From people with disabilities to LGBT people, so many communities are excluded from our sex education. Elia Chitwa asks, 'Why?'Nicola Stebbing for Varsity

I don’t know about you, but the entirety of my school sex education can be summarised with: I can put a condom on a banana and laugh awkwardly at penis jokes. School did almost nothing to reduce my anxiety or answer the number of questions I have about sexual relationships and generally left me ignorant about most sex-related things. Until recently, the media did nothing to help with this either. Movies would tell you about how the guy gets the girl, they ‘fall in love’ and then have sex, or how they get in a fight, have make up sex and quickly ‘re-fall in love.’ Everyone seems to know exactly what they are doing with no conversations and no mention of consent — and, looking back, these led to some highly unrealistic expectations.

Our sex education rarely offers us information about the interaction between sex and disability or illness. In fact, one of the only representations I’ve seen in the media of disabled/differently-abled people having relationships is from the show ‘The Undateables,’ whose title doesn’t inspire much confidence. Personally, the only physical manifestations of my ill-health are the scars scattered across my body and the myriad of piercings, obtained impulsively, of course. Although I often find myself feeling self-conscious about them, I know that the ableism-fuelled sex education I received was fairly functional for me. However, for those whose disabilities may limit the ways in which they can have sex, our sex education needs some major improvements. For example, did you know that there are chairs specifically designed for people with spinal cord injuries to have sex? Or that you can buy sex toys that are adapted to suit specific needs?

"Frankly, sex remains a poorly understood topic, partially because schools focus on preventing pregnancy rather than promoting understanding."

My sex education was very cis-heteronormative. Aside from not being educated about sexual/romantic orientations or gender identities, I wasn’t taught about any forms of protection apart from condoms. It wasn’t until just before I came to university that I realised dental dams weren’t just for dentists and that they could be made out of condoms. Protection was always stressed as a way to prevent pregnancy or penis-related illnesses. I didn’t realise that all unprotected sexual acts have risks associated with them.

On the flip side, no one should feel like they have to have sex. Some people may choose to wait to have sex or not want to engage in sexual relationships at all, and those are valid choices. Not everyone experiences sexual or romantic attraction. Movies like ’40 Year Old Virgin’ and phrases like ‘body count’ portray sex as a competition — which it is not. There is nothing wrong with not having sex and it shouldn’t make anyone feel like a failure. If someone chooses not to have sex, their decision ought to be respected. Consent is a must, and if anyone violates that, they’re committing a crime. If that does happen, you can choose to report it or choose not to, but whatever you decide, you are 100% entitled to support.

I thank TV shows like ‘Sex Education,’ and even ‘Black Lightning,’ for showing BAME people having sexual relationships in a way that isn’t fetishised or extreme. Even though I wouldn’t call either an accurate representation of everyday life (my school did not mirror an American movie high school, nor am I able to shoot lightning from my hands), but both portray normal romantic/sexual relationships between people from ethnic minorities; and, crucially, they don’t make shallow tokens of these characters. BAME people were only mentioned in my sex education lessons when referring to gangs or religious views. As a BAME person who isn’t religious and jumps at their own shadow, I couldn’t relate.


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Another thing that I wish I were told about is sex with oneself, aka masturbation. Throughout my life it’s always been something of a taboo topic but, funnily enough, masturbation in moderation can relieve stress, help you sleep, and help you get to know your body and what you like. Even if schools won’t promote self-exploration, I still would like to have been taught the difference between the labia majora and minora, if only because searching ‘vagina’ on the internet can lead to some varied and unexpected results.

Frankly, sex remains a poorly understood topic, partially because schools focus on preventing pregnancy rather than promoting understanding. Without my own initiative, I wouldn’t know that: those with disabilities can have sex just as well, or better, than their abled counterparts; protection is important for queer people too, even if pregnancy isn’t a possibility; masturbation is healthy and normal; and those who don’t want to have sex are 100% valid in that choice. Most of all, I wouldn’t know that it’s good to talk about sex and, most importantly, that consent is key.

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