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What it’s like to talk to your doctor about sexual health when you’re bisexual

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There’s a misconception that bi people are just going through a phase — but what if our doctors believe it too?

“Are you sexually active?”

I’d been dreading this question since losing my virginity to a female friend a few weeks earlier, not long after my 16th birthday. Somehow, the harsh fluorescent lights in my doctor’s examination room made this query seem even more menacing.

“Yes,” I said, but there was an ellipsis in my voice. A hesitation. An unspoken “but . . . ”

“You’re using condoms, right? So you don’t get pregnant?” she prompted, and I didn’t know what to say, because we weren’t. We didn’t need to. It was the wrong question.

“Uh, I’m not having sex with a guy,” I managed to stammer.

My doctor peered at me over her wire-rim glasses, “Oh,” she replied.

There are a lot of things a teenager might be nervous to disclose to their doctor — a marijuana habit, some worrying mental health symptoms, a secret relationship their parents don’t know about. While we should all feel free to tell our doctors what’s really going on with us, it’s particularly egregious that so many of them are still in the dark about something so basic as sexual orientation, making these already-difficult situations even more challenging.

The day of my first difficult conversation about my sexual health, my doctor didn’t give me any medical advice on the sex I was having. She didn’t suggest my partner and I use dental dams or latex gloves. She didn’t suggest we get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). She didn’t ask whether my partner was cis or trans. She didn’t ask what sexual orientation I identified as (bisexual, for the record). She didn’t even ask me if I had any questions for her. She just moved on to the next part of our checkup.

I didn’t recognize these as problems at the time; I was too young and nervous to question the approach of my all-knowing doctor. Everything I later learned about safer sex — with the other cis girl I was seeing at that time, and with other partners later on — I learned from the internet. And while the internet can be a great resource for such information, doctors should be a better one.

Bisexuals are told all the time — both implicitly and explicitly — that we’re not queer enough to align ourselves with queerness, or that we’re too queer to align ourselves with straightness. I still find it hard to push back against these stereotypes today, at 25.

These presumptions are particularly upsetting in medical situations, where many of us already feel nervous and unempowered and, for many queers, apprehensive. The medical system has oftentimes failed us and our queer foreparents: inequitable health care access due to poverty, doctors’ lack of knowledge about LGBT identities and sexuality and the pathologization of queerness are just a few examples.

Two years later, in a different relationship with a person of a different gender, I returned to my doctor. I was a girl on a mission.

“I’m seeing someone new and I’d like to get an IUD,” I told my doc, with all the bravery and resolve I could muster as a meek 18-year-old still coming to terms with her sexuality.

“I thought you were a lesbian?” she replied coolly, barely looking up from her computer screen.

“No, I’m bisexual,” I clarified, my voice only shaking a little.

Medically speaking, it shouldn’t actually matter what word(s) I use to define my sexual orientation; my doctor should want to know, instead, what sexual activities I am participating in. I could’ve been a lesbian having sex with a man (they do exist!). I could’ve been having sex with a trans woman or a nonbinary person who had the ability to get me pregnant. There was no reason for my doctor to assume I was a lesbian in the first place, nor that a risk of pregnancy during sex meant my existing sexual orientation was being challenged.

I was reminded of a story I had read online. An American photographer I followed, Brigid Marz, wrote on Flickr that she and her girlfriend went to a hospital to get treatment for her flu symptoms. A staff member asked Brigid if there was any chance she might be pregnant, and she laughed, indicated her girlfriend, and said no. She’d dated and had sex with men before, but not recently enough that she could be pregnant. Months later, she received a $700 medical bill, $300 of which was for a pregnancy test she’d neither authorized nor needed.

“I am so sick of being treated differently just because I have boobs,” she wrote, but I would argue she was treated differently because she is non-monosexual – she is neither completely straight nor completely gay. Our medical system seems to assume everyone is one or the other, sometimes even when we’re loudly asserting otherwise.

In the end, my doctor refused to prescribe me an IUD on the basis that I was “just casually dating” and should wait until I was “in a serious relationship” before committing to a long-term birth control method that reflected my relationship status. She prescribed me the pill instead — the hormonal content of which exacerbated my mental health conditions for years, something the non-hormonal copper IUD may not have done.

What rankled me was that I was in a serious relationship at the time. My doctor may have assumed my relationship was casual because I was now with a man and I was previously with a woman, or she may have simply thought I was too young for the IUD — but I think it was because of negative stereotypes about bisexual people.

