If anything in this life is certain, it certainly isn’t the state of Canada’s sexual education. For the last couple of years, our sex-ed curriculum has been vulnerable to changes decided by whichever government is in power at any given moment.
Most vulnerable to those changes has been the LGBTQ+ branch of sex-ed, which, in Ontario, was thrown into flux in 2018 as the PC government took office and social conservatives lobbied for the inclusion-focused Liberal curriculum to be effectively undone. (Many took issue with the new focus on gender identity, masturbation, and references to anal intercourse.)
It was undone, and the document reverted to what was being taught back in 1998.
Watch: How easy is it for an educator to include LGBTQ+ experiences in their sex education? Story continues below.
Now, Ontario’s sex-ed curriculum has been revised again, so that most of the features of the Liberal system, though shuffled around, remain the same — sexual orientation will now be taught in Grade 5, gender identity in Grade 8 — with the added option for parents to exempt their children entirely from certain units of the curriculum.
Across the country, though, it’s still a largely inconsistent subject. As pointed out in The Walrus’ “Sex Ed: Beyond the Classroom” series from late 2018, the national sex-ed system is “mired with ambiguity and subjectivity, where many subjects” — like gender identity and sexual orientation — “are left to educators’ discretion and interpretation.”
In other words, the sexual health of certain groups has been left up to the whims of educators, while others have been prioritized. Subjects like consent, gender fluidity and sexual orientation have not been mandatory teachings, an arrangement that has left many LGBTQ+ identifying students in the dark about their bodies, their sexualities, and, plain and simple, how to have sex (nevermind safely).
With all of this in mind, and understanding the importance of extending sexual education to all students, here’s a list of LGBTQ+ focused sex-ed resources that can help LGBTQ+ kids learn to navigate their sexual worlds. (And can help straight, cisgender peers learn something, too, and fine tune their sense of empathy.)
1. Autostraddle’s “Sex and Relationships” essays
Autostraddle is a progressively feminist website that focuses primarily on women, and it does so with a smart, provocative and hilarious lens. Not only is it fun to read, but it takes its readers seriously, with a goal of helping women feel good about themselves, as well as striving for equality and visibility for all marginalized groups.
2. Teen Health Source
Teen Health Source is a website created by Planned Parenthood Toronto, and is a massive reservoir of sexual health information run by and for youth.
It has information on everything from comprehensive guides to terminology around sexuality and gender identity — what is “genderqueer,” what is “questioning” — to understanding the distinction between sexuality and gender.
It also has articles on ways to be an ally, how to know when you’re ready to have sex, how to care for yourself after an abortion, and answers/facts about masturbation.
3. Killer and a Sweet Thing
Killer and a Sweet Thing is great because it doesn’t feel academic, or didactic. It functions as a kind of blog-style sexual diary, and the website prioritizes readers of every gender, racial, sexual, and socioeconomic identity.
“Here, we write about sex and all the other things we are told not to talk about — but desperately need to know,” the site’s “about” page reads.
Articles about taking nudes and having orgasms solidify Killer and a Sweet Thing’s goal to help youth pass safely through coming of age issues, by way of compelling personal stories that resist “the forces that tell you to feel ashamed.” (There are also blogs on healthy use of social media, access to PrEP, and abortion.)
Scarleteen has been around since 1998, and acts as a sort of queer older sibling — it’s owned and operated by LGBTQ+ people — who has all the advice you need about sex, sexual health, and sexuality.
In fact, there’s an excellent column on the site specifically dedicated to advice, where you can submit your questions — like, say, “How do I ask for lube?” — and someone will respond with a long and thoughtful answer that is guaranteed to make anyone feel less confused.
It’s a good place for people to go if they have an ultra-particular concern and they don’t know where to go to get it answered.
5. Teen Vogue’s “Sex and Relationships” vertical
Teen Vogue pivoted its editorial strategy in late 2016 — a change that prompted many to speculate about its new position in the culture as an arbiter of important conversations.
The website still includes fashion and culture and lifestyle content, but it also has a vertical about identity, which is broken into sections about health, sex and relationships, wellness, and others.
It’s a realistic snapshot of youth culture, and uses topics that young people are interested in to explore larger questions about sex and wellness. Some recent topics they explored include: how to have safe oral sex, why being gay isn’t “emasculating,” and how to navigate gender dysphoria during sex.
6. Healthline’s “LGBTQIA Safe Sex Guide”
The great thing about Healthline’s LGBTQ+ sex guide is its understanding of the gaps in sex education, and its conscious efforts to fill them.
The site worked with GLSEN (an LGBTQ+ education organization) and Advocates for Youth in order to ensure its safe sex guide understands “the nuanced, complex, and diverse gender identities, sexual orientation, attractions, and experiences that exist in our world.”
The result is an expansive, sensitive look at topics that, in a classroom, might be discussed with an awkward and flinching valence: how to have safe sex with toys, what are the different types of sex queer people can have, how to have it safely, methods of protection, ways to talk about existing STIs, etc.
7. Safe Zone Project
This one’s more for educators to use if they want to work on their sex-ed curricula. The Safe Zone Project is a free online resource that offers trainings and lessons on sexuality, gender, and LGBTQ+ education, and a perfect starting point for educators — including parents — to plan out how to prime students to have LGBTQ+ inclusive conversations.
8. Brazen: Trans Women Safer Sex Guide
The Trans Women Safer Sex Guide guide was actually created by Morgan M. Page, who was the trans community services coordinator at The 519 Church Street Community Centre in Toronto. It’s Canada’s first safer sex resource for trans sex workers and trans women, and offers an in-depth look at subjects like disclosure, negotiating condoms and dams, as well as various subtopics on different ways to have sex.
9. OUT Magazine
OUT Magazine has been around since 1992, and is one of the few queer-focused magazines out there. Its recent new appointments have completely reinvigorated the publication as a site for young people to consult if they’re looking for sex-related information, as well as more fun stuff.
While there isn’t a specific vertical for sex (pro-tip: there is a tag), there are various pieces that offer critical information on things like how to have healthier, safer sex while bottoming (including, importantly, how to treat anal fissures), lots of thoughtful articles about porn, and various pieces on anything from glory holes and sex parties to cruising and sex panic. (Additionally, there’s a fun advice column by John Paul Brammer.)
10. Sex, Etc.
Sex, Etc. is another for-teens-by-teens venture (FTBT?) that has a mission to improve teen sexual health across the United States.
There are forums where teens can have moderated discussions with each other about sex, as well as detailed, necessary information about HIV/AIDS and other STDs (subjects which are easily obfuscated by myths passed between teens).
There is also sex education for people with disabilities, and various stories about asexuality, how to talk to health care providers, and the low-down on same-sex prom dates.
In the event that a static webpage isn’t enough, Okayso is a mobile app that can be used to instantly connect youth with friendly experts they might not be able to reach any other way. These include health educators, researchers, teachers, sex workers, and, in general, people “who have been there and want to share their experiences.” (The experts are vetted by the app’s staff, to ensure anyone using it is going to get the support they need.)
The objective is to facilitate conversations about sex, dating and identity, and to have an actual person to talk to, who can help demystify things that may feel uncomfortable to discuss with, say, friends or family.
Some of the common topics include identity, anatomy, the “hows” and “whens” and “whys” of sex, as well as one-on-one conversations with college students.