Photo of Aditi Dholakia; sourced from TechnicianOnline.com
Aditi Dholakia | Guest Columnist
My first ever comprehensive sexual education class was in the eighth grade, taught by my science-teacher-and-sometimes-basketball coach at a non-religious private school. The details from the class are fuzzy, but I do remember, with startling clarity, the demonstration of how to roll a condom onto a banana, largely because of how uncomfortable my older white male science teacher looked while performing the act.
In the state of North Carolina, sexual education that goes beyond the fear mongering of abstinence-only programs is a fairly recent development with the passage of the Healthy Youth Act in 2009. Although the law requires certain “essential standards” be met, such as providing information on STIs, effective contraception, abstinence and sexual assault/abuse risk reduction, there is also an option for parents to opt their children out of any programs that schools may offer.
Regardless of whatever education is offered in NC, there is something to be said about how much students are expected to teach themselves when it comes to practicing safe sex while also never talking about it, to anyone, ever. Moreover, if cisgender, heterosexual children are being sent blind and fumbling into the world of sex and sexuality, then LGBTQ+ children have no hope at all. For them, not only is sex not something that is talked about, but in many cases, any kind of sex or sexuality outside of the cis-hetero norm is not only ignored with contempt, but also criminalized.
Despite the Supreme Court ruling in the case of Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, which ruled that homosexuality is not a crime, North Carolina is still one of 13 states that still have laws on the books that outlaw anal and oral sex. In NC, the law falls within the confines of a “crime against nature,” which is used situationally in cases regarding sexual acts. Although it is unclear to what extent these laws are still enforced today, the fact that lawmakers have yet to officially renounce anti-sodomy laws in this state is a problem.
In an ideal world, college would be a place where students could go to safely experiment and learn about sex and their own sexuality. In some ways, this is true — theoretically, college offers much more freedom to develop one’s own sense of self, including whatever role sex and sexuality play in one’s life. However, experimentation with sex and sexuality without a foundation of anatomically and socially accurate education can lead to dissatisfying and even unsafe experiences.
Furthermore, while the stereotype of burgeoning sexualities and fumbling sexual experiences in college supposedly applies to everyone, the fact remains that there are still societal lines drawn between what is and isn’t taboo to talk about openly. That is, there is still a distinct lack of attention, both in an educational sense, but also in a social sense, given to LGBTQ+ individuals and their experiences with discovering the spectrum of sexuality as it applies to them.
Where cisgender, heterosexual individuals are given better access to information, more resources, and more understanding, LGBTQ+ individuals face the stigma of their own identities before they can even move toward looking for information and education. This divide may not be as intentional today, but internalized heteronormativity and the dregs of homophobia contribute to a whole community receiving little to no help in discovering sex and sexuality.
LGBTQ+ individuals also face a disproportionate amount of fear mongering regarding HIV and STIs within the community. According to the CDC, gay and bisexual men, as well as transgender women — particularly those of color — are at a higher risk of being infected with HIV/AIDS than any other community. A contributing factor to this is a distinct lack of education regarding safe sex and recognizing symptoms of HIV/AIDS and other STIs within the LGBTQ+ community, which stems from deeply ingrained homophobia, racism and classism.
The GLBT Center at NC State does offer a number of resources that are helpful in having a safe, enjoyable experience with sex from start to finish. Supplies like condoms, lube, dental dams and informational brochures are available at the center. The center also partners with Alliance of AIDS Services-Carolina to offer free, confidential HIV and STI testing every month of the academic year. In an emergency, Student Health Services also provide confidential HIV and STI testing by appointment, although its service is not free.
While these resources are more comprehensive and accessible than many surrounding communities, the reality of an ever-present stigma surrounding LGBTQ+ sex and sexuality, paired with a lack of normalized, comprehensive education in middle and high school, means that we still have a long way to go.
Sitting in my eighth grade sex-ed class, I never imagined that a world existed outside of awkward condom-covered bananas, basic human reproductive anatomy and the possibility of heterosexual sex, perhaps resulting in gonorrhea. Comprehensive sexual education is important for everyone — this much is true. It’s especially important, however, for people whose identities are stigmatized in a way that denies them recognition of their sexuality, let alone any access to resources and information.
Editor’s note: Aditi Dholakia is the opinion editor for Technician.