Sex and the LGBTQIA+ Community
Part of our Sex-Ed Series
More than 1 in 3 LGBTQIA+ Americans faced discrimination of some kind in the past year, and this discrimination has moderately to significantly psychologically impacted 1 in 2 LGBTQIA+ folk. This discrimination can occur in any sector of a person’s life – at school, at work, or within their own personal relationships. Sex education in America often excludes or even prohibits the teaching of LGBTQIA+ identities and relationships, leaving hundreds of youths across the country uninformed. As a marginalized population, LGBTQIA+ people have an even greater need to know about themselves, their community, and how to safely and consensually participate in relationships (sexual or otherwise).
A Holistic Approach to Sexuality
Holistic Sexuality refers to a multi-dimensional approach towards how one views their sexuality. It encompasses more than just a person’s sexual identity; it also includes a person’s gender identity, intimacy, sensuality, sexualization, and sexual health and reproduction. This is helpful because all of these aspects of a person’s body and soul are interconnected and fluid and can change throughout the course of life. This allows for you to have a better sense of yourself and be more confident in your desires.
This holistic approach is also very useful for some members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Asexuality, Demisexuality and Greysexuality are all sexual orientations on the ace spectrum and are often misunderstood or rejected. However, they are all very real and valid identities which may or may not include physical attraction or sex. Sexual attraction or desire is different from a sex drive, or libido. Everyone is unique; some people may have low or high libidos but will choose to act on them differently. Some people are very interested in sex and enjoy having it, while others may not be as interested or don’t enjoy having it. There is no right or wrong way to do it, and no right or wrong way to be.
Sometimes the words we use can have unintended effects on the people around us. American (and most other) societies have been raised and continue to function on The Binary, which is the concept of a gender structure consisting only of two genders: male and female. This means that almost everything in our world is constructed to fit into one of these two categories, regardless of what it is. Colors, music, jobs, clothes, toys – almost everything can be described as “girly” or “manly”, “pretty” or “handsome”. Everything comes with a predetermined label on it, forcing conformity. Unfortunately, this means that for folks who don’t fit into either of these categories, they are left with a hard decision: to allow themselves to be incorrectly categorized or speak up and inevitably face the challenge of no longer fitting in anywhere. For this reason, inclusive language and acknowledgement of the existence of more than one gender and of same-sex couples is massively important. It helps let LGBTQIA+ people know that they are seen, safe, and welcomed by a particular person or in a particular space.
Some examples of inclusive language include:
- Instead of “Ladies and Gentlemen”, say “Everyone” or “Folks”
- Try not to say ma’am or sir if you don’t know that that is how the person identifies
- Ask about someone’s partner or relationship instead of assuming boyfriend or girlfriend
- Use the terms “people with penises” or “vulva-owners” instead of saying men and women, since not all people who have a penis or vagina will identify as a man or woman
- Introduce yourself with your pronouns and ask other people for theirs
The Acronym: Labels and What They Means
What does LGBTQIA+ stand for? Here are the letters from the acronym and some of the most common labels used in the community.
- Lesbian: a woman who is attracted to other women. The label is also used by gender-nonconforming folks.
- Gay: someone who is attracted to those of their same gender. Can be used as an umbrella term but is also sometimes used to specifically refer to men who like men.
- Bisexual: someone who is attracted to those of their same gender as well as people of a second, different gender. Can be used as an umbrella term for anyone who is attracted to more than one gender.
- Transgender: Someone whose gender identity differs from the one that was assigned to them at birth. Many transgender people identify as either male or female, while others may see transgender as an umbrella term and identify as gender nonconforming or queer. This term is used as an adjective, avoid using it as a noun.
- Queer/Questioning: Queer is an umbrella term to refer to someone who is not straight or cisgender and is increasingly being used as reclamation due to its past use as a pejorative term. Questioning is exactly what it sounds like; anyone who is questioning their gender or sexual orientation and doesn’t yet have or want a label for themselves.
