*Content warning: This blog post will discuss bias towards historically marginalized groups, providing examples of microaggressions experienced by these individuals.
Kevin Nadal, a professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, defines microaggressions as “everyday, subtle, and oftentimes unintentional interactions or behaviors that communicate some sort of bias toward historically marginalized groups”. It’s important to note that microaggressions can be intentional, just like macroaggresions (which we usually refer to as discrimination or oppression), but often they’ve become so ingrained into a society or culture that they aren’t noticed or even known to be offensive. And don’t be fooled just because the word ‘micro’ is the prefix - these offenses are anything but. They can cause anywhere from casual annoyance to severe depression and trauma in individuals depending on the frequency, severity, and cause of the aggression. Microaggressions can happen anywhere and be committed by anyone. They can be said about any number of personal identity markers or traits such as race, sexuality, income, body image or weight, religion, etc.
Here are some examples of common microaggressions*:
- “I’m not racist. I have black friends.” → Someone can still be racist with friends of color.
- “You don't sound black.” → Here the offensive suggestion is being made that a person should sound like something because of their color/race/ethnicity.
- “That’s gay.” → Here, being or seeming, gay is being equated to being bad.
- The use of ‘he/she’ in writing, or the argument that ‘they’ can’t be a singular pronoun → Using he/she is still excluding certain genders and gender pronouns, and arguing that ‘they’ is not grammatically correct in the singular tense is simply factually false.
- “I just don’t support that lifestyle.” → Here the speaker is assuming that being queer is a choice, when it is actually a natural part of who someone is.
Examples on the topic of fitness , nutrition, and wellness
- Saying “I don’t eat ____ it’s so unhealthy.” when someone is eating _____ → The implication could be that the person eating said food is also unhealthy. A moral judgment on food is given.
- “Someone like you shouldn’t wear something so revealing.” → Making the assumption that someone is unhealthy based on their body size and that only certain clothing can be worn by certain people.
How and Why Do Microaggressions Happen?
Ultimately, microaggressions are due to a systemic and foundational lack of intersectional education at a nationwide level. When we don’t learn about people different from ourselves, we never learn how to positively interact with other behaviors, cultures, and identities. Microaggressions feed into a system of ignorance and mistreatment or harm of others, and they reflect a lack of understanding or respect for an individual’s lived experiences.
Just a Few Effects
Family, friends and community can sometimes be perpetrators of the microaggressions, and less time may be spent with them because of this. They can also lessen involvement in school, work and volunteering due to stress or anxiety about possible microaggressions or simply the traumatic knowledge that one will be seen incorrectly and this could have dangerous consequences. The Harvard Gazette says microaggressions cause an "onslaught of injuries to the psyche that may seem unrelenting and can result in everything from depression, fatigue, and anger to physical ailments such as chronic infections, thyroid problems, and high blood pressure."
What Can You Do?
Make sure to always listen to others with an open perspective and be willing to hear ideas, opinions, and experiences that might be different or even in conflict with your own. This will allow for a more deeper sense of understanding and empathizing to occur, and hopefully lead to a stronger connection between individuals. You can also search out research and biographies or personal experiences that have been offered to learn more about what experiencing microaggressions and living as a member of a marginalized community feels like (but don’t just go ask your friend that you know is gay or black - we don’t want to burden someone who hasn’t offered with the need to educate us). As cliché as it sounds, remember the Golden Rule: treat others the way you want to be treated.
Sex is more than a just a desire or behavior - it’s a part of the human life cycle, and likely it’s something that most people will experience or engage in at some point in their lives. Since sex is so common in the world, it’s worth taking a look at how we can learn more about it, and how that knowledge can help us going forward.
The Sex Positivity Movement
The term “sex positivity” wasn’t coined until the 1920’s, when psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich began speaking on the different aspects of humanity. He suggested that sex was a normal part of human life and was actually healthy for the body. While his ideas didn’t gain much traction at the time, they were picked up and revitalized in the 1960’s, an era often referred to as “the sexual revolution”. Since then, it has turned into a movement based on the idea that no one should judge another for their sexual activities (or lack thereof) as long as everything is consensual. The sex positivity movement centers around the belief that sex is a healthy and normal part of life and is something to enjoy, not something to be ashamed of. In recent years it has become a direct response and solution to sex negativity and shame culture. Many in the movement advocate for more comprehensive sex ed, healthy sexual exploration, and supporting all sexualities and identities.
