“You want me to use a what? A dental dam? Isn’t that for dentists when they fill cavities?”
My queer friend said this to me a few years ago. We were sitting in a circle, talking about the importance of safe oral sex in a reproductive club meeting at San Francisco State University. I too wasn’t even aware of the existence of these barrier forms of protection until I was a freshman in college — a rather poor reflection of California’s lack of LGBTQ+-inclusive sex education.
To be honest, dental dams are awful. They taste abhorrent — like big blocks of rubber. Some are “flavored” in an attempt to make them more palatable, but to no surprise, they’re not. They’re really just artificially scented pieces of rubber.
Unless you have a kink for dentists and maybe the Hoover Dam, the name in and of itself is a complete turn-off. Imagine saying to your partner, “Hold on baby, let me grab a dental dam.”
Meanwhile, there are a million different styles, flavors, textures and materials of condoms. Just walk into any sex shop, and you will see a cornucopia of condoms. They even make glow-in-the-dark condoms, yet can’t seem to make a dental dam that doesn’t taste like an old tire. To me, this shows the lack of research and innovation for anything perceived to be for women or the LGBTQ+ community.
The lack of knowledge and innovation surrounding dental dams exemplifies a much larger problem in our society — the poor sex education in this country geared towards queer people. From the moment I became aware of sex, the lack of accurate and LGBTQ+ information misguided me at a time when I should have been able to make informed decisions about my sexuality and my body.
One of my earliest introductions to “sex education” was in eighth grade. My classmates and I all sat in a room together, watching a 30-minute program based on abstinence-only sex education. The video argued that sex was shameful and something meant to be only between a man and woman who were married.
This lack of information on sexuality, gender identity or even sex itself left me perplexed by queer relationships. This made me feel ashamed of my body and exploration of my sexuality. I assumed that a “proper” woman was not supposed to know, talk about or, God forbid, actually have sex. But this lack of knowledge left me with many questions, including, “How does lesbian sex work?” and, “Who plays the man in lesbian sex?”
My family reinforced this “traditional” view of sex as well — they emphasized that sex was only appropriate when it took place within the confines of marriage. I remember my mom stating that my first kiss should be to my husband when we made our “eternal vows of love and marriage.”
As a result, I was subconsciously trapped by these ideologies forced onto me. So when I started to become attracted to girls, I invalidated myself.
I was at a slumber party with a few of my girl friends in high school when we decided to play Truth or Dare (I know, so cliche, right?). My friend and I were dared by our other friend to kiss each other. We both thought it was just for fun, but my friends soon realized that I liked the situation more than I was able to consciously acknowledge.
I enjoyed the kiss with my friend, but I kept telling myself that I couldn’t actually be attracted to anyone other than a man. My heteronormative and inadequate sex education made me feel like sexual attraction was only valid between a man and a woman.
This had drastic repercussions on my life — I constantly told myself that my attraction to women was only a phase and that I would get over it. And this just got worse when I started dating.
When I was 16, I dated a boy in one of my classes. I opened up to him about my questioning attraction to women, but he hypersexualized me. He made me feel as though my attraction to women was sexy for him, but not for me — like me being with another woman was a show for the male gaze.
He belittled me for questioning my sexuality — he made me feel ashamed for thinking that I could be anything other than straight. This left me feeling inadequate and insignificant.
When he raped me, I didn’t know where to turn to.
I remained silent, ashamed of what had happened. I was in denial of my sexuality, and now I was even more confused and uncertain. My sex education wasn’t just subpar anymore — it was literally toxic. It didn’t teach me about consent or resources for survivors of sexual assault, and that spiraled me into depression.
These are some of the destructive consequences of depriving youth of medically accurate, age-appropriate and LGBTQ+ sex education. I can only wonder how differently my coming of age would have been if I was informed rather than deprived.