Bi folks’ relationships and attractions are often written off as “just a phase” or “just for fun.” We’re told we don’t know what we really want or who we really like — or, worse, that we’re intentionally playing with partners’ hearts, never intending to pursue commitment or depth in our relationships.

In my experience, this is about as true for bisexual people as it is for straight or gay people — some folks are looking for serious relationships and some just aren’t — but this assumption weighs most heavily on bisexuals. Whether or not my doctor was consciously aware of the stereotypes she was affirming that day, it’s clear to me that my relationship would not have been written off as “casual” if I identified as straight or gay.

If I could go back and talk to myself when I was a shy and shaking 16-year-old in my doctor’s office, I’d tell her to advocate for herself. I’d tell her to ask the questions she wanted answered, and double-check the answers on Scarleteen later. I’d tell her it was okay if she didn’t even know what questions to ask.

I’d tell her to be unashamed of her burgeoning bisexual identity, because it’s nothing to feel shifty about. But mostly, I’d wish I didn’t have to tell her all these things. Her doctor shouldn’t have made her doubt all this in the first place.

Complete Article HERE!

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I’m not that sexually experienced. How can I be more confident in bed?

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Buck up, champ: Feeling a little anxious about your sexual history (or lack thereof) is totally normal. Here are 10 ways to improve your sexual performance without having to have sex first.

by Vanessa Marin

Everyone has anxiety about being great in bed, but when you don’t have much sexual experience that anxiety can feel sky high. For some guys, that concern about experience turns into a horrible cycle: You don’t feel confident about your sexual experience, so you end up not having sex, and your experience level remains the same.

Here’s the good news: Experience is a good teacher, but you can still learn how to be great in bed without it. Here’s how.

1. Put it in context

As a sex therapist, I can tell you that just about everyone has self-confidence issues when it comes to sex—even people with a lot of experience. The insecurities are different from person to person, but they’re insecurities nonetheless. And keep in mind that many of the women you’re intimate with may be inexperienced or insecure as well. You’re certainly not alone.

2. Do your research

You can school yourself on how to have great sex without having any experience whatsoever. I also recommend Guide To Getting It On: Unzipped by Paul Joannides or The Big Bang by Nerve for general sex education topics like STIs and pregnancy prevention, anatomy, communication, and consent. She Comes First by Ian Kerner is a fantastic guide to the art of pleasuring a woman, and I recommend it to almost every man in my sex therapy practice. Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski is a great book about female sexuality in general.

One caveat: Don’t get your sex education from porn! Porn is meant to be entertainment, not education. Porn sex has very little resemblance to real sex. It’s all about angles, lighting, and editing. Most of the moves you see in porn simply won’t go over well in the real world.

3. Take care of your body

One of the best things you can do to improve your confidence is to take great care of your body. Sex is a physical act. Not only do you need endurance, but you also have to feel comfortable and confident in your own skin. You already know what you should be doing—eat right, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly. Exercise, in particular, can also have added sexual benefits, like increasing your sex drive and improving your erections and your orgasms.

Grooming is important too. Wear clothes that flatter your body and make you feel good. Get your hair cut and your beard trimmed. The better you feel about yourself and your body, the more confident you’ll feel in bed.

4. Masturbate

Yes, masturbation can improve your partnered sex life! Most men masturbate pretty thoughtlessly, zoning out to porn while they try to get the job done as quickly as possible. This actually serves to disconnect you from your body, and decreases your control over your erection and orgasm.

Instead, you can use masturbation to help increase your stamina. First, think of how long you’d like to last with a partner. That becomes your new masturbation session length. During that time, really pay attention to your body. Notice what it feels like when you start getting close to orgasm, and train yourself to back off when you’re on the edge.

You can also practice purposefully losing your erection, then getting it back again. This will help decrease anxiety about losing your erection with a partner.

5. Go slow

When you’re feeling anxious about sex, you’re more likely to rush. Lots of inexperienced men have the tendency to jump right to intercourse, but it’s so much more fun to take your time and go slow. Spend plenty of time on kissing, touching, and performing oral sex, and even slow down your physical movements. A slower pace will help dramatically decrease your anxiety levels.

Plus, keep in mind that most women feel more physical pleasure from oral sex and fingering than from intercourse, and a lot of women love being teased. She’ll appreciate your pace, too.

