall under one category / label society recognises, just like gender.

Also, this article has been written in regards to agencies and sex education in NSW. Why not let Lip know about it in your state or territory?

2 thoughts on “back to ba(sex): a push for equality in sex education

  1. Pingback: Strapped: Art Challenging Phallocentrism’s Impact on Lesbian Sexuality| Lip Magazine

  2. Pingback: back to ba(sex): learning about pleasure in sex ed would be a pleasure | lip magazine

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