Consent Tastes Good as FRIES
I’m sure we’ve all heard about consent before. It’s that thing teachers try to use lots of metaphors for in school, like pizza or ice cream, and how if you don’t really want seconds that’s the same thing as ‘no means no’. In reality, consent is a little more detailed than that. Thanks to Planned Parenthood, we can use the acronym FRIES and break it down:
- Freely given: must be given of someone’s free will with no coercion, gaslighting or manipulation.
- Reversible : a “yes” can become a no at any time regardless of circumstance, no questions asked.
- Informed: everyone involved knows exactly what they are agreeing to and what limits there are.
- Enthusiastic : only “yes” means yes - not maybe, whatever, sure, I guess, or I don’t know. If there is any hesitation or uncertainty, everyone involved should stop and communicate.
- Specific + Sober : “yes” only means yes to whatever was spoken and agreed upon. If someone wants to do something new, they should check in with their partner(s) again. A person must also be sober to obtain and give consent, and it’s a legal requirement in the state of Michigan.
Consent should be the very first step to any activity, especially ones of physical or sexual nature. Anything other than a “yes” is a no, so take care of others (whether you know them or not) and yourself, and never take advantage of a person or situation. We all have control of our own bodies and no one should be able to take that away from us.
Pleasure = Power
When something is reclaimed, power is restored. For hundreds of years, active expression of sexuality (especially female sexuality) has been oppressed and shamed. This has led to sex, sexuality, and most related topics being considered ‘taboo’ or shameful and censored in society. Pleasure is something everyone has a right to in whatever form it looks like for them. This is because we as people have autonomy: power over ourselves to make decisions concerning our bodies and to act in accordance to our personal values and interests. By reclaiming our right to pleasure and refusing the shame society tries to place on it, we reclaim power over ourselves. In this way pleasure can be used as a tool to help someone feel more confident, gain more control, learn more about themselves, understand theirs and others’ bodies, and make more informed decisions regarding physical intimacy.
Reclaiming bodily autonomy and learning to embrace pleasure can be hard. Most people aren’t raised with a sex-positive outlook, and most sex education programs teach only the risks of sex and not the benefits. It can take lots of time, patience, introspection, self-nurturing, and bravery before someone feels like they’re ready to try something new, or even admit to themselves they haven’t fully loved what they’ve been doing. Becoming comfortable with your body and learning to communicate what you want and not shy away from pleasure takes trust - with yourself or with anyone else.
Masturbation and Stimulation
Masturbation is the quickest and easiest way to learn what feels good. Masturbation is self-stimulation of the genitals and other parts of the body for sexual pleasure. It can’t hurt you or become addictive, and no one can tell someone masturbates just by looking at them. Masturbation is actually scientifically proven to have several health benefits, including stress relief, better/easier sleep, and relief of menstrual cramps. Regular masturbation or orgasm is said to help with depression and anxiety as it produces an extreme amount of endorphins and lowers the amount of cortisol in the brain (a hormone related to high stress levels). It can also greatly improve self-esteem, sexual validation, and confidence. Being able to speak to what you like in the bedroom can be very empowering, and it can also help sex (whatever that is for you) be a more pleasurable or positive experience. To read more about masturbation and orgasm, try our blog post Foreplay, Orgasm and Self-Pleasure.
Playing with Toys
Sex toys are another easy way to reclaim power over your pleasure. Toys can be used to enhance or change the pleasure or dynamic experienced during sex. They can also be used as an aid to help with sexual dysfunction, low libido, gender dysphoria, anorgasmia, and disability. Regardless of the reason, having a toy in hand can make you feel powerful - it can be proof that you care enough about yourself to make a purchase to support your happiness and pleasure. That same kind of pride someone might feel when buying a new uniform after making the team, or buying new shoes for an upcoming show, can be felt making purchases for your pleasure.
There are a TON of different kinds of toys - some are made for specific genitalia, some are made for 1 person vs 2 or more people, and some are made for certain kinds of activities. No matter what you’re into, remember that it’s okay to want whatever you want. That’s what’s so awesome about pleasure; it’s personalized and special to everyone, so no one has exactly the same mixture of tastes and turn-ons as someone else. Your pleasure is uniquely yours, and you have the authority on who, what, when, where, how, and even if it’s ever shared, used or discovered.