6. Focus on her pleasure

Being fantastic in bed means genuinely caring about your partner’s pleasure. It’s arguably the most important quality in a great lover. If you spend time specifically focusing on her body—taking your time with her, kissing her all over, fingering her, going down on her—you’re going to impress her way more than the guy who has a ton of experience but is selfish in bed. Plus, seeing the pleasure that you bring her will naturally help you feel more confident.

7. Treat her like an individual

I’m all about sharing sex tips and techniques, but the reality is that every woman likes different things. No one technique is going to work for every woman. This is great news for you because it shows that experience only goes so far. We’re all beginners when we have sex with someone brand new. Try to explore her body with openness and curiosity. Pay attention to how she responds to your touch. Does she moan? Does she start breathing more heavily? Does she arch her body toward you? Don’t be afraid to ask her what she wants or likes! One super-simple way to ask for feedback is to try two different things on her, and ask her, “Do you like it better when I do this or this?”

8. Keep it simple

So many men overly complicate sex, especially when they’re feeling anxious. Technique is important, but you don’t need to go crazy trying out a million different things on her. The key to female orgasm is actually consistency, not complicated tongue maneuvers or finger gymnastics. Switching things up usually throws her off and distracts her. Find something simple that seems to be working for her, and stick with it. Increase your pace and pressure gradually, but stick to the same basic technique.

9. Don’t think of it as a performance

One of the biggest mistakes that sexual newbies make is thinking of sex as a performance. They get overly fixated on the idea of maintaining a perfect erection, having the utmost control over their orgasms, and mastering their technique. But the truth is that no one likes feeling like they’re having sex with a robot. She doesn’t need you to perform for her like a circus animal. She wants to feel connected to you, and she wants to have fun. You can do that, even without any prior sexual experience.

10. Have a sense of humor

Sex is never perfect, no matter how much experience you have. Sex can be awkward, weird, and sometimes downright hilarious. You’re bound to try out a position that doesn’t work, bump foreheads, or get a cramp in your leg. Having a sense of humor is so important in those moments. If you can laugh it off, you’ll get back to the fun much faster.

Complete Article HERE!

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What gay trans guys wish their doctors knew

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Vancouver study peers into the lives and troubles of trans MSM

Sam Larkham organizes sexual health clinics across Metro Vancouver with the Health Initiative for Men (HIM). He says he was once referred by his doctor to a trans health care clinic that had been closed for years.

By Niko Bell

Speaking to gay and bisexual trans men, the word “invisibility” comes up a lot. Invisibility in the bathhouse and on dating apps, invisibility among cisgender people, straight people, trans people and gay people. And, too often, invisibility in the doctor’s office.

“I have tried just going to walk-in clinics and stuff like that to ask questions or request tests,” one trans man recently told researchers in Vancouver. “And I just found the doctors were generally confused about me and my body. And I had to go into great detail. That made me not so comfortable talking to them about it because they were just kind of sitting there confused.”

“People have tried to talk me out of testing . . . saying I was low-risk behaviour,” another man told the researchers. “They didn’t understand my behaviour really. . . I’ve had practitioners as well say they don’t know what to do; they don’t know what to look for.”

Both men were speaking to researchers for a new study on the sexual health of trans men who have sex with men — a group social scientists know remarkably little about. Many of the men spoke about being on the margins of mainstream culture, gay culture and of the healthcare system.

It should be no surprise, then, that the study happened almost by accident. When PhD student Ashleigh Rich started work with the Momentum Health Study — a five-year, in-depth research project on the sexual health of men who have sex with men (MSM) conducted out of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS — she never intended to write a paper about trans MSM.

But a small group of trans men volunteered for the study, some pointing out ways the Momentum researchers could change their surveys to be more inclusive.

There were too few for quantitative research — only 14 — but Rich asked if they would sit down for an hour and talk about their experiences. Eleven agreed.

The result is a slim, 11-page paper that hints at a world of things we don’t yet know about transgender gay and bisexual men. We do know they form a large part of the trans population; nearly two thirds of trans men say they are not straight. We also know trans MSM participate in the same rich world of sexuality as other men who have sex with men — from dating apps to anonymous sex to sex work and a broad range of sexual behaviour.

We don’t know much about trans MSM risk for HIV; estimates range from much less than cisgender gay and bi men to somewhat more. We also don’t know much about how a combination of stigma, invisibility and limited healthcare options may be affecting trans men’s health.

Rich is cautious about drawing any broad conclusions from her study. Not only is it a tiny sample, but the men she spoke to are also mostly urban, white and educated. This study was less about answering questions, and more about figuring out which questions to ask.