- Intersex: someone who is born with variations in anatomy, hormones or chromosomes that does not fit within the traditional definition of male or female bodies
- Asexual: someone who experiences little or no sexual attraction, or experiences attraction but doesn’t want or feel the need to act on that attraction sexually
: the plus here refers to any and all other labels
that exist in the community
- Non-binary: someone whose gender identity does not conform to the gender binary
- Pansexual: someone who is attracted to people of any and all genders.
- Cisgender: someone whose gender identity matches the gender they were assigned at birth
- Genderfluid: someone whose gender identity or gender expression varies over time
There are many more labels not listed, but you can find them on this glossary if you’re curious. A label is unique and deeply personal, so know that these definitions (while universally accepted) are not definitive and may mean something slightly different to each individual who uses them.
Increased Health Disparities
LGBTQIA+ youth are at a substantial risk for health disparities related to STIs, unplanned pregnancies, and intimate partner violence. Additionally LGBTQIA+ people are up to 30% more likely to be forced to have sex and up to 5 times more likely to consider or attempt suicide. And because the healthcare system is not designed to support those who do not fit conventional molds, queer people are more likely to avoid going to the doctor and therefore less likely to receive quality medical care. Overall, this means people who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community are more likely to need support and education but are less likely to receive it.
When sex and relationships are talked about in the media, they are often talked about in a way that is harmful to LGBTQIA+ people. In songs, movies, tv shows, and social media, the most common representation we see of sex is heteronormative and cisgendered. This means that what is most often shown or talked about is sex between a straight man and a straight woman. Reality is very different however, and we know that there are many people who don’t fit into that model. A lack of representation and visibility in media when it comes to sex and intimacy is especially dangerous regarding the LGBTQIA+ community. People are scared of what they don’t know or don’t understand, and if queer people are not shown to greater audiences than they can never be understood and accepted as normal.
Helpful Barrier Methods
While the traditional condom barrier method is still used by LGBTQIA+ individuals, there are other less common barrier methods which are specifically used by queer couples. These include the dental dam, latex gloves, and finger cots. These can all be used by anyone of any orientation or gender identity, but currently tend to be most utilized by the LGBTQIA+ community. All the common birth control and contraceptive methods are also still applicable to LGBTQIA+ individuals and couples if they are looking to prevent pregnancy and they are engaging in sexual activity involving a penis/sperm and vagina/ovaries. Safer sex is just as important in the queer community as it is for straight couples, and if you’re interested in how to have safer sex with yourself or with a partner, you can find out more at our other blog posts.
What is Dysphoria and How Can You Overcome It
Transgender and gender-nonconforming (TGNC) individuals often experience something called dysphoria, a medical diagnosis for the significant psychological distress a person feels when their gender identity does not match their sex assigned at birth. To help alleviate this distress, TGNC individuals may choose to pursue transitioning, which is the process of physically, socially, or medically changing their body to align with their gender. One way to do this is with the use of packers and/or breast padding. These prosthetics can also help in the bedroom, where dysphoria can be extremely hindering during a person’s attempt to be physically intimate with themselves or with another person or people. Packers are silicone penises and come in both soft or erect positions and can be worn during the day or during sexual activity. Breast padding are bra inserts or breast forms made of either fabric or silicone. They can come in any color or size (as can packers) and help enhance or create a person’s chest.
Sex Toys and Pleasure
Sex toys are also a safe and helpful way to learn what you like and experiment with your sexuality. They can help affirm gender identity and relieve gender dysphoria and are a great way to keep sex feeling new. Sex toys can also help take the pressure off performance anxieties and encourage new experiences. Keep in mind that sex toys are not federally regulated and manufacturers are not required to be honest in their labeling, so it is best to buy from well-known, trusted sources. The most common materials are silicone, stainless steel, glass, and hard plastic. Not all lubes will work on all materials so make sure you read the instructions before using. Toys should be cleaned before and after every use and should be stored in a cloth or plastic bag between uses to avoid bacteria. If a toy is being shared, change condoms before the toy touches someone else. Additionally, if you are using the toy in more than one location on your own body, you should also change condoms before you use the toy in a different orifice. For anal activities, all toys should have a flared base to ensure it is not lost inside the body - and as the anus is not a self-lubricating area, lube is your friend!
