Letters to the Editor: Peer Health Educators

Sex education is a field where inclusion of sexual and gender diversity is key. If the goal is  ensuring that those who have the least access to sexual health resources (sexual and gender minorities) receive the most knowledge, we need to provide information that is relevant to queer and trans populations. Despite this logic, many sex ed classes continue to only discuss heterosexual, cisgender encounters. This omission of trans and queer experiences in sex ed can leave queer people feeling uninformed — and results in serious  health consequences. For example, trans and gender nonconforming people are at higher risk for HIV infection than the general population. From 2009 to 2014, 2,351 transgender people were diagnosed with HIV in the United States, according to the CDC. Eighty-four percent (1,974) were transgender women and 15 percent (361) were transgender men.

 Some queer people have attempted to move away from the heterosexual “penis- centric” model by adopting or advocating for a “vulva-centric” model of education that focuses on encounters between cisgender women. While this model does move away from the heterosexual model, it only addresses the needs and desires of cisgender lesbians having sex with other cisgender lesbians. By nature, the “vulva-centric” model excludes queer people who do not identify as cisgender, do not have vulvas and/or do not have sex exclusively with people who have vulvas. 

As a historically women’s college it is often assumed that queer sex education at Mount Holyoke should center on cisgender lesbian experiences. However, the College accepts transgender students upon admission, and we are currently home to a wide range of embodied experiences. Most recent numbers show that 9.5 percent of the population identified outside the gender binary with 53.3 percent identifying as non-heterosexual. Not all of this 53.3 percent of queer students are only having sex with cisgender lesbians, they may be having sex with trans lesbians, trans men, gender non-conforming people, or cisgender men. In addition, not all of this 9.5 percent of gender nonconforming students have “vulvas” and many of those who do, would not feel affirmed by a sex education curriculum that utilized cisgender terminology such as “vulva” or “vagina.”

In conclusion, it is inaccurate, and a form of transphobia, to claim that the queer community at Mount Holyoke is limited to cisgender lesbians having sex with other cisgender lesbians. Or to claim that sexual health programming should center on cisgender lesbian experiences. While we of course support and affirm cisgender lesbian identified students, we see our role as peer educators as one in which we support a diverse community. Sex education must be available without judgement for every member, particularly those who are “multiply marginalized” as queer and gender nonconforming. 


- Peer Health Educators