Natalia Young is a writer for Teen Voices, the global girl news site and mentoring program of Women’s eNews. NCYL interviewed Natalia about her work on the piece “Teens Say More LGBTQ+ Sex Ed Would be Really Helpful“.
1) What made you interested in working on this piece? What drew you into the topic of sex ed and the LGBTQ+ community?
What really got me thinking about this piece was a meeting that I had with my editor. We were talking about potential pieces for me to write, and ended up agreeing on a story about the amount of sexual freedom that LGBTQ+ teens have in contrast with their straight peers. But after conducting interviews with some girls, both my editor and I noticed a pattern in their answers; while they did appreciate the freedom they had, the girls wished for guidance and direction in their sexual encounters, which was something they didn’t feel they were getting in their schools (from Texas to Pennsylvania). After noticing this, we decided to to shift the focus to what seemed to be the real problem taking shape for teens in this community who felt like they didn’t have a safe place to get the information that straight kids often take for granted.
2) What personal questions did you have that you were trying to answer while working on this piece? Did you find those answers? What did you learn from this experience?
Going into this piece, my questions were mainly about the experiences that my sources had with sexual freedom. However, this topic took a different route when I learned how little guidance they had as “sexual minorities”. I think my biggest question was really pretty broad- I just wanted to know what kind of sex ed they felt would benefit and guide them the most. After all, you can’t take action towards fixing a problem if you don’t know what the end goal is, right?
3) What about working on the piece challenged your thoughts and assumptions about teen sexual health, sexual education, and the LGBTQ+ community?
It definitely was never apparent to me that LGBTQ+ teens had such pressing desires for sex ed as opposed to straight teens, or how seriously those desires should be taken. It just never crossed my mind- it seems like kids never take high school health classes seriously (even the way these classes are portrayed in the media– think about that scene in Mean Girls where the gym teacher puts a condom on that banana…). But after working on this piece, I started to think about how problematic it is that such an important class (health/sex ed) has a stereotype for being the class that teens make fun of. This piece definitely gave me clarity regarding sexual education, and made me realize that it’s time public schools change their health curricula by implementing programs that will inform teens in areas where they actually want information.
4) In your work with your peers, what experiences of theirs struck you the most? What surprised you the most?
What struck me the most is how much they were affected by something that I and my straight peers really take for granted. I can remember all the “milestone” moments in our sex ed careers (many of which involved visual presentations, from Wonder of Wonders to a live birthing video).
We dreaded these things, we made desperate jokes about eating lollipops to try and make ourselves feel less awkward, we shrunk in our seats when asked if we had any questions (or, in the case of some boys in the sixth grade, shot our hands up high, just waiting to make an immature joke).
Meanwhile, there are plenty of students who never have and never will receive this kind of full disclosure about how they can safely be sexual. They don’t have the opportunity to ask questions. They don’t even have the opportunity to dread awkward yet informative sex presentations. Realizing this really took me aback, and made me think about how long we’ve all been hearing the same things. We could practically recite the information they’ve been feeding us for the past 5 years on straight sex, but anything that deviates from this specific education is pretty much uncharted territory.
5) What do you think still needs to be done to reduce the stigma around LGBTQ+ sex education? What strategies can improve sex education for teens both in and out of the LGBTQ+ community? Have you seen strategies that work? That don’t work? Please describe.
I think the key issue with “LGBTQ+ sex ed” is the fact that we feel the need to separate this concept from conventional sex ed. In every interview I conducted, with both teens and experts, “inclusive” was the word for the type of sex ed they’re striving for. Basically, LGBTQ+ matters should be incorporated into the “normal” curriculums that schools currently follow. This way, (1) it isn’t awkward for teens who identify as LGBTQ+ to be singled out (like, “okay, anyone who isn’t straight, today’s lesson is just for you!”) and (2) all students can be exposed to information that will ensure their health and safety, no matter what the circumstance.
Many high schoolers do not have a concrete sexuality- while they may feel that they’re straight, queer, etc, they can only have so much experience by the time they’re a late teenager (for example, I feel that I’m definitely straight, yet I’ve never been on a date or had a significant other). A teen may discover, through an experience later on down the road, that they identify with a sexuality they didn’t even understand in high school. By having inclusive sex ed, it’s possible to provide students with the knowledge to make healthy choices early on in their experimental years, ensuring that exploration of sexual identity don’t have to be risky.
6) Having worked on this piece, what are your thoughts or advice for other teens on how to access sexual health education if they can’t get it in school? Did you find any useful resources you want to share? What would you tell a friend or a loved one to do if they were struggling with questions around LGBTQ+ sex ed?
I think different things work for different people. One source said she liked watching Laci Green’s YouTube videos; another said IMPACT, a simple Google search (ah! see how this can be problematic?), and talking to her brother, who was bi, helped her through some challenges and questions she faced.
If someone I knew was having any troubles around their sexuality, I would definitely offer myself up to talk. I think that’s one of the most important things a person can do in any situation. Even if you might not have the specific answers that the person is looking for, just giving support and advice has some value. Through the research that I did conduct, I was exposed to more websites based around sexual health (both LGBTQ+ specific and otherwise) than I could count. I also found out that many communities have youth health centers or youth initiatives (visit our Resources Map to find centers and programs in California).
7) What did you hope to accomplish with this piece? What do you want to see change in the future of LGBTQ+ sex ed?
I hope that this piece opened up readers’ eyes and minds to the fact that the lack of LGBTQ+ sex ed is a very real, very serious issue. I think because of prejudice that still exists around any sexuality that isn’t straight, it can be daunting to try and sort out a curriculum to cater to the needs of all teens. This is especially true when you consider the amount of gender and sexual orientation identities such as trans, pan, asexual, androgynous etc., which can seem overwhelming to older generations.
But that’s no excuse not to strive for progress! I think that this article makes it pretty clear that LGBTQ+ teens have a good idea of what they want in terms of their sexual education. If adults who can make a change catch onto this, and combine the actual needs of students with the understanding of experts, I think an inclusive curriculum is totally attainable. We need to completely push the concept of “LGBTQ+” sex ed out of our minds, and instead focus on sex ed that will do what its name suggests: teach about sex, for everyone.
You can learn more about maintaining a health and happy relationship by visiting our Sex and Relationships section in the Youth Legal Guide.