Many couples have their own definition of what sex is, and how they have it. This is particularly true for LGBTQIA+ couples who don’t fit into society’s definition of a traditional couple. Everyone gets to decide what counts as sex for them, and what sex means for them. Make sure you know what you want or what you’re open to before you start something. It’s only fair to yourself and anyone you may be with that you’re in the right headspace. Be open-minded and communicative. Talk with yourself or your partner(s) so you know what’s happening and if everyone is liking it. Lose all expectations; a certain act or position doesn’t have to mean anything, and liking or not liking something doesn’t make you more or less of who you are. And finally, sex is not necessarily all about achieving an orgasm. It’s about finding pleasure and having fun. Not everyone needs or even wants to achieve orgasm – sometimes, having sex is just about the experience of sharing intimacy, learning what you or your partner(s) like, and building a bond.
Know Your Rights
LGBTQIA+ people don’t have all the rights that their straight, cisgendered peers do. However, LGBTQIA+ people do currently have:
- The right to change healthcare providers at any time and for any reason
- The right to accurate and uncensored information
- The right to affordable healthcare
- The right to free speech and free press
- The right to autonomy
A Personal Note on Freedom and Expression
I would like to take a moment here to address something. During this article, I have talked about things that range from “vanilla” (by which I mean relatively accepted within the realm of the normal societal mainstream) to things more traditionally unconventional. Therefore, I want to end this blog with a short aside on the LGBTQIA+ community in relation to sex. Sometimes, when people think of gay people or trans people, they may think of sodomy or of how or who that person engages with in sexual activity. I want to note that when people make this association, they are perhaps unknowingly engaging in a homophobic implicit bias against queer people. They are not acknowledging the full humanity of the queer person - only their sexual nature and ways in which they find the queer person to be different or lesser than them. Alternatively, I would also like to note that perhaps part of the reason so many LGBTQIA+ people feel free to express themselves in ways that some people find deviant or “unnecessary” is that we as a people have had to fight simply to be ourselves. Some of us have come to a state of mind where we know who we are and love who we are, and refuse to hide or change any part of ourselves any longer - and no longer care what other people think.
By: Beck Lukins (they/them), WIT Peer Educator
A note from the author: If anyone has any questions, curiosities, or would like more information (even if it’s something I didn’t touch on), please feel free to reach out to me! I am a completely open book when it comes to my story and my identity, and I have spent several years now working to better educate myself and others. As a queer and trans student here at GVSU, I take great pride in being a source of information for people both in and outside the LGBTQIA+ community, and I am always happy to respond to folks. My email is email@example.com , or if you are not a GVSU member you can contact me through my Instagram @beck_lukins. Cheers!
Part of our Sex Ed Series
Happy National Condom Month!
Condoms and protection can be an awkward topic to discuss for a lot of people, especially undergraduate college students. As sex continues to be a taboo topic in society, many people do not get proper education about protection or sexual health before heading to university. Freshman students, finally free of the restrictions that living at home can bring, get the opportunity to meet new people and gain new experiences if they want, whether it be sexually or in general. Which is awesome! But, the idea of walking into the C-Store at Kleiner and picking up some Trojans with your dining dollars, can be pretty uncomfortable for some, (I’d say most) students. Thankfully, Recreation & Wellness partners with the Ottawa County Department of Public Health to provide condoms through Wear One. Condoms can be found in several offices all around campus for students to pick up - for free!
What Are Condoms?
Before you head off to pick up your free condoms, it is important to understand what condoms are, and why they are important, so you know what is best for you. In penile/vaginal intercourse, condoms act as barriers that keep sperm from meeting the egg. Condoms not only shield away the swimmers and prevent pregnancy, but can also be used in several sexual activities (oral, anal, vaginal, use with toys) to protect from most sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like chlamydia and gonorrhea. For this reason, they are known as barrier methods. Safety is sexy, so finding the right condom for you and your partner(s) is vital!
