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Sex Ed for Adults: A Queer-Positive Guide to Sexual Health

Sex educator Cassandra Corrado provides all the LGBTQ sex ed she wishes somebody had told her sooner.

Sex Ed for Adults: A Queer-Positive Guide to Sexual Health Image

When I was a teenager, the sex education that I got was really bad. Not just your usual “three days of lecturing during my entire high school career” bad, but so insufficient that we were never even shown a condom. 

Of course, my bad experience wasn’t exceptional, it was the norm — and sadly still is. Most students receive inadequate sex education, and many receive outright harmful sex ed. And while more and more sex education curricula are being updated to include positive representations of LGBTQ people (and relevant information for queer folks), many still don’t. 

When I first came out, I had to learn about queer sex by actually just…having sex. In the long-term, that worked out for me — I became curious, got an internship at a sex ed organization, and fast-forward 10 years to me working full-time as a sex educator. 

So, here’s an abridged version of everything I wish I had known before I came out and started having sex. I’ve touched on pleasure and relationships, and provide details on queer-specific STI prevention. (And for the record, many hetero/cis folks might learn something too.) I hope it helps you feel more safe, secure, and comfortable with you who are and a little more well-prepared in your sex life. 

Must-Know: Orientation =/= Behavior

It may seem counterintuitive to say that “there’s no such thing as gay sex” in a guide about queer sex, but it’s true. For people of any sexual orientation, there are many different options available on a sexual menu and none of them are only available to people of a particular sexual orientation, and none of them are inherently better than any of the others. Just for starters:

  • Straight, cisgender men can enjoy being the receptive partner during anal play. 
  • Transgender men can enjoy receptive vaginal sex. 
  • Straight, cisgender women may enjoy strapping on for their partner. 

No sex act is exclusive to people of a particular gender or sexual orientation, and when we accept that anyone can enjoy any particular thing, we open ourselves up to many more opportunities for pleasure while also reducing our own judgment (both self-judgment and judgment of others). 

So if you feel like you aren’t “__________ enough” because you don’t like a particular thing or because you do like something, let go of that belief. You’re _________ enough just as you are. 

On that note, the vast majority of this guide is going to be written focused around the behaviors that you do and the body parts that you have. Other than that, I’m not going to make any assumptions about your gender and sexual orientation. Why? Re-read those first couple of paragraphs. 

Relationships

There are many different types of relationships and as long as everyone involved is fully aware and consenting to the relationship structure, they’re all valid! 

Whether you’re single and mingling, happily monogamous, or building the polycule of your dreams, you deserve respect, openness, and fairness in your relationships and in your sex life. While you might imagine unhealthy or abusive relationships as being exclusively heterosexual or that only women can be abused, none of that is true. 

Unhealthy or abusive relationships can happen between people of any gender or sexual orientation, and people of any gender or sexual orientation can be abusers. That isn’t just physical abuse, either. Emotional and financial abuse are also key areas to be aware of. 

And if someone threatens to “out” you to people who don’t know about your gender or sexual orientation, that’s manipulation and can be used as a technique to make you stay in an unhealthy relationship. You deserve to set your own boundaries around who knows about your sexual orientation and gender (as well as any other part of your life). Some important information and resources:

Toys & Tools

Sex toys might be considered “novelty” items in the global market, but for many people, they aren’t novelties — they’re essential tools. 

People use sex toys for a variety of reasons, like:

  • To more efficiently reach orgasm
  • As a sexual aide for people who have physical disabilities
  • To affirm their gender 
  • As tools for sexual exploration
  • To regain control of pleasure after trauma
  • As a way of reclaiming pleasure when coping with pelvic pain

There’s no wrong reason to use sex toys, whether you’re using them on your own or with a partner. Regardless of why you’re using a sex toy, you should know a few critical things.

Material Safety

Sex toys are made of many different materials, but they’re not all non-toxic and body-safe. Look for options made out of 100% silicone, borosilicate glass, ABS plastic, or stainless steel. All are easily sanitized and don’t contain materials that will break down and off-gas (which isn’t great for your body, to put it briefly). 