A few themes, though, emerge clearly. One is that trans MSM often find themselves falling through the cracks when it comes to sexual health. Doctors are increasingly aware of how to talk to gay men, but don’t always see trans gay men as “real” MSM. They assume trans men are heterosexual, or fail to bring up sexual health altogether.

Some doctors give trans men information on PrEP — a preventative anti-HIV medication that can drastically reduce the risk of contracting HIV if taken every day — based on studies on cisgender men, without checking to see if different anatomy requires different doses. When trans men come in for HIV tests, they are sometimes urged to get pap smears instead.

“We come in with specific issues we want to talk about in a health care consult, and sometimes once people discover we’re trans they’ll want to do a pregnancy test or something,” says Kai Scott, a trans inclusivity consultant who collaborated on the study with Rich. “And we’re not there for that. They’re giving us things we don’t want, and not telling us the things we do need to know.”

Sam Larkham, a trans man who organizes sexual health clinics across Metro Vancouver with the Health Initiative for Men (HIM), says he was once referred by his doctor to a trans health care clinic that had been closed for years. Experiences like that make him think the best path for trans MSM is to rely on queer-focused health care providers like HIM.

“It would be ideal if it were the whole medical system, but that’s impossible,” Larkham says. “I think we have to look at what we can do, and that’s have specific places where we have nurses who are well trained to handle trans MSM. I think that’s the more doable thing. I would love to have every clinic be culturally competent, but that’s not the reality and never will be.”

Scott is more sanguine. He points to Trans Care BC, a provincial health program that has pushed for more education for doctors. Education needs to happen on both fronts, Scott says, among MSM organizations and in the health care system at large.

Lauren Goldman is a nurse educator for Trans Care BC. Since she was hired last fall, she’s been giving workshops to healthcare providers on how to treat trans patients. For now, though, the workshops are aimed at small groups of sexual health professionals, such as at the BC Centre for Disease Control or HIM. Goldman wants the program to expand to include everyone.

“We know trans patients are accessing care through a number of places all across the province,” she says. “We want everyone to have access to this information as soon as possible.”

Goldman says Trans Care is designing an online course that could bring trans cultural competency to primary care doctors everywhere as part of mandatory continuing education. Trans Care has also designed a primary care “toolkit” for doctors, and is in talks with UBC’s medical school about including trans-focused sexual health education for doctors in training.

Without specialized knowledge, Goldman says, there’s a lot doctors can miss. Testosterone can make vaginal tissue more sensitive and inflexible, for example, meaning trans men might have special difficulties with genital sex. Bacterial vaginosis is more common, and the usual antibiotics given to cis women may not solve the problem. Vaginal and rectal tissue may need different doses of PrEP to be effective.

And, most importantly, doctors need trans patients to know they will be heard.

“We need to be providing really obvious cues that show people that our services are trans inclusive,” Goldman says. “Including how we design our services, how we market our services, how we educate our clinicians, what signs we hang up, letting people know that our clinicians have a greater understanding of gender diversity.”

While Goldman is educating doctors, the trans men Rich studied were already very well educated about their own sexual health. They told Rich about careful risk assessments they make around sex, sharing information with other men, and advocating for STI screening to their reluctant doctors.

One man described slipping in HIV tests while getting regular testosterone-level screening: “Yeah, oh, I’m already getting blood drawn. I probably need to get tested, let’s just draw two more vials for HIV and syphilis.”

It’s not surprising that many trans men are so health-conscious, Scott says. “We’ve had to be champions of our own bodies for a while, and so that ethos carries through when it comes to health information.”

But it would be a mistake to overstate how safe trans MSM are, he adds. For one, the urban, white and well-educated men in Rich’s study may be more likely to have access to resources and care than less wealthy or more rural trans people. Also, the very reason trans MSM seem so safe might be because they aren’t getting the opportunities for sex they want.

“To some extent, we’re still on the sidelines,” Scott says. “I don’t think that systemic rejection should be the means of HIV prevention for trans and nonbinary people. We’re dealing with a lot of rejection, and so I don’t think we’ve really had the opportunity to be exposed to that risk.”

The theme of rejection is echoed frequently by the study subjects.

“I remember meeting this one guy at a friend’s party and we were flirting the whole time,” one participant recounted. “He was like, ‘Oh we should totally go for a beer’ and so we connected and then I told him I was trans and he was like, ‘Oh I’m not looking for anything.’”

