All the Sex Ed You Didn't Get In High School
For Portland Pride this year, we hosted “All the Sex Ed You Didn’t Get in High School,” a queer-inclusive sex ed panel with experts from local organizations. We learned so much, and want to share all this awesome knowledge with our friends, fans, and followers. Notes from the event below!
Please note: Some of the content below includes graphic descriptions of bodies and sexual activities. If this were a movie, we might give it an R rating.
Shoutout to our panelists: Bre from Maine Educationalists for Sexual Harmony, Cassie from Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Quinn from MaineTransNet, and Ren from the Frannie Peabody Center.
SAI = Speak About It
MESH = Maine Educationalists for Sexual Harmony
FP = Frannie Peabody Center
MTN = Maine Trans Net
PPNNE = Planned Parenthood of Northern New England
What is consent?
- SAI: Consent is sexual permission. Speak About It uses an affirmative consent model, or “Yes means yes.” Consent doesn’t mean that if you don’t hear the word “no” you’re good, or just going for it until someone tells you to stop. Instead, you want to ensure that partners are enthusiastically agreeing to something, and you’re getting consent every step of the way. Consent is about making sure that everyone is having a good time and enjoying what’s going on.
Is “queer” consent different from “straight” consent?
- MESH: Yes...and no. The conversations may look a little different or be about different things, but you can’t make assumptions about the person you’re with, about what they want to do, or how to talk about bodies and sex with them. That is universal in all relationships, regardless whether it’s a queer experience or not.
- FP: The options and configurations might be different in a queer relationship--so that may be where things are different but consent is universal.
- SAI: Right, in queer relationships the ‘order’ of things can look different than what we’ve been taught. When we talk about sex, it’s not always just “P in V” (penis-in-vagina penetration). But for any and all sexual activity that is sort of the case. Each encounter, whatever label is on it, is unique and requires consent.
How do you communicate what you want to a partner? Especially when queer relationships might not look like “mainstream” sex?
- FP: Be clear. Communicate often. Answer questions for yourself like “How important is this to me to get off?” Understand what your priorities are. Be forward about what you want, and open to hear if that’s what someone else wants too.
- MESH: It can be easy to talk about ideals, but harder to practice in real life. At MESH we use these diagrams where we map out pleasure onto the body: circling or crossing out what’s an ‘oh yes!’ and what’s a total “no, no” on different parts. It’s an exercise, but I recently tried it with a partner and it was silly, but I stand by it! It really helped get things going.
When is a good time to talk about sex, especially trying new things, with a partner?
- SAI: We’re big advocates for trying to have ‘pants-on’ conversations about what you want to happen before it happens.
- MESH: Try and schedule time to talk about it with a partner. But not when you’re in the middle of hooking up. Not while you’re out to dinner or what have you, but somewhere neutral. Like a long car-ride, or while you’re doing the dishes. It’s also good to figure it out for yourself first. Make a yes, no, maybe list for different things you might like or not. Make one on your own and talk about your lists when you come together with your partner. This is a chance to be open and vulnerable and figure out where you overlap.
- FP: But what about for hook-ups? A lot of MESH’s suggestions definitely help with longer-term relationships. For hook-ups, the importance of clear, consistent and articulate communication about what you want in the moment and how is even more important because you don’t have a longer foundation to build upon.
What do we mean when we say “safer sex?”
- MESH: I think about safer sex as risk reduction. This runs the gamut from preventing STIs to preventing physical harm and trauma; all of it is risk reduction and part of safer sex.
Any tips having for safer sex?
- MTN: Lube! Especially for queer folks, safer sex means risk reduction, and having lubricated sex is important to prevent friction, discomfort, and skin tears, which make STI transmission much more likely. It also makes sex feel great. You can buy lube at Hannafords, at the gas station, or even online! Remember, do your research and get the right kind of lube for the kind of sex you’re having.
- PPNNE: I think a big part of safer sex is education, and finding a place where you can talk about sex and your options with people who you feel know what’s up. There’s a ton of methods, it’s all about figuring out what works for you and your partner.
- FP: Remember that just because an STI is undetectable does not mean it is untransmissable.