Cleaning

The easiest way to keep your toys clean is by washing them with hot water and unscented soap, keeping clear of any battery compartments or electrical components. Even if you use a barrier method with your toy or are only using it on your own, you should still wash it afterward. Of course, there are other ways to keep your toys clean, too. And if you don’t have a sink where you can privately wash your toys, here’s how to do it on the DL

Keeping sex toys and tools (like stand-to-pee packers) clean is important because it reduces the amount of bacteria on the toy and keeps it in good working use for longer. Plus, toys can actually hold onto and transmit STIs if not cleaned properly. So, if you’re sharing your toys with others, proper toy hygiene is extra-important. 

Consent

You have the right to use the toys and tools that help you feel comfortable in your body and like pleasurable sex is within reach. But, your partner also has the right to say no to using anything that they don’t want to or aren’t comfortable with. 

Before you bring a toy into the bedroom, have a conversation at the dinner table (or out on a walk or in any other neutral place) about toys, boundaries, and sexual desire. It’ll be worth it, I promise. 

Hormones

People of all genders take hormone treatments for many different reasons. People with vaginas might take hormonal birth control to prevent pregnancy, reduce the likelihood of ovarian cysts, or to regulate their menstrual cycle. Menopausal people with vaginas might take estradiol to cope with some of their symptoms. People with penises might take testosterone (T) if they have low T, and transgender men might take testosterone supplements to affirm their gender. 

Hormone treatments are incredibly common, but they aren’t without sexual side effects. In this section we’ll be focusing on some of the sexual side effects of taking hormones as part of a gender-affirming medical plan. 

Here are a few to know about (and to talk with your doctor about if they become problematic). 

For transmasculine folks taking testosterone…

  • Increased level of sexual desire
  • Clitoral growth and increased sensitivity
  • Shifts in who you are attracted to 
  • Spotting
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Vaginal atrophy 
  • Remember: Though the chances are reduced, it is still possible to become pregnant while taking T, even if you don’t menstruate often or ever. If you’re engaging in receptive vaginal/front hole play and want to avoid pregnancy, talk with your doctor about appropriate birth control and barrier method options. 

Additionally, if you’ve had top surgery, you may experience a loss or decrease in nipple sensation.

For transfeminine folks using estrogen…

  • Shift in level of sexual desire
  • Shifts in who you are attracted to
  • Fewer erections or erectile difficulty
  • Potential reduction in sperm count (potentially permanent)
  • Orgasms may feel different
  • Remember: Though your sperm count may reduce, it is still possible to get someone pregnant while taking estrogen supplements. If you want to avoid pregnancy, talk with your doctor and partner about options. 

Additionally, if you’ve had bottom surgery, it’s important to continue working with your doctor and pelvic care team to ensure that your pelvic floor heals adequately and that you’re able to engage in pleasurable vaginal sex, if you want to. 

Sex Ed Update: HIV

As you probably know, HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus; it’s a retrovirus that affects the body’s immune system. What you might not know: HIV is now a manageable condition and people with HIV live long and healthy lives, as long as they get tested and treated. And while there’s a prevalent belief that HIV only affects gay men, that’s stigma and misinformation at work — people of any gender or sexual orientation get HIV. 

PrEP & PEP

While condoms and other barrier methods are an important tools for preventing STIs (a lot more on that below), there’s another option for HIV prevention: The daily pill PrEP. PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis, and it’s a type of medication that HIV-negative people can take to stay HIV-negative (there are currently two FDA-approved options, Truvada and Descovy). PEP is post-exposure prophylaxis, a medication regimen you can take in an urgent situation if you are worried you may have been exposed to HIV (it’s available in most emergency departments and clinics). 

PrEP can be taken by people of any gender or sexual orientation because people of any gender or sexual orientation can get HIV. You may experience some mild side effects during the first month of taking PrEP, but they usually go away after that. 

U=U

This is big news for HIV-positive people and their partners. With the treatment options that are available today, HIV can become undetectable in an HIV-positive person’s body. When HIV is undetectable, it’s also untransmittable, meaning an HIV-positive person won’t pass the virus along to their partners. Undetectable=untransmittable

Condoms and Beyond: Barrier Methods 

People use barrier methods to reduce the risk of transmitting STIs (sexually transmitted infections) and to reduce the risk of getting pregnant. While some STIs are more easily transmitted during certain types of sex, STI transmission is possible with every partnered sex act regardless of the body parts involved. 

