I remember the first time I learned about sex. I watched X-rated films with ridiculous, bizarre titles. Having the hots for those matinee idols and sexy stars contributed to my sexual awakening and it sent me on a confusing, spiraling journey in regards to my own sexuality.
Ultimately, I realized I made plenty of mistakes when I was younger. I learned I was putting myself at risk with improper knowledge. Now that I know better, I keep on finding ways to understand my sexuality safely.
Ignorance of health risks
Plenty of queer youth, myself included, are still struggling to navigate their sexuality and learn about sex. Conversations about it are considered taboo, often perceived as wrong or dirty when in fact, it’s a natural part of life. It’s also predominantly heteronormative.
This pushes the youth to turn to the Internet to find answers and learn about sex with the help of their friends – if you’re straight, that is. Growing up, I was the odd one out. All my friends were straight, and it didn’t help that I studied in a Catholic school.
It wasn’t till I was in my mid-20s that I found friends from the LGBTQIA+ community, where we were able to learn from each other’s experiences. There was relief in knowing that there were also other people out there who were feeling singled out throughout the years. But we still felt crestfallen.
What we’ve known back then about sex, as young queers trying to figure ourselves out, didn’t teach us the consequences.
Back then, we felt alone somehow, even when surrounded by friends – mostly cishets (someone is both cisgender and heterosexual) navigating their sexuality but with easier access because sex, for society, is only for men and women. No in-betweens.
Despite our best to conquer the divide with limited knowledge, it wasn’t enough. What we’ve known back then about sex, as young queers trying to figure ourselves out, didn’t teach us the consequences.
The mistakes manifested through unfortunate circumstances happening to our generation: Peers getting exposed to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and classmates who accidentally got pregnant early.
Aside from the obvious physical risks that my peers endured, I, on the other hand, struggled with emotional trauma. Years of therapy took place before I got in a better headspace, which inhibited my ability to form healthy relationships.
Fighting through stigma and discrimination
When I took the time to address my mental health issues and take better care of my emotional health, I started paying attention to my community. My celibacy gave me the peace of mind that I won’t get STIs, but it didn’t stop me from encouraging my peers to get tested.
There’s an alarming, increasing rate of HIV, especially for the younger demographics. Health and human rights organizations like The Red Whistle are doubling down their efforts to raise awareness and promote testing.
Benedict Bernabe, Executive Director of the Red Whistle laments the main barriers to testing such as stigma, discrimination, and prohibitive financial costs. “While HIV testing is free, testing and treatment for other STIs are not. This prevents people from getting tested. But it is really stigma and the fear of experiencing discrimination that creates the biggest barrier to accessing prevention and testing services.”
Most non-profit organizations raising HIV awareness work together with the government to offer free testing and screening. They also provide access to antiretroviral medicines that help prevent and reduce risk, as well as help in the treatment and keeping the virus under control.
The easiest preventive measure right now would be taking a Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), an FDA-approved drug that helps reduce the chances of contracting HIV.
The push for inclusive sex education
Bernabe knows it’s a long-term commitment to eradicate stigma since it requires behavior change work on a collective level. He believes there should be a program that addresses not only the young person’s concerns but also adults they would most likely interact with.
“Adults also need to be sensitive to the needs of young people so that they will be able to cater to them without young people feeling afraid that they will be judged, mocked, lectured, or made fun of,” says Bernabe.
Currently, the DepEd has rolled out the Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) program for the basic education curriculum (K-12), which includes modules on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC).
For the programs to be truly inclusive, the need for protection should encompass all identities.
But modules on SOGIESC aren’t enough. The CSE must provide positive representations of LGBTQ individuals, their romantic relationships, and familial connections.
Furthermore, the discussion about sex and protection is prominently heteronormative, what with the rising teenage pregnancy in the country. For the programs to be truly inclusive, the need for protection should encompass all identities.
Myths and stereotypes about LGBTQ+ behavior and identity must be dispelled as early as we can. It’s easier to teach new information to clueless, young individuals than reverse the preconceived notion of the adults.
Frankly, the fight for inclusive sex education doesn’t stop with rolling out the existing programs, keeping them age-appropriate and medically accurate, or expanding the topics to fully cover the broad spectrum of queer sexuality.
What’s important is for us to be vigilant in the implementation of the program, and also for laws such as the SOGIESC Equality Bill to be passed.
In the meantime, we can open our hearts and ears to provide a safe space for the queer youth. The best we can offer right now is a person they can trust and be comfortable with to talk about sex and sexuality.
When we find safety in sex, where we don’t feel judged or criticized, then we are able to experience sex more fully, discuss it more openly, and enjoy it as we’re supposed to!
A need for a safe space
The safest space we probably have right now is our circle of friends that openly talks about sex. Even for Dr. Rica Cruz, sexologist and CEO of wellness shop Unprude, it’s difficult to find a safe space for such discussions because there’s always resistance.
Her experience in starting several podcasts, and even giving sexual health advice through media companies, is always met with judgment and criticism. Unfortunately, she has been maligned, insulted, and even sexually harassed.
But the fight presses on since she believes we shouldn’t just increase conversations around sex. Rather, we should nurture the right kind of conversations – healthy, supportive, and respectful.
“If we want to create safe and supportive spaces, we need to understand that these are the direct result of understanding that our sexual needs and desires are not meant to fit into society’s boxes and expectations,” says Dr. Cruz.
The sexologist is asking people to look inwards, to ask ourselves our own biases and negative beliefs about sex. She believes the awareness of how each of us contributes to the “unsafe” space society has for sex will help us move forward to create the “safe space” we really wanted.
“When we find safety in sex, where we don’t feel judged or criticized, then we are able to experience sex more fully, discuss it more openly, and enjoy it as we’re supposed to! When we do this, we normalize not just the right kind of conversations, but we help others understand our differences, and learn to celebrate others in their uniqueness. We get to have sex on our own terms. We get to just be.”
When people feel safe, the more likely they will share and open up. So many of us have different experiences and various questions when talking about sex.
Content Creator Say Tioco, who took the leap to start talking about sexual wellness in 2020, uses her own experience to offer a safe space for people to be vulnerable.
“When people feel safe, the more likely they will share and open up. So many of us have different experiences and various questions when talking about sex,” says Tioco.
Tioco believes that people should talk more about sex, and start by opening up with their own stories. “The more people talk about it, the more awareness will be spread. The more it becomes normal to talk about.”
But the content creator believes it’s going to be an arduous battle. Currently, she can only talk about sex with no holds barred on her Spotify podcast called Ask Say The Podcast! since there are platform-specific censorships, along with discrimination from conservative people on social media.
On a collective level, we still have a long way to go. But the steps we take now, no matter how small, can help the queer youth understand sex and their sexuality without the need for a trial-and-error approach.
I wish I knew what I know now when I was younger. Maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t go through so much in order to learn.