Dipping a Toe into the Deep End
Kink is another world that is often used for reclaiming power and autonomy within sex. When being done correctly kink and BDSM should be based on consent, pleasure, setting & negotiating boundaries, and mutual respect between everyone involved. It may seem unlikely or even backwards to some, but the kink community and the spaces where it is practiced tend to be safer and healthier in relation to sex culture, and often feature less sexual violence and more responsibility than the ‘vanilla’ world. Kink can be a helpful tool to unlearn shame, as a large proponent of kink is enjoyment of sex and pleasure in ways deviant from the mainstream. Many victim-survivors of sexual assault also use kink/BDSM as a method of healing, re-liberation, and redefining trauma. There is great power in having control over or being self-aware of your relationship to sex and pleasure: what you want now and what you may want in the future. Kink is just one more possible path to use to explore that relationship in a way that is based on autonomy.
You Have the Power
Ultimately, sex is a choice - some people may never want it, some people may never have it, some people may have it all the time, and others might only want to have it with a certain someone. No matter what choices you make regarding your body and your pleasure, it is your choice. We all have personal autonomy and we can use that power to ensure our experiences are as positive and pleasurable as possible - even ones that aren’t sexual! Remember, consent needs to be the first step in any situation so that everyone keeps their power of choice.
For more follow: @sexpositivefamilies (an educational insta about consent, sex positivity, and how to talk about/react to different sexual health topics!)
By: Beck Lukins (they/them/theirs), WIT Peer Educator
Jessica Epplett, MPH Candidate at GVSU shares about her MPH practicum project - planning Sex Ed Week at GVSU.
Sexual health is an important topic that is not talked about nearly enough and has been made to feel taboo in our society. Because the topic has been made to feel so taboo, schools are afraid or not allowed to teach all of the elements (or anything besides abstinence-only) of sex ed that should be taught and too many students have gaps in sexual education. These gaps can be dangerous.
In 2014, a study done by the CDC found that 76% of students were taught that abstinence is the most effective method in preventing pregnancy and STIs and only 35% of students were taught how to use a condom properly. Only receiving this level of education can leave many questions unanswered and can leave people at risk once they decide to start having sex. An article written at Columbia University’s School of Public Health helps to outline this. They have found that abstinence-only education is harmful and does not delay when people start having sex or reduce risk behaviors, like having unprotected sex (Santelli & Berger, 2017). They have also found that this type of education reinforces gender stereotypes, isn’t always medically accurate, and makes a large number of students feel excluded (Santelli & Berger, 2017). Comprehensive sex ed, on the other hand, shows improvement in contraceptive and condom use, reduced number of sexual partners, lower rates of STIs and pregnancy, and a decrease in sexual risk behaviors (Santelli & Berger, 2017). This is why we planned a Sex Ed Week at GVSU.
Sex Ed Week has been my Master of Public Health practicum project since September, and it’s been exciting to work with a topic I care so much about! I have put in many hours doing research and looking into issues that college students face when it comes to sexual health because it is a topic that I believe is extremely important and needs to be talked about, especially at colleges and universities. Sex isn’t taboo and I am a strong believer in ensuring that everyone should be given all the information they need to take control of their health, including their sexual health. I was fortunate enough to have a sex ed in middle school that was comprehensive, interesting, and didn’t pretend that students weren’t going to have sex, and I’m excited to give students at GVSU a fun, sex-positive sex ed experience, too! This week of events is tailored to the GVSU community and has topics that are important to students and that have been left out in the previous education that many students. This week is a fun way to learn more about sex positivity and be empowered to make the right choices for you!
We created an exciting variety of event types to make learning more about these topics entertaining and less awkward. I know that it can be hard to discuss some of these topics and feel a little uncomfortable because this could be the first time some are learning these things or maybe they just feel taboo because they aren’t talked about as often as they should be, but our hope is to create a fun, welcoming environment where everyone can feel comfortable asking questions and learn something along the way while we work on normalizing sexual health and giving students the tools they need. Some of the topics that are covered during the week include how to use condoms properly, consent, how to have healthy relationships, LGBTQ+, and many more!
I encourage everyone to join us for this week of fun and to step out of their comfort zone!
By: Jessica Epplett, MPH Candidate and RecWell Intern
What Is Sexuality?
Sexuality is a concept that has infinite definitions and forms. Its meaning is abundant, but is often defined by society as something extremely clear-cut and particular. For example, the dictionary defines sexuality as a “person's identity in relation to the gender or genders to which they are typically attracted to.” Sexuality goes much deeper than attraction though.