Types of Condoms
There are many different types of condoms. No matter who you are, or how you and your partner(s) identify, there is a condom for you. There are two main types of condoms: condoms for the penis (external condoms), which cover the shaft of the penis or toy, and condoms for the vagina (internal condoms), which are inserted into the vagina and stay within the vaginal canal. Under this umbrella, there are a wide variety of “specialty condoms” of each type, including:
- Your standard smooth, non-lubricated latex condoms- For the times you want to keep it classic.
- Polyisoprene (No Latex/Latex-free/Non-Latex) Condoms- If you or your partner(s) have a latex allergy, this one’s for you!
- Glow in the dark- To bring in a little disco or laser tag aesthetic to your activity.
- Flavored Condoms- To add some extra flavor to oral sex.
- Studded/Ribbed Condoms- For extra stimulation and fun!
- Warming Condoms- For those cold winter nights (and to add additional sensory stimulation)
- Colored Condoms- To bring some color into your sex life!
- Edible Condoms- Feeling hungry, no worries! Bon appetit! (These condoms are for novelty only! They do not provide protection from STIs or pregnancy)
**Be sure to check for FDA approved condoms to ensure efficacy of condoms. As mentioned, there are some novelty condoms that do not protect against STIs or pregnancy.
Do It Yourself Dental Dams
Unfortunately, not all barrier methods are easily available. Dental dams, for example, are stretchy sheets made of latex or polyurethane plastic, that protect you during oral sex. To put it simply, dental dams are dam hard to find. Do not fret! With the magical powers of DIY, scissors, and a male/female condom of your choice, you can make a DIY dental dam in 3 easy steps!
- Unwrap and unroll the condom of your choice.
- Cut off the tip and the rim of the condom about ½ an inch (or to your desired length). This should create a cylinder with two open ends.
- While carefully holding the condom open, cut down the length of one side to create a square shape.
And BAM! DENTAL DAM!!
The Condom Conversation
When it comes to sex, open communication is KEY, so it is important to start a conversation about using condoms with your partner(s). If you can, having a chat about contraception before you are in a situation where you would need a condom can help make sure everyone involved is on the same page. This is also a great opportunity to set boundaries with your partner(s)! During this conversation, you get the opportunity to voice your condom preferences and boundaries, as well as hear your partner(s) needs. Pro Tip: bringing your own condoms keeps you prepared and ready for anything. Whether it be sexual activity or a spur of the moment water balloon fight, condoms have got you covered!
Free Condom Locations
In a partnership with the Ottawa County Department of Public Health, Recreation & Wellness is able to provide condoms for free at locations all around the Allendale (and soon, Pew and Health) campus. Condoms can be found in person at the several locations. If you are not on campus or cannot make it to one of the condom locations, you are able to order condoms by mail (still for free! yay!). As long as in person classes continue, condoms by mail are still available. If you live on campus, fill out this form to get condoms shipped directly to you! If you do not live on campus, no worries. The Ottawa County Department of Public Health will mail you free condoms if you live in Ottawa or Allegan counties. If you are feeling shy and don’t want parents, guardians, or roommates finding out, you're in luck! The condoms are sent in a discreet envelope. You can visit the Ottawa County Public Health website for more information.
Educating yourself on condoms and creating an open conversation with your partner(s) can make sex not only more safe, but more enjoyable for everyone involved. As sex continues to be an often “off limits” topic in our society, it is up to us to create a healthy environment to discuss sex, and the things under its umbrella. So the moral of the story is, save those dining dollars for what they are really for, snacks! RecWell wants students to have all the tools they need for safer sex, so utilizing the services on campus (if interested in engaging in sexual activity) is an easy, no shame way of getting what you need. In order to participate in the conversation and gain additional knowledge, there are several websites where you can learn more about the different types of condoms, or sex in general. We have an entire sexual health page you can browse for more information. If you have any questions, comments, or want peers to talk to, reach out to the Sexual Health Peer Educators using AskWIT.
PS. Want to learn more and have fun?
Join us for Condom Palooza, Tuesday, February 16, 2021 from 7:00pm - 8:00pm. Registration closes on Wed, Feb 10.
By: Annie Seeber, WIT Peer Educator