Scarleteen, Doing 'Queer Sex Ed For All' since 1998

In 2019, a handful of sex⁠ education organizations decided to rebrand what had previously been a month focused on teen pregnancy⁠ prevention, crowning May, instead, Sex Ed For All Month, something other organizations and some members of government in the states have since recognized each year. This week, we at Scarleteen, with the folks over at EducateUS, are reflecting on, specifially, “Queer Sex Ed For All” as a mission, a slogan and rallying-cry which originated with us in 2017.

We're big proponents of broader access to comprehensive sex education and no strangers to the fact that getting even the most basic, bare-bones accurate sex ed into certain places can be a massive struggle. However, here we believe in not just Sex Ed for All, but Queer Sex Ed For All.

Before ‘Sex Ed For All’ was a thing, our founder Heather and artist-in-residence (and also fundraising event coordinator extraordinaire) Isabella Rotman were working on some fundraising, and Queer Sex Ed For All felt like one of the simplest descriptions of how we do and think about sex education at Scarleteen.

What does Queer Sex Ed For All mean?

It means a lot of things! It means that everything we do here is informed by queer⁠ frameworks of sex, sexuality, relationships and identity⁠ , rather than by cis- heteronormativity⁠ or comphet (compulsory heterosexuality), something nearly all sex education in the West has been based on, and that even today, still limits a good deal of sex education, especially school-based sex ed.

Doing it this way is pretty easy for us since we've been queer-founded and queer-led from the start. We’re not trying to create inclusivity from the outside in. It starts here from the inside out⁠ . Queer Sex Ed For All means sex ed created mostly by and always at least for queer people. A quick glance at queer history shows us that this is no accident.

So, how we think about all of sex & sexuality is queer, how we think about education is queer and our queerness deepens our understanding of the world in which we work. This is what we at Scarleteen offer in our services so that everyone can benefit from it.

Queer Sex Ed For All means that instead of putting one orientation (because heterosexuality is just one  of many orientations) at the center of everything, or as a default, we start and stay with the idea that human sexuality, bodies, and relationships don’t have defaults or universal norms, but instead, great diversity. We feel and have always felt that this starting point is something that benefits all of our users, readers and others we provide information and services to, whatever their identities. That includes those who are cisgender⁠ and heterosexual⁠ , who too benefit from information and ways of thinking about sex, relationships and their bodies that allow them more freedom to explore rather than being told, or being given limited and rigid options or boxes.

What can queerness at the heart of sex education and related help services look like in practice?

Queer frameworks of sex are most often highly expansive, inclusive, and community-minded, and that’s certainly what we have always aimed for in our nearly twenty-five years of doing this work. Some ways we implement QSE4A in the services we provide include:

  • Talking about sex, sexuality and relationships as places or vehicles of pleasure, intimacy, personal expression and community rather than as routes to reproduction or a single type of “acceptable” relationship⁠ (usually marriage).
  • Being inclusive and expansive in our approach to all arenas that affect our lives and those of our community such as race and culture, disability and diverse embodiment, relationship roles, economics, family structures, and trauma⁠ . This ensures that sex education and information is both accessible and useful for as many people as possible.
  • Teaching outside, and sometimes in opposition to, cis-heteronormative and heterosexual or patriarchal roles, frameworks and ideas.
  • Teaching young people that sex is more than (and sometimes not at all!) genital intercourse⁠ , and that love and intimacy are things that can happen in far more than just marriage, sex or romance.
  • Exposing the dangers and biggest pitfalls of things like sexism⁠ , comphet and white supremacy including the normalization of sexual⁠ or domestic violence and lack of real consent⁠ , or the push for simplistic milestones as the only ways to validate a relationship.
  • Finally, encouraging curiosity and exploration rather than treating sex as a forbidden topic that people should only think about when they absolutely have to, because human sexuality is a vast, colorful, fascinating category. Learning more about that diversity not only helps people better understand their own identities and desires, but also equips them with the knowledge that other people having wildly different identities, experiences, and desires isn’t something to be afraid of. It’s something to embrace.

We could go on, but this is a blog post and not Queer Sex Ed: The Novel so we’ll leave you with an invitation: This week, we’ll be sharing content, old and new, that highlights the ways in which ‘Queer Sex Ed For All’ helps all, and ways in which you can embrace and implement it in your life and community. We hope you’ll join us.

Queer Sex Ed For All logo designed by Isabella Rotman and Heather Corinna