- MTN: Foreplay is safer sex! You’re ensuring that folks are properly aroused and excited and that their bodies are stimulated and ready to engage in different sex acts. This is for both physical and mental safety.
- MESH: When it comes to protection, if someone needs to have protection in some form to have sex, you have to view that as the ‘price of admission’--if you don’t want to have sex with protection, no admittance You don’t have consent to do it without.
- SAI: Make sure you’re communicating your [STI] status with your partner. I have a rule that if you don’t know your status, I’m not sleeping with you.
- MTN: I also think, especially for trans-folk, talking about emotional safety is important when talking about safer sex. If you have experienced trauma or dysphoria, be sure to take care of yourself. Make sure you and your partners are gentle with your body. Go slow.
Audience question: What about folks with vulvas having sex with other folks with vulvas? I’ve heard that the STI rate is lower, is that true? And what do I do about barriers?
- MTN: There is some truth to that and some of it is a myth. A lot of people think if you don’t involve a penis, you’re good. But any mucus membrane coming in contact with another person’s body part or mucus membrane opens a chance for infection. For women who sleep with women, herpes is definitely a big one for that community.
- MESH: It’s hard because a lot of the forms of protection for this kind of sex are hard to find or expensive. And some folks just don’t like them.
- MTN: I’ve heard some people take a condom and cut it in half as cheaper method than a dental dam. Just make sure the lubricated side is against the receivers’ pleasure organs.
Speaking of prevention and queer communities, can you talk at all about PrEP?
- FP: PrEP stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, and is a pill you take before intercourse to prevent HIV infection prior to sexual activity with someone. Truvada is the only brand on the market right now.
- (Note: We’re going to link straight to the Frannie Peabody website here as to not misquote or provide any wrong information about PrEP. Read thoroughly and follow all guidelines if you are interested in PrEP as an option for you.)
- FP: You need a prescription for PReP, which you can get from your own PCP or from Planned Parenthood, India Street Clinic, or Greater Portland Health here in Portland. If you fill at Apothecary by Design, they have a great team that can help figure out how to pay for it with or without insurance.While it’s mostly advertised to “men who sleep with men” (MSM), I find that language to be really exclusive. Anyone who is sexually active is at risk for HIV and anyone can take PrEP. It just reacts differently to different hormone levels and bodies. That MSM label can make people feel excluded and thus not seek out a drug that can be life changing.
- MTN: A note, there hasn’t been a ton of research about how PrEP works especially with transmen, or people assigned female at birth, or folks with vulvas taking testerone. If that applies to you, how and when to take the drug may vary from standard procedure. Tread carefully.
It’s also important to take on the prescribed schedule. Folks in the trans-community statistically have trouble with adherence to medication schedules because of a number of factors. I always recommend scheduling your meds alongside when you take your hormones, if you take hormones. Usually the hormones are integral to your transition and identity, and folks have a much easier time remembering those, so if you can pair the two, the effectiveness of any drug you need to take on a schedule goes up.
- PPNNE: HRT and PReP counseling are offered at Planned Parenthood as well.
Let’s talk more about LUBE!
- SAI: There’s different kinds of lubes: Water-based, oil-based, and silicon based.
- Additional note: Do not use oil based lubes with latex barriers like condoms or dental dams. They will weaken the material and break--leaving you more susceptible to infections and/or pregnancy. Do not use silicon lube on silicon toys, it will wear down the silicon on the toys and make them less comfortable and safe.
- FP: I have a general guideline to not use household oils as lubricants.
- Additional Note: Folks wanted to know about Coconut Oil, which is becoming a common commercial lube substitute. Some experts tout its benefits, others issue some warnings. Some things to keep in mind: Coconut oil is oil-based, so don’t use with latex condoms, they will break. Some say coconut oil may disrupt bacterial balance in a mucus membrane like a vagina, and may leave folks more prone to yeast infections. Others say it has anti-fungal/bacterial properties and may do the opposite. This article from GO Magazine has a pretty comprehensive list of pros and cons.
- SAI: I’ve also heard that glycerin based lubes aren’t great if you’re susceptible to yeast infections.
- FP: Great places to shop for lube include Nomia, a feminist bookstore here in Portland. The Treasure Chest and Video Expo also sell different lubes.
