First venturing into the world of sex and relationships is daunting no matter your sexuality. However, being a young queer woman trying to navigate the world of sex and relationship was no easy task. This navigation was made more difficult by the wildly heteronormative sex education I received in school.
Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) was the government policy taught in maintained English schools between 2000-2019. A policy that stressed the importance of marriage as the appropriate context for sex, during a time same sex marriage was not legal in the UK (same sex marriage was legalised in 2013). A policy where the idea of procreation was the focus of sex rather than sex for pleasure, again, leaving a same sex couple out of the narrative. So, whilst the policy never told me that I was in the wrong, it didn’t do much to convince me I was in the right for wanting to be with another woman.
Throughout my time at school I was adamant I was ‘straight’. Desperate to be normal like every other teenager around me, I supressed my feelings and put on my most heterosexual face. Like for many queer people, a BAFTA deserving performance was put on, fooling everyone, even myself. My school’s SRE only helped to perpetuate my internalised homophobia. To put this simply, I denied the fact I was gay because being a gay woman was not even mentioned as an option. We put the condom on a banana and regardless of your gender, it did imply that sex involved a penis, completely erasing any ideas that sex can exist without one. Ironically, this rendered the majority of my sex education useless because funnily enough, putting a condom on a banana was not helpful in my first sexual encounter (mainly because neither of us had a banana). It wasn’t until I was aged 21 that I found out what a dental dam (a flexible sheet used to create a barrier between the mouth and the vulva/ anus when performing oral sex) was whilst doing research for my undergraduate dissertation.
This is by no means a singular experience, through anecdotal evidence and interviews for my undergraduate dissertation I found that many queer young people had experienced similar things. More publicly, Florence Given, author of Women don’t owe you pretty, discusses this in her book, with a chapter entitled ‘Maybe it’s a girl crush, maybe you’re queer’. Thankfully by the time of reading her book I had figured out that it was more than a girl crush and I was in fact just queer.
Despite all this, I still managed to figure out I was queer when I finally kissed a girl on a drunken night out and it hit me that, whilst bananas are lovely fruits, they’re not what I want to be taking home at the end of the night.
By Holly Mills