When most of us think of barrier methods, we think of external condoms — a tube commonly made out of latex, nitrile, or polyurethane that rolls down over a penis or sex toy to create a barrier between it and another person’s body. 

External condoms are widely available from gas stations to high-end clothing retailers, and they tend to be more affordable (many health clinics even provide them for free). But they’re not the only type of barrier method that exists, and external condoms don’t fit the bill for every type of sex that people might be having. 

Some things are true of all barrier methods, though. 

  • You should never open the packaging for a barrier method with your teeth or scissors. Use both hands if you are able or ask for help.
  • Always check for tears or holes before you use them. 
  • Keep your barrier methods in a room temperature place, not in your car or somewhere else hot (or extremely cold). 
  • When possible, store your barrier methods in a case so that they can’t get accidentally popped or punctured. 
  • Latex barrier methods are not compatible with oil-based lubricants — they’ll degrade the latex and make it break.

Let’s dive into some options and why you might want to use each. 

Dental Dams

Dental dams are sheets of material (typically 5 inches by 7 inches, though some are larger) and are usually made out of nitrile, though sometimes they’re made out of latex. They’re also typically flavored because they’re used for certain types of oral sex (and yes, they’re also used for some dental procedures). 

You might use a dental dam if you’re engaging in cunnilingus (oral sex on a vulva), analingus (oral sex on an anus), or if you want to create a barrier between a vulva or an anus when you’re using certain types of toys on them, like wand vibrators. 

They prevent bodily fluids (like saliva, vaginal fluids, or fecal matter) from being shared between partners. Dental dams also reduce the risk of transmitting HPV or Herpes because they reduce skin-to-skin contact. 

Dental dams aren’t easily found in major retailers, so you’d be best off ordering them online. In a pinch, you could also use food-grade plastic wrap, like Saran wrap. Just make sure that it doesn’t have any tears in it. 

To properly use a dental dam, first lubricate the body part it’s going to be placed upon. Then, lay the dental dam down over the body part. You want to make sure it’s covering everything it needs to be, but you don’t want to be pulling it tight or stretching it — that makes it more likely to break and also reduces sensation for the receiving partner. If you’re using a dental dam for oral sex, you may want to lubricate the licking side, too. Use a new dental dam for every sex act and when you’re done, throw it in the trash. 

Internal Condoms

Internal condoms are commonly known as “female condoms”, but we’re going to be calling them internal condoms instead. That’s because you don’t have to be female to use an internal condom. You can use them vaginally or anally (more on how to do that safely in a moment).  

In the United States, there’s only one brand of internal condom available, and that’s the FC2. It’s also available only by prescription, which means your insurance might pay for it (yay!) but also that if you don’t have insurance, it’s harder to get ahold of (sigh). Still, you may be able to get internal condoms for free at your local health clinic or Planned Parenthood. 

Internal condoms are pouches that are designed to fit loosely inside of the body with some of the condom remaining on the outside of the body. This allows for some additional coverage of the vulva or external anal area, which can reduce the transmission risk of HPV and Herpes. The FC2 internal condom is made out of nitrile, which makes it safe for people who have latex allergies. They can also be inserted into the vagina a few hours before use, which is nifty. 

I recommend practicing inserting and removing the internal condom before you use it with a partner (or practice with your partner) because getting the ring to sit properly on the pubic bone can be tricky at first. 

  • To insert an internal condom into the vagina, make sure the plastic ring has dropped all the way in to the closed end of the pouch. 
  • Pinch the ring so that it’s a tight oval. 
  • From a sitting or squatting position, insert the pouch (ring-end first) into the vagina. You want to push it back so that it’s near your pubic bone (about 2-3 knuckles deep). 
  • Make sure that the pouch isn’t twisted and that the outer ring is open and covering the vulva. 