- MESH: I wanna make a plug for Sliquid water-based lube. I’m not sponsored by them or anything, I just use it and think it’s great. It re-activates when you add more water. It’s good stuff.
Do you have any tips for how to talk about your body and body parts with a partner?
- MTN: Especially when talking about trans folks, a lot of people just focus on the dysphoria you might feel. But we want to reframe how we think about sex and intimacy and encourage people to think about this as an opportunity to experience sex as a euphoria. Think about the stuff you do like, think about what will you make you feel awesome and affirmative, not just about what won’t trigger you.
Likewise, it’s so important to look at the language we use around bodies. It differs for everybody. Some people use common language like penis and vagina, some other folks have a created language. I’ve heard some say front hole, some trans-women say ‘click’. Some people just talk about nerve endings, the way they’re arranged is pretty similar no matter what it looks like down there. I always prefer something that’s a little silly. For me, laughing about sex is so important.
- FP: Be specific about what you want things to be called. Always be clear about what works for you, and also what language doesn’t work for you. What works for one person isn’t always going to work for you.
- MESH: I also think you shouldn’t be afraid to be a little vague--not vague about what you want, but in the sense of using non-gendered, neutral and instructive language that doesn’t add value, gender, or judgement to a body or part. For example, it can be helpful to say “Touch me here, or there.” Or to be descriptive about location, “Between my legs” or “Move up here.”
What is kink?
- MESH: The definition of kink is kind of contested. Some say it is “alternative sexuality in practice.” A lot of people just think it’s BDSM, but that is a specific kind of kink, it doesn’t neccessarily operate as an umbrella, but it can. It traditionally refers to the dynamics of Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, and Sadism and Masochism. Fetishes and other types of kinks exist that fall outside of these paradigms. I think in many ways, kink is a matter of self-identification. What are your fetishes or the things necessary to your arousal? That’s a kink.
- FP: Kink also changes with time and tradition. Like anal sex used to be sooo kinky for straight people, but more and more I’m hearing about it in straight couples. It’s on the menu. (More on this later.) Kink can be seen as seeking pleasure by any consensual means necessary.
Tips for people new to kink?
- MESH: Like we said before, pants-on convos are key. You need to be able to talk about kink casually, and in neutral situations. Bring it up when you have enough time to talk about it, “Is now a good time?” or “There’s a thing I’ve been thinking about..” are good opening lines. But don’t address it like it’s a problem. This is a relationship-focused conversation. It’s important to be tender and vulnerable. If this is more of a hook-up, then be clear and direct and exact. Clarity and specificity are really, really important. And consent. Always consent.
- Some other tips from MESH. Consent is both the same as consent in non-kink sex, but has a number of additional variables. You have to think about and talk about….
- Moods, language, scenarios
- Parts of the body, types of sensation
- Hard and soft limits
- How to negotiate
- Emotional safety
- Physical safety
- Some other tips from MESH. Consent is both the same as consent in non-kink sex, but has a number of additional variables. You have to think about and talk about….
- SAI: Trying kink and other alternative sexual practices requires an even higher level of communication and consent between folks. It’s really important to have a good baseline understanding and comfort in your body and with your sexuality before trying some of these sexual practices. Especially because we work with young folks, we feel it’s necessary to encourage people to go slow, be safe, and figure out what you like outside of BDSM or kink before trying it. You run the risk of hurting yourself or someone else if you don’t practice it with safety and knowledge. Just because something looks easy in a video doesn’t mean you can replicate it in real life without thorough knowledge.
- MESH: Do. Your. Homework. It’s important to ask questions and research. Remember there is a difference between hurt (pain which can feel good if you want it to) and harm (damage that can be lasting). The best way to practice safe kink is to stay involved and active in a community of people who value education and accountability. Portland is difficult because there isn’t a centralized kink community. Reach out to MESH if you’re interested in building one--it’s important to have a community because accessibility and accountability can be enforced as a community.