The Deep Dive
The RecWell webpage “The Facts About Sexual Health,” explores the differences between sexual health, sexuality and sex according to the World Health Organization. “Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviors, practices, roles and relationships.” While sexuality can include all of these dimensions, not all of them are always experienced or expressed at the same time. Sexuality is HUGE and we all have sexuality. You do not need to be in a relationship or engaging in sexual activity to have sexuality, because it is such a broad and fluid concept (remember, your values/beliefs around sex are part of your particular sexuality, too). Sexuality includes our bodies, our hormones, our feelings, our values, our gender identity, our sexual orientation, our relationships, and our culture. (Check out Scarleteen's great blog post that really dives deep into sexuality)! Let's talk about just some of these aspects:
Feelings: Feelings and our emotions have an influence on everything we do in our lives. How you feel about an experience can change future decisions as well as perceptions on the things around you. So naturally, when it comes to sexuality, feelings play a large role. They can make you happy, excited, embarrassed, nervous, eager, anxious, giddy and so much more. It’s important to be in tune with and take care of our emotions (positive and negative!), recognizing them and honoring them when it comes to our sexuality and sexual health.
Hormones: When it comes to hormones, the pituitary gland releases estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. These hormones affect sex drive in different ways depending on the amount of each hormone. Libido, meaning sexual appetite or sex drive, is affected by these hormones. For example, estrogen has a major role in increasing libido, while an imbalance of testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone can decrease libido.
Gender Identity: Gender Identity is how you feel on the inside and how you express your gender to others through clothing, behaviors, and personal appearance. Gender identity shapes a person’s sexuality because who we are influences our own unique sexuality. For example, a person who identifies as a woman may feel confident in their sexuality when they dress feminine, while a different person who identifies as a woman may feel confident in their sexuality when they wear masculine clothing. Even though some people may share certain identities, their sexuality is unique to them.
Sexual Orientation: You may already be familiar with the acronym LGBTQIA+ when it comes to gender identity and sexual orientation, but the two concepts are distinct and different.. Planned Parenthood uses the acronym LGBQQAS (lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, questioning, asexual, and straight), which specifically highlights sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is who you are attracted to and want to have relationships with. Want to learn more about each of these sexual orientations? Check out this Planned Parenthood article.
Culture: Simply put, culture is the ways or norms of life in a particular population, that are typically passed down from generation to generation. These can be based on geography, nationality, religion, political affiliation and so much more. Sexuality can be influenced by culture because a person may be raised to express their sexuality in specific ways. Culture can also highly influence a person’s specific values and beliefs about sex and sexuality. Being aware of society’s (or your particular cultural) influence can help you understand what your own feelings are compared to what the world is telling you to feel.
How Can I Explore My Sexuality?
It can be easy to find yourself lost in it all, and if you “stray” from what society sees as the “norm,” it is common to feel that something is wrong. Who you love, how you love, as well as a relationship with yourself, can seem all mapped out by the world around us; in reality, the only person able to navigate this journey is you! Like any self exploration, there is not one way to figure out what you like or dislike. A good place to start is by writing down what comes to mind when you think of your own sexuality. Remember, sexuality is more than just sexual attraction - it involves our emotions, hormones, relationships, identity, culture and more. From there, you could talk to a trusted friend or do some research online. There are many books and podcasts that delve into all things sexuality. An insightful podcast that explores pleasure, identity, sexuality, and healing is, The Sensual Self Podcast with Ev’Yan Whitney. Ev’Yan Whitney is a sexuality doula who helps people explore their sexuality! Another way to explore your sexuality is to experiment with self love. This can come in many forms and is not strictly sexual for every person. For example, a person may feel physical attraction and enjoy holding hands, hugs, or cuddling. This is a good way to find what feels good to you, so you not only learn what you like, but communicate that with future partners if you wish. There are many more ways to explore, so make it your own and do what works best for you! Grand Valley also offers many resources. The Milton E. Ford LGBTQ+ Resource Center, located in Kirkhof, has many programs and events regarding all things sexuality. There are always new events coming up, which you can find on their website or in person at their office.The Gayle R. Davis Center for Women and Gender Equity has lots of programming around healthy relationships and preventing gender-based violence. And, Recreation & Wellness has lots of information on our website - WIT peer educators can answer questions and we have lots of resources for safer sexual health, no matter your sexuality!