“Cis men often shut down immediately, out of a sort of fear of the unknown, and being unaware of what can and can’t happen,” Scott says. “They can assume all trans guys are bottoms, which isn’t true.”

Constant rejection can wear trans men down, Larkham says. Not only does it damage mental health, but constant rejection can weaken trans men’s resolve to negotiate sexual safety.

Many trans men, the study notes, rely on online hookup sites, where they can be upfront about being trans, and avoid rejection by anyone who isn’t interested.

The burden of rejection is one reason trans MSM need better mental health services too, Larkham says. Too many men show up to sexual health clinics after being exposed to sexual risks. Mental health support, he thinks, could reach people earlier.

But again, Scott strikes a positive note. “It’s a source of celebration to me that despite huge barriers we’re still having the sex that we want,” he says.

In the end, the clearest message to emerge from Rich’s study is that there’s a lot more to learn. She hopes to get more answers from the next stage of the Momentum study, which will recruit a larger sample of MSM from across Canada. That study, she hopes, will be large enough to deliver the kind of precise, quantitative answers that this one couldn’t.

Scott is also eager to move forward.

“There’s so much you want to pack in and so much you want to report on,” he says. “There’s such a dire need to research these issues. People are really hurting, and I really feel that. But you’ve got to take it one step at a time.”

Complete Article HERE!

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The story of Magnus Hirschfeld, the ‘Einstein of sex’

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Decades before Alfred Kinsey developed his scale for human sexuality, there was Magnus Hirschfeld — a doctor who dedicated his career to proving that homosexuality was natural.


A party at the Institute for Sexual Science is shown here. Magnus Hirschfeld (second from right) is the one with the moustache and glasses. His partner Karl Giese is holding his hand.

By Julia Franz

Hirschfeld’s reasoning was simple: In turn of the 20th century Germany, where he lived, a law called Paragraph 175 made so-called “unnatural fornication” between men punishable by prison time.

“Magnus was gay himself,” says Undiscovered podcast co-host Elah Feder. “He was both a scientist and an activist, and he was really hoping that his science would lead to greater acceptance of gay and lesbian people.”

Hirschfeld founded what’s considered to be the first gay rights organization and established the Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin. He also gained international renown for his radical research on the biology of sexual orientation. “He was, in the 1930s, touring the world lecturing about sexuality in China and India,” says co-host Annie Minoff. “The American press actually called him the ‘Einstein of sex.’”

But as Minoff and Feder explore in a recent episode of Undiscovered, Hirschfeld’s legacy didn’t turn out quite as he’d hoped.

“Magnus was using the science at his disposal, right?” Minoff says. “So now, we might talk about genetics or even epigenetics, but back in his day, scientists could see chromosomes under the microscope, but they still weren’t sure if they had anything to do with heredity.”

“So, Magnus was really all about documenting and recording things like physical traits or behavioral traits, trying to see what gays and lesbians might have in common or might be different than the rest of the population.”

Today, some of Hirschfeld’s research comes across as antiquated, even a bit zany. In one excerpt from his book, “The Homosexuality of Men and Women,” Hirschfeld debunks an apparently long-held stereotype that gay men can’t whistle.

“This does not agree with the results of our statistics,” he wrote, explaining that in a sample of 500 gay men, 77 percent could whistle, although “only a few could truly whistle well.”

“But he found that among lesbians, the whistling arts were very strong, which was nice to hear,” Feder adds.

Other aspects of Hirschfeld’s science have better weathered the tests of time. “So, for example, he was interested in whether homosexuality ran in families,” Feder says. “You know — was it a heritable trait?”

“Or, you might remember a few years ago, there were a bunch of studies looking at the correlation between finger length ratios and sexual orientation. They seemed to find a connection in women. And he did stuff like that. He was looking at hip-to-shoulder ratios — pretty pioneering sex research.”

In 1919, Hirschfeld opened his Institute for Sexual Science, a big villa in Berlin’s Tiergarten. “They had medical examination rooms, they had a library, they had a sex museum that was apparently a big tourist attraction,” Feder says.

And, as Yonsei University history professor Robert Beachy explains, the institute also offered sex education to Germans who were queasy about publicly seeking advice.

“They had a little box at the edge of the property, and people could anonymously insert slips of paper with questions about sex or any sort of sexual issue that they had,” he says. “And then people were invited in, and these different slips of paper would be read out loud and then responded to.”