- **Bee gave some great tips about spanking or physical force: The zones for impact play are general rules, and I would like for that to be very clear. Just because it’s generally a pretty safe area for most people doesn’t mean it’s safe for every partner. Talk with your partner about their body and its quirks. Never hit anyone near the kidneys, that’s incredibly dangerous. Express caution near your neck and airways, as well as face. Don’t go collapsing someone’s trachea because choking sounded hot and you couldn’t take ten minutes to google anatomy. That’s a real bad ER trip. Legs, arms and butts can take more impact that other areas that house sensitive organs. **
Let’s talk about anal sex. Any words of advice?
- FP: Lube, lube, lube. Be careful and slow. If you don’t know what you’re doing or you’ve never tried it before, you absolutely have to move slowly or you run the risk of hurting yourself. Start by experimenting on yourself before introducing a toy or a partner. Learn first about the anatomy of your butt, read tips from trusted resources. Go slowly and gradually. Start with a finger. Getting good at anal sex is like getting to Carnegie Hall, practice practice, practice. It takes time! Only try with a partner when you’re ready. For some people, just a single finger pad around the edge of the anal opening is enough for some great stimulation.
Desire is a really important part of the equation when it comes to anal play. You need to be stimulated and motivated and ready to receive something in your anus. If you aren’t, that’s totally okay. But you need to be able to relax and enjoy the experience for anal sex to be safe.
- MTN: If you are going to use a toy, the shape of the toy is important. Your anus is a strong muscle and things can get stuck. Find something with a base so you can remove it safely.
- SAI: Without a base, without a trace is the saying, right?
- FP: And remember, poop is going to be a part of the experience. Do clean, but there’s only so much cleaning you can do. You can use fiber supplements to clear your system, or an enema. A warm water bottle can be helpful, but make sure it’s not too hot, you don’t want to scald yourself. And keep in mind, because poop is a reality with anal sex, if you are with a partner, be careful to avoid getting your fecal matter in someone else’s mouth or other mucus membranes, your partner can get very sick. Clean up is important. MESH: It’s not like you have to practice every day for things like anal, but if you don’t do it often--and this goes for any sexual activity--be sure that you warm up to it. Don’t just dive right in.
Audience Question: What is muffing?
- Note: We found this helpful guide about muffing from Broadly.
- MTN: Muffing is a term to describe penetrating or inserting fingers into the inguinal canals, and is a sex act popular with Trans-women. The inguinal canal is an orifice mostly covered by flesh behind the testes and scrotum, there is one canal on each side of the penis. (They are the canals that the balls drop from and retract to in stress situations.) Many trans-women find that the slow stimulation of these canals can give the similar pressure and pleasure of penetrative sex. Try it on yourself and guide your partner to it. But this is one of those activities that you must be gentle and slow with. And if it hurts, stop!
Any final words of advice before we close out:
- MTN: Know that there are lot of impacts of HRT and genital surgery, and it’s important to find information that reflects that well. I recommend the book Trans Bodies, Trans Selves. If you are a tran person looking for a sexual health provider, remember, you know your body best. At most, your providers have had a few hours of training on trans-health. They aren’t always experts over you. So when you are seeing a sexual health provider, know they aren’t the end all be all to your questions. Always reach out, we’re here for you. Mainetransnet.org
- MESH: For kink, there are not a lot of resources in Maine, and it’s important to find a community that you can talk about this stuff with. Feel free to connect with MESH if you’re stuck and having trouble finding the information you need. It’s also important to note that if there’s a thing that turns you on, someone else will probably be turned on by that too. You just have to take the time to find them. Do your research about safety. Google shit. Do you homework. And talk extensively. And, always consent, always. You can find MESH on Facebook, and I hope you’ll join us for our Body-Posi fashion show later this month.
- PPNNE: I think the biggest thing for Planned Parenthood is education. Talk about your sexual health. Be direct and be honest with yourself, partners and providers. Get screened and make sure your partners gets screened. Come to us, nothing freaks us out!
- FP: At Frannie Peabody, we do walk-in Wednesday’s for screenings from 2pm to 6pm. We also have case managers available for folks, please come in and talk to us. Find us at peabodycenter.org.
Speak About It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that partners with high schools and colleges to educate, entertain, and empower students to create positive change within their communities, advocate for and practice healthy relationship habits, and prevent sexual violence.
Copyright 2016 Speak About It, Inc. Website by Alexandra Valleau