Sexuality and exploration can feel daunting at times, but know you are not alone. Discovering the things you enjoy, the way you like to be loved, and the way you love others can take some time. The journey is for you and each path is individually beautiful and unique. You got this!
By: Annie Seeber, WIT Peer Educator
Part of our Sex-Ed Series
Happy summer GVSU! We can’t believe this semester is already at its end. This winter we have been so excited to bring you all weekly content for our first ever Sex Ed Series, because we think this information is so important for everyone to know. All of us on the WIT Peer Educator team are so passionate about sexual health, and we hope that these blog posts over the past 15 weeks have sparked interest in you all to learn more. Now that we’ve made it to the end of the Sex Ed Series, we want to leave you with a sex-positive and empowering recap of everything we’ve touched on this semester so you can have the safest and most fun summer possible!
It’s Nothing To Be Ashamed Of
Many people are uncomfortable talking about sex, but these conversations are so important for normalizing sexuality, as well as sexual autonomy. Shame and embarrassment are closely related and are both due to the lack of cultural acceptance and the taboo surrounding sex and masturbation. It is so important for kids, teens, and adults to receive proper sex education to prepare them for any and all future sexual encounters they may have. Overcoming the associated shame and stigma is the first step to owning your own sexuality and having a great sexual experience.
In the Mood
Next, is embracing your own desires. As you become more comfortable with your sexuality, you can learn to explore these desires. Whether you’re with a partner(s) or by yourself, sexual pleasure is about understanding your own sexual needs, and knowing the right ways to satisfy them. When it comes to sex, it’s not always about penetration, but it is always about what makes you feel good! Here are some ideas to get you in the mood:
- Foreplay: Foreplay helps warm up your bodies for the fun to come - physically, mentally, and emotionally. This is the time to build up the sexual tension and desire between you and your partner(s) to have the best, most pleasurable sexual experience possible.
- Masturbation: Touching yourself in the comfort of your own home is the best way to explore your body and find what you like (or don’t)! Masturbation is not only a fun way to pass the time, but it lets you take your sexual pleasure into your own hands--literally!
- Sex Toys: Whether you’re being intimate with your partner or having a solo sesh, sex toys are a great way to add some spice to life! Before buying toys, it's important to know what places and techniques you enjoy when masturbating so you know what kinds to get. Check out Planned Parenthood’s information on sex toys.
- Trying Out New Erogenous Zone: Erogenous zones are those places on your body that feel ~extra~ good when touched. Places like ears, neck, nipples, inner wrists, the vaginal or penile region, and inner thighs are some common ones that could be fun to explore!
- Porn: Watching porn can help some individuals feel more empowered and less stressed. It can also give ideas of some fun things to try in bed.
Some people believe that because they’re menstruating that they have to give up sex for a week, but that couldn’t be less true! There are SO many benefits of having sex on your period, like period cramp, headache and migraine relief, shorter periods, natural lube, and an increased sex drive. Period sex can be a fun way to make the most of your time of the month in the bedroom, so don’t be afraid to embrace your sexuality and add some spice to your sex life!
Pain During Sex
Feeling some sort of pain when engaging in sex? It’s called dyspareunia, and it's not uncommon, but it's important to know what’s going on down there:
- Pain For Vulva Owners: The muscles of the pelvic floor play a big role in sexual function and sensation. Sometimes these muscles can tense up during arousal, resulting in the same sort of pain as period cramps. Other causes of dyspareunia could be vaginal dryness, a yeast infection or urinary tract infection, irritable bowel syndrome, or STI’s.
- Pain For Penis Owners: There are many possible reasons for pain during sexual activity, but most common are excessive friction, urinary tract infections, prostatitis, or STI’s.
A one-time pain during sex is not normally a cause for worry, but if pain during sexual activities is a common occurrence, then it is highly recommended that you see a health care provider. While it can be embarrassing or uncomfortable to talk about your pain, for most people this is not a lifelong concern, and getting treated can have you feeling better in no time.
When engaging in sexual activity with someone besides yourself, it’s good practice to use some method of protection to prevent pregnancy (if that’s a goal of yours) and transmission of STIs.
- External Condoms: covers the shaft of the penis or toy (have some fun with different flavors or glow-in-the-dark condoms!)