FC2 offers instructions with diagrams here. People may use internal condoms for vaginal sex or for anal sex, but if you plan to use it anally, you’ll first need to remove the hard plastic inner ring and pay extra attention to ensure that the exterior ring remains outside of your body.

External Condoms

External condoms are what you can easily find at a drugstore, gas station, or pretty much any major retailer. While you may just think of them as going over a penis,they can also be used for many different sex acts — vaginal sex, anal sex, oral sex on a penis, handjobs, as a barrier method over smaller sex toys, and adapted to be a dental dam for other types of oral sex. 

External condoms are most commonly made of latex, but many people are allergic to latex (even mildly). So, if you sometimes experience discomfort or irritation after sex with a latex condom, try using a different material (like polyurethane or nitrile) and see if that makes a difference. 

You can also buy external condoms made from animal membranes (literally from lamb cecum, which is located in the large intestine), but they don’t protect against STIs, only pregnancy. 

Additionally, external condoms come in many different sizes and shapes, so if you’ve ever felt discomfort while wearing a condom, try a different fit. One Condoms has a sample sizing program, as does Lucky Bloke

To use an external condom, first put a drop of lubricant into the reservoir tip (even if it’s pre-lubricated). Then, pinch the tip of the condom and place it onto the penis or toy that you are using (you pinch the tip to get any excess air out). Then, gently roll it down over whatever you’re putting it on. Make sure to lubricate on the outside of the condom, too, and also on the body part that will be receiving it. Basically, lube everything.

Make sure to use a new external condom for each new sex act. When you’re all done, carefully remove it, twisting (or tying) the shaft of the condom to catch any ejaculated fluids, and throw it away in the trash.  

Gloves & Finger Cots

In this context, “gloves” doesn’t mean your winter mittens — it’s powder-free medical exam gloves. I recommend using nitrile gloves, but you can also use latex gloves if you or someone you’re having sex with doesn’t have any latex sensitivities. 

You might wear gloves during sex if… 

  • you’re fingering someone vaginally or playing with their clit and vulva
  • you’re fingering someone anally
  • you’re giving someone a handjob and want easy clean-up
  • you want to protect your manicure (and your partner from your manicure)
  • you’re into medical play
  • and really, for any reason why you would want your hands to be protected 

Finger cots serve the same purpose, but you only put them on one or two fingers at a time. That can be useful if you’re not planning on involving your whole hand in a particular sex act (like anal fingering). 

Like any other barrier method, make sure your gloves fit properly (aren’t too loose or too tight) and don’t reuse them for different sex acts. Add lubricant to the outside of the glove to keep your touch smooth and comfortable, and when you’re all done, grab the outside band by your wrist and pull it off, turning the glove inside out. This ensures that no bodily fluids touch your hand. Repeat that motion with your other glove. 

If you have long nails (acrylic or natural) you may want to add an additional layer of protection to avoid accidentally puncturing your glove. Before you put the glove on, make sure your nails are thoroughly cleaned. Then, use small pieces of cotton to fill in the area underneath your nail and wrap the loose cotton over the sharp or long tip of your nail. Put your well-fitted glove on over. When you’re all done, make sure to thoroughly remove the cotton. 

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The Bottom Line

So that’s just the start of what I wish I had been taught about queer sex before I began having it. Queer sexual health and pleasure is a vast and multi-faceted world, and we’ve only begun to scratch the surface. Have more questions? You can submit them anonymously to Questions@nurx.com! In the meantime, I’m wishing you a pleasurable pride month. 

 

About the Author

Cassandra Corrado is an independent sex educator who teaches at colleges and universities across the United States. Formerly a victim advocate, she mostly teaches on topics related to un/healthy relationships, violence prevention, LGBTQ+ health, and sexual pleasure.

 

This blog pro­vides infor­ma­tion about telemed­i­cine, health and related sub­jects. The blog content and any linked materials herein are not intended to be, and should not be con­strued as a substitute for, med­ical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or treatment. Any reader or per­son with a med­ical con­cern should con­sult with an appropriately-licensed physi­cian or other healthcare provider. This blog is provided purely for informational purposes. The views expressed herein are not sponsored by and do not represent the opinions of Nurx™.

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