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Sex can be confusing for unexperienced people and LGBTQ2+ youth. Image: Dasser Kamran/Fulcrum

Cue the Salt-N-Pepa 

Thanks to cultural changes and media portrayals, having sex in university is more normalized than ever before. Meeting someone at a frosh event or fooling around with a friend from a study group isn’t strange, it’s normal. 

Despite how often sex is mentioned, not everyone has been properly informed due to numerous factors such as insufficient education, which can make for awkward or harmful situations.

Even well into adulthood, not everyone knows what they’re doing right (or wrong) with a partner. But, here’s a look at important things to remember before you get down and dirty.

My kink? Communication

Regardless of your sexuality, one of the first things you should make sure to have before any sexual activity is clear communication between you and your partner(s). Recognizing everyone’s boundaries, both physically and verbally is important. Even while you’re getting busy, occasional check-ins can help make everyone feel comfortable.

“I think we live in a culture that makes it seem like there’s a script that’ll follow,” said Sam Whittle, a sex educator and therapist, as well as the owner of Venus Envy. “But that’s really not the case in terms of what people want or what brings people pleasure.” 

Whittle emphasized the importance of casually talking about sex and your needs both before