- Internal Condoms: sits inside the vaginal canal
- Dental Dams: small sheets of latex or polyurethane plastic that cover the genitals to protect you during oral sex
- The Pill: an oral contraceptive containing hormones to prevent ovulation. This is 99% effective with perfect use and 91% with typical use.
- The Implant: a rod surgically inserted into the upper arm that releases progestin to prevent ovulation. This is 99% effective.
- The Patch: looks similar to a bandaid that sticks onto your skin and delivers hormones into your bloodstream to prevent ovulation. This is 99.7% effective with perfect use and 93% effective with typical use.
- The IUD: a tiny T-shaped device inserted into the uterus by a healthcare provider to prevent ovulation. This is up to 99% effective.
- The Vaginal Ring: a flexible ring containing estrogen and progesterone that you insert into the vagina for 3 weeks at a time. This is 99.7% effective with perfect use and 93% effective with typical use.
- The Shot: an injection of hormones by a healthcare provider. This is 99.8% effective with perfect use and 87% effective with typical use.
- Emergency Contraception: a pill you can take after having unprotected sex, aka the “morning after” pill. This is between 75% and 85% effective.
If you’re looking to get started on birth control, do your research to see what fits you and your lifestyle best. Set up a meeting with your healthcare provider, and make sure to voice your birth control goals: wants, needs, questions, and concerns. From there, you will work together to find the best method for you.
It is important to remember that the birth control methods listed above do NOT protect against STIs, only pregnancy. If you don’t use barrier methods, consider participating in routine STI screenings. Getting tested is no big deal, and if you happen to test positive, it's important to know what next steps to take to keep yourself and your partner(s) healthy.
COVID-19 has affected us and our sex lives for over a year now, but those who are dealing with the stress and trauma from COVID-19 after already having suffered from sexual or relationship violence are some of those individuals being impacted the most. To read more about the connection between COVID and sexual violence, check out the guest blog post from Ariana Deherder, Violence Prevention Student Assistant with the Center for Women and Gender Equity.
Sex and the LGBTQIA+ Community
Sex education in America often excludes the teaching of LGBTQIA+ identities and relationships, leaving 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). When looking at the sexuality of the LGBTQIA+ community, it is best to use a holistic approach. This view intertwines sexual identity, gender identity, sensuality, sexual health, and more to have an encompassing perspective on the individual. We live in such a heteronormative society that sometimes we say things that negatively effect those around us unintentionally. Ways that people can be more inclusive and respectful towards the community are simple, like using “folks” instead of “ladies and gentlemen,” or using the term “partner” instead of “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.” This is all just a surface level recap, so please read our “Sex and the LGBTQIA+ Community” blog by WIT Peer Educator Beck Lukins (they/them) for an extremely comprehensive and informational post.
Sex and Disability
The World Health Organization lists three dimensions of disability: impairment, activity limitation, and participation restrictions. People with disabilities aren’t always thought of as beings with feelings outside of their disabilities, but they are not defined by their disability. There are so many myths surrounding sex and disability, such as people with disabilities can’t have sex, only have sex with each other, or that they don’t need comprehensive sexual education. But, people with disabilities are sexual and sexy people too! As an able-bodied woman I cannot speak on any experience, so here is a list of educators and influencers to follow on Instagram that have lived experiences with disability and sex:
Sexual Rights Are Human rights
Planned Parenthood uses FRIES to explain consent: Freely given, Reversible, Informed, Enthusiastic, and Specific. When it comes to sexuality, it is a human right to decide freely on all matters related to your body, as well as freedom from coercion, violence, or intimidation in all sexual encounters. The definition of sexual autonomy is that you alone have complete control over when, with who, and under what circumstances you engage in any sexual activity. Recognition that all individuals have the right to determine what’s best for themselves is key to living a safe, sexually satisfying life. Even if you decide to never engage in sexual activity, it is important to stay educated in sexual health and the rights you have because there is SO much more than the physical acts of sex. No matter what you decide to do with your sex life, its entirely up to you! Of course, when with a partner, their consent is required too. When it comes to your sexual encounters, no one knows what's best for you better than you! Self-determination over your body leads to an empowered sexual experience.
With all of this being said, we hope you have learned some valuable information, and that you continue to stay informed about sexual education. Happy summer & see you in the fall!
By: Camryn Lane, WIT Peer Educator
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 protected] , or if you are not a GVSU member you can contact me through my Instagram @beck_lukins. Cheers!