SEX education is accessible for many young people in Australia.
Whether it’s via a condom and a banana in the classroom, an uncomfortable but necessary conversation between a parent and their child, or posted as a photo series on Tumblr, young people are generally taught about reproductive and heteronormative sex as part of their adolescence.
The sex lives of sexual and gender diverse teenagers in Australia are often left out of the classroom, making the exploration and affirmation of their queer identities especially difficult.
For a number of LGBTI advocates in Australia that are now adults, learning about things like consent, sexual fluidity, and online sex in high school would have helped them immensely as queer youth coming to terms with who they were.
SALLY RUGG LGBTI rights campaigner
In high school a teacher advised Rugg and her classmates to abstain from sex as part of their sex education. It was an all-girls Catholic private school and a religious educator was running the class.
The lessons lasted for around one term and were heavily centred on biology, with a particular focus on sexually transmitted infections.
“We were told that condoms weren’t effective and not to trust them,” she said.
“It was like the joke in Mean Girls – the teacher was telling us not to have sex.
“It wasn’t until much later that I realised so much was missing.”
As someone who began identifying as gay after high school, Rugg believes she was probably always gay but didn’t have the education or tools to understand it. There was simply no visibility or presence of anything other than cisgender, heterosexual, and monogamous intercourse.
But her first exposure to queerness was in a narrative arc on The O.C. that involved a queer woman.
It wasn’t until she started having regular sex and engaging in relationships that she realised sex was so much more than anatomical body parts and venereal diseases.
Despite the wealth of things to know about queer sex, Rugg wishes high school had equipped her with the understanding of one concept in particular: consent.
“I remember being 13 at the public swimming pool with friends and there were three older boys there,” she said.
“At the time something happened I thought was fun but it was this wildly inappropriate sexual experience – I thought the guys must think I’m cool but I look back now and it was so fucked up, I was a child being taken advantage of.
“When I look back at it objectively it was assault but I still don’t feel like it was because I wasn’t equipped with the capacity to understand it at the time.”
Rugg believes all students should learn about queer sex and queer relationships, whether they’re queer or not.
“I’ll always find it really amusing when anti-LGBTI people say ‘we can’t teach kids about queer sexuality because it might make them gay’,” she said.
“It’s funny because all gay kids that have grown up learning about straight sexuality are still gay.
“Having that education is important, and it’s not just about sex. It should be about queer families, queer relationships, and it’s important for everyone in the class to know it’s okay to be gay.”
With a focus on consent, boundaries, and respect, Rugg also believes many schools need to move away from the Mean Girls, anatomical, STI-fearing form of education.
“Sex is fun and exciting and something really beautiful you do with another person, it’s joyful and romantic and it’s really lovely, rather than being this terrifying thing that gives you diseases,” she said.
MICAH SCOTT CEO of Minus18
One hour was devoted to teaching Scott and his classmates about sex in high school, spread across two classes in physical education. 60 entire minutes.
In the time it takes to watch a film, Scott had already been ‘enlightened’ with all the information his school deemed necessary for him to learn as a teenager, and had moved on to his regular class activities.
And the only mention of gay sex during that hour was one throwaway line delivered by the teacher saying that sometimes, two men have sex.
“I completely tuned out, I felt that what was discussed was pretty basic,” he said.
“And I’d already known things from looking online and finding out that way, so the information relevant to me wasn’t covered in class.
“It was a lot worse as I got older and started to dive into topics like consent, sex online, navigating online sex, and engaging queer sex as a positive thing – those areas were definitely not on my radar as a high school student and it took a lot to discover those.”
A lot of the knowledge Scott acquired as an adolescent was sourced via the internet and through conversations with friends, something he admits was problematic in areas as the stuff he heard and read wasn’t verified, leading to a number of misconceptions.
He wishes he’d learned about how to navigate sex online as a gay man.
“It’s such a core component to sex especially in 2017, and that was really new when I was in high school,” he said.
“So it was a lot of trial and error for my own education.
“From Minus18’s perspective through working with young people we find that a lot of information is learned online which is really cool, but then there’s a lot of misinformation out there as well.”
Scott added that he wants sex education to be less gendered, as his experience saw boys and girls into groups as a means to receive disparate information.
“Schools should come at it from a gender neutral perspective, because a lot of the lessons we’re taught around boundaries were taught to girls even though they applied to me as well,” he said.
“People were split into groups of gender and taught things based on their gender, even though the information was simple and for everyone.”
DANI WEBER Drag performer and presenter for PROJECT ROCKIT
Being bisexual didn’t seem like an option for Dani Weber when they were in high school, with the two sessions of sex education at their school focusing exclusively on penis-in-vagina sex.
And while the education wasn’t fear-mongering, it also wasn’t pleasure-focused and rendered queer sex invisible.
“I thought that when girls kissed girls it was only for a boy’s attention, I didn’t know what sex could look like with someone of the same sex,” they said.
“I literally didn’t think it was an option for me.”
When Weber left high school and started university in Melbourne, they were able to take part in the first radical sex and consent week, tagged as: ‘the sex ed you wished you’d had in high school’.
The event was queer-focused, pleasure-focused, and consent-focused, and it was what helped Weber realise they were bisexual.
As a non-binary drag performer they play an active role in queer communities, a source of invaluable sex education that was absent in school.
The fluidity and broadness of sex are things Weber wished they’d learned about in high school.
“Honestly I wished I learned that sex can be almost anything,” they said.
“Being non-binary and bisexual as an adult I realise that sex can mean many things but in high school it didn’t feel like that.
“It’s so important if you have a non-normative body, for instance if you’re trans or intersex, to not only have one model of sex. It’s so harmful.
“I wished I’d learned that opposite sex relationships can be fluid, experimental, and queer as well. Just because you’re with someone with certain body parts doesn’t mean you have to have heteronormative sex.”
Weber added that learning how to approach sex with someone of the same sex would’ve been helpful as well.
“As a bisexual person I had no idea how to approach same-sex people, I didn’t know how gender roles would play out or how to communicate effectively,” they said.
“You should get sex education around how to ask for what you want respectfully, and how to hear no and take it respectfully.”