“There were questions about things like, I don’t know, [about] premature ejaculation and how effective it was to use condoms for preventing pregnancy. You know, just lots of relatively mundane questions. But it was supposed to be a public service.”

But if Hirschfeld hoped that greater scientific understanding could change Germany’s discriminatory law, Feder says things didn’t quite turn out that way in his lifetime. (Paragraph 175 wasn’t struck down until 1994.)

“It’s a nice idea,” she says, “but as we end up seeing in Magnus’ story, you can do science, you can hope that it’s going to be used in one way, and it can work out very differently.”

“And his story ultimately is a pretty tragic one.”

Complete Article HERE!

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LGBTQ kids are missing out on sex education—and it’s up to schools to change that

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Last year, California officially mandated LGBTQ history lessons in public schools, vowing to teach “the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans” and their impact on both the state’s and the country’s history.

This was a victory for LGBTQ rights, because it’s a rarity; in most states—in all but nine to be exact—schools don’t even cover LGBTQ sexuality, let alone queer history.

When surveyed by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), only 12 percent of millennials said they received sexual education material that covered sex between gay partners—even though 20 percent of millennials consider themselves LGBTQ. American sex ed is “primarily or exclusively focused on heterosexual relationships between cisgender people,” according to a different study conducted by Planned Parenthood and the HRC.

This hetero-specific focus creates a multitude of problems for all young people sorting through their anxieties and questions about sex and sexuality. For one, straight students aren’t being forced to acknowledge other sexualities, which can foster bullying and promote a culture of intolerance. For another, a lack of school discussion means most LGBTQ students are being inadvertently told to stay in the closet. And with that messaging, there is the shame and hiding, and then there are the health risks.

Proper safe-sex education is important for all students, and LGBTQ people are no exception: 22 percent of all transgender women are HIV positive, and queer men face a higher risk of contact with HIV or a sexually transmitted disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While ignoring queer students may not be a new phenomenon, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be remedied. And perhaps school districts can start by listening to the stories of queer people who have gone through the country’s lackluster sexual education systems. Through them, activists can learn how to fix such a massive gap in sex education.

This is what the queer sex ed gap looks like

Larissa Glasser, a librarian and writer living in Massachusetts, grew up in the 1980s, an era whose approach to sex ed was based in fear and simple authoritarian phrases like “Don’t do it.” Glasser, whose transgender, obviously couldn’t rely on schools to teach her about queer life.

“I was in public school until fifth grade and we had no sex education whatsoever,” she told the Daily Dot. “This was during the Reagan presidency, so all we ever heard about sex was AIDS as a scare tactic to be abstinent.”

Very little accurate information existed about transgender women outside of schools. Glasser was only exposed to trans people through filmmakers like John Waters and Ralph Bakshi.

“Finally, during the 1990s, trans issues were addressed somewhat respectfully in about 10 percent of the films I saw,” Glasser said. “Then I discovered writers like Jean Genet, Angela Carter, and Hubert Selby Jr., who were willing to portray queer femme sexuality in a somewhat positive light.”

Glasser’s experiences mirror many other LGBTQ students’ struggles. Sophie Searcy grew up miles away in Kentucky during the ’90s and 2000s, attending Catholic school all the way through high school, and she too had virtually no experience with LGBTQ education. Queer and trans sexuality just wasn’t discussed.

“The Catholic system I belonged to had a program called ‘family life,’ which was a religious health and sex education program,” Searcy told the Daily Dot. “Very basic facts about anatomy and puberty were explained in gender-separated rooms. There was no mention of safer sex methods, navigating consent, or any LGBTQ issues whatsoever.”

Searcy knew early on that her church wasn’t LGBTQ-inclusive. But looking back on those early years, she realized that queer people were treated as if they simply didn’t exist at all.

“The class explained sex as exclusively between a man and a woman, as if only heterosexual orientations existed,” Searcy said. “Similar to how the class erased all non-hetero orientations, the class explained gender, sexual development, and sexual intercourse in a way that didn’t even acknowledge the possibility of trans people. Boys had penises, girls have vaginas, boys develop into men, girls develop into women, etc., etc., etc.”

In particularly conservative areas, sexual education isn’t just biased—what it is lacking can induce violence. LGBTQ activist and writer Sarah Bess grew up in southeast Missouri in the 1990s, and she was repeatedly harassed, bullied, and physically assaulted across school districts.

“I was this awkward, autistic, queer kid from the middle of nowhere, so I got picked on a lot,” Bess explained. “I dropped out in the seventh grade because I was getting beat up so much and my home life sucked and I really didn’t care about school.”

