Gay sex education is still not mandatory in UK schools. For Adult Sex Ed Month, Fuck.com asked writer Alex Hopkins to revisit his own sex education and look at how things have changed for gay men. 
 

My first sex education lesson at school was a disaster. As the Biology teacher pointed out the Labia Major on the whiteboard, I started to feel queasy. As he delved deeper into the vulva, I was overcome with dizziness. By the time he was jabbing fiercely at the clitoris with his stick, I’d hastily made my excuses and left the room. 

I should point out; it had nothing to do with being repulsed by female genitalia: anything concerned with the inner workings of the body provoked such an extreme reaction in me. It was all rather embarrassing – and of course, gave the other kids further grounds on which to make my life hell. 

By the second sex education lesson, Mr Slimy Biology Teacher had reached the inside of the womb. It went marginally better, but it was also when the vicious jibes about gay sex began. Pointing angrily to the rectum, Mr Slimy Biology Teacher turned his nose up and remarked that “homosexuals” (he pronounced the word with searing contempt) used “the wrong hole as the entrance”, prompting guffaws of laughter.

Four years later, after having a nervous breakdown and taking an overdose, I came out. I had known that I was gay ever since those first sex education lessons. My father used to laugh whenever he saw a gay man on the TV. Everywhere I looked I saw hostility directed towards gay people. I felt completely alone, and every time I contemplated coming out to one of my three friends, I remembered the nodding heads when Mr Slimy Biology Teacher had dismissed gay men as “sick perverts”. 

I grew up in the 1980s; the Margaret Thatcher era and the decade of AIDS. At school, the “promotion” of homosexuality was illegal under 1988’s Section 28 of the local government Act, which referred to homosexuality as “a pretended family relationship”. I grew up believing that there was something intrinsically wrong with me.

An example of a leaflet targeting gay men in the 1980's. 
An example of a leaflet targeting gay men in the 1980's. 
 

Sex shame
 

I know a bit about sex shame. For at least a decade almost every sexual encounter I had involved alcohol. I learnt about the mechanics of sex in saunas and cruising grounds and by doing a porn film when I was 20-years-old. I didn’t think about it or talk to others about it, I just learnt on the job. Porn as my apprenticeship. Sometimes I still think it sounds glamorous, other times I remember how I was used. 

The net result of all of this is that Intimacy was not something I could comprehend; even now I struggle with it. Is there something wrong with me? Sometimes I think so – at other times I see myself as a product of a less tolerant period in our history. 

It has taken me well into my thirties to let go of the shame I carried around for most of my adult life. Would that have existed – if gay sex and those who practised it – had not been demonised by the school I attended and, by my father too? I think not. 
 

It starts at school
 

Fast forward 20 years from my coming out. Section 28 is long gone; gay sex can now be taught in UK schools. As part of an article I was writing about HIV, I spoke to an 18-year-old who had recently contracted the virus, about why there's a rise in HIV among young gay men. “Schools are at least partly to blame,” he tells me. “I asked about anal sex during sex education classes just three years ago, and all they said was ‘we wouldn’t recommend it.’”  How had so little changed in the two decades since I had experienced a similarly dismissive response?

But in the last 20 years, much has changed about how young gay men can learn about gay sex. When I was 18, the internet barely existed. Porn was on VHS – and only softcore porn was available in the UK. Teenagers like me grew up in the shadow of AIDS. Sex without a condom terrified many of us. Now free porn sites offer scenes in which barebacking is the norm. Throw in the relatively recent phenomenon of Chem Sex, and you have the perfect storm. 

We live at a time when gay men have unprecedented rights, and yet gay sex education is still not compulsory in UK schools. How many more young gay men must contract HIV before this changes? I doubt the shadow cast by Thatcher’s Section 28 is that long. Do some heterosexual teachers have an issue with how men plug holes? 

Perhaps the ‘gay community’ is a victim of its own success. With equal marriage, we’re almost ‘respectable’, after all. To focus on what we do with our bodies is possibly a little unseemly to some. If gay men are to be equal with straight people, then that equality must start at school, and at home. The mental and physical health of the next generation depends on it. 


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Guest Maggie

Posted

Alex you've done it again and written a perfect honest and brilliant piece, thank you 

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