Bess’s classes didn’t provide a respite from the attacks. “Being gay wasn’t really mentioned as a possibility in my sex ed classes. The existence of trans people definitely wasn’t acknowledged. There was a lot of fear-mongering about pregnancy and STIs, and that’s mostly what I remember,” Bess explained. “I don’t remember anyone at school even mentioning trans people. Beyond transphobic Jerry Springer and Maury Povich episodes, I don’t think we were on anyone’s radar.”

In one case, her sex education teacher enabled a physical assault.

“My seventh-grade sex ed class was taught by a gym coach who watched two boys beat the shit out of me after school one day,” Bess said. “He just laughed, got in his car and drove off.”

When anti-LGBTQ sentiments take hold in a school, then queer students live in an ongoing state of fear. This not just impedes their education, it can be debilitating for their growth and self-esteem—and it can separate queer people from one another by forcing them to stay hidden. For someone like Bess, this was extremely alienating.

“I was in my late teens the first time I knowingly talked to another trans woman online,” Bess explained. “I was in my twenties before I knowingly met anyone like me in person.”

For others, sex education classes could have possibly saved their lives. A 2014 report published by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the UCLA Williams Institute reveals that suicide attempt rates are particularly high among transgender and gender non-conforming students who face harassment or bullying at school. Through sex education, though, students could have a better understanding of gender transitioning or normalizing queer sexuality. The more that classrooms validate LGBTQ experiences, the more likely students are to treat their fellow classmates with respect.

“Gender was always conflated with assigned sex and body parts,” Searcy said. “It wasn’t that trans people were portrayed as evil or misguided, but that the possibility of being trans was never even acknowledged.”

Then came the internet

So if LGBTQ students aren’t able to learn about their bodies from primary and secondary schools, where do they go for information about queer sexuality? Many turn to the internet.

But the internet is a luxury, one that not everyone is able to access—especially those in previous generations. In Bess’s case, this directly impacted her exposure to trans material.

“I didn’t have consistent internet access for most of my life, so I picked up bits and pieces where and when I could,” she said. “I watched a lot of porn with trans women in it and read a lot of gross forced fem erotica, none of which was very helpful for learning about sex.”

Even when internet access is available, its resources aren’t always helpful. Sometimes they can be damaging.

Shortly after Glasser graduated from library school, she stumbled across a gender transitioning guideline called tsroadmap, also known as “Transsexual & Transgender Road Map.” Glasser felt even worse about herself while using the website, in part because the guide relied on rigid stereotypes and generalizations for trans women. In one case, the site demanded that trans women undergo surgeries in order to properly transition, when many trans people prefer not to undergo permanent surgery.

“It was useful at the time,” she said, “but in hindsight, I think its normativity had a fairly toxic effect on my self-esteem when I was at my most vulnerable point.”

Searcy, on the other hand, saw internet access as a major source for learning more about non-hetero sexuality. Some of her biggest resources for her transitioning were writers who have gained significant prominence thanks to the internet’s impact on the trans community.

“Ultimately, a close friend came out as trans which led me to question my own gender and explore resources on my own,” Searcy said. “Julia Serano and Morgan M Page were particularly helpful, as were Imogen Binnie and Casey Plett.”

So while online resources aren’t exactly perfect, the internet has advanced far enough that it can connect trans and queer people with the online communities they need to learn more about themselves. On Reddit, there are subreddits like /r/asktransgender that let trans people learn about undergoing gender transitioning. Sites like Sites like Keshet and Queer Theology provide resources for religious queer and transgender people. Resources like TJOBBANK host employment listings for LGBTQ folks searching for inclusive workplaces. And services like Discord and Slack allow queer and trans users to create their own closed groups where LGBTQ members can hang out, talk about queer life, or get together and play video games. The internet has changed over time, and that means there are more ways for queer and trans people to meet each other than before.

But it’s unfair to relegate LGBTQ students to the internet for advice, often in secret. It can stall LGBTQ kids from coming out, make trans and queer sexuality feel like a taboo, or send the message that queer and trans life isn’t important enough to understand.

Schools are supposed to provide students with learning opportunities that help young kids grow into productive adults. That’s why third graders learn basic reading comprehension skills, and high schools teach American history (albeit often from a very straight, white, male perspective), and middle schoolers get a whole class dedicated to sex and their bodies—so they can go out into the world informed and prepared.

But if schools leave out LGBTQ sexuality and force queer students to learn on their own time, then those schools are failing at their jobs. Why must the burden be on LGBTQ youth to educate themselves?

The solutions that exist

Casey Plett, author of A Safe Girl to Love, lived in an upper-middle class suburb in Oregon during her high school years. At the time, she enrolled in an “internationally-focused hippie-ish sub-program” that seemed more like “actual sex ed taught by Planned Parenthood.” And yet like Glasser and Searcy, she says, “I cannot recall LGBTQ issues ever coming up. Negatively or positively.”

And as for trans issues? “Ha,” she told the Daily Dot. “No. Zero.”

This was in 2001. But she recognizes things have changed since then. LGBTQ equality has become more mainstream, trans rights have entered the news cycle, and queer sex ed has turned into a serious activist rallying point. Today, she thinks there’s solutions that school districts can take to bring LGBTQ education to kids, instead of forcing them to turn to the internet. That is, if they’re willing to put in the effort.

“There are plenty of gay sexual health resources out there,” Plett said. “I’d get a hold of them, pay them to come, and let them take the wheel. And be open and loving and willing to learn.”

Plett is right. Today, many local LGBTQ organizations host workshops for queer youth, providing the resources students need to learn more about their sexuality. Long Island’s Pride for Youth, for example, facilitates workshops on fighting transphobia and working with LGBTQ youth. Other community centers, such as New York City’s Apicha Community Health Center and the Los Angeles LGBT Center, provide training segments for educators, giving them the skills they need to teach LGBTQ-inclusive material in classrooms. And in recent years, Planned Parenthood has both criticized the lack of LGBTQ sex education in public schools, and begun taking a more LGBTQ-inclusive approach to sex education.

Gender therapists and counselors traditionally host workshops for teens as well, allowing them to explore LGBTQ topics in an affirming environment. And programs like the GSA Network even give students the training they need to host workshops and class sessions that can debunk damaging myths about the queer community.

For those who don’t live in “gay-friendly” metropolitan areas, there are also online resources available for classrooms. TED hosts a variety of TED Talks covering LGBTQ issues, from coming out to helping transgender teens. And many educators host lesson plans and teach-ins that are available for free online, allowing students to engage in queer sex education topics through a vetted workshop environment.

These programs and groups normalize LGBTQ sexuality. Workshops talk frankly and openly about what it means to have sex as a gay or transgender person and provide safe sex education to prevent STIs. They also give educators the training they need not just to respect queer students, but to include LGBTQ topics in future lesson plans. If school districts aren’t sure how to approach queer sexuality, here is where they can start.

“It would have been incredible for me to hear the simple facts that sex is complicated and messy but that there are a few universals that we should consider (consent, safer methods, exploration),” Searcy explained, “or that gender is independent of assigned sex and that it might be helpful to consider if my assigned sex did not fit.”

That’s something echoed by Bess, who knows all too well that many school districts are still avoiding LGBTQ topics in their entirety. She insists that the federal government should take a more active role in protecting LGBTQ youth, especially in areas where people are particularly bigoted toward queer students. Many school districts simply aren’t evolving anywhere near the rate of young people’s attitudes toward sexuality.

“It’s been awhile since I was in school, but it doesn’t seem like things are much better now in the places I grew up,” she explained. “Federal intervention is absolutely necessary to protect queer and trans students and educators, especially in rural school districts.”

Safety is where educators need to start if they want to facilitate an open, tolerant conversation about sex and sexuality. With transgender students under attack through outrageous “bathroom bills” across the U.S. and the Trump administration officially rescinding any federal guidelines for protecting trans youth, state and federal intervention is more important than ever.

For example, in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo officially outlawed all forms of discrimination against transgender people in 2015. Discriminatory fines for “willful, wanton or malicious” discrimination is up to $100,000. Massachusetts offers the Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students, a joint initiative that provides training for school administrators on queer topics and gives students the tools they need to become activists in their school settings.

Fostering change and giving schools a legal incentive to end discrimination is important. Seeing how 42 percent of all queer youth feel their community is not accepting of LGBTQ people, promoting tolerance and opening constructive discussion are the keys to getting there.

Schools teach basic sex education for a reason: Most adults will have sex, and the repercussions of sex are often far-reaching and far-ranging and can be life-changing. But if sex education doesn’t address the current population and the culture, then it’s time for administrators to recognize they’re doing youth a disservice. Making things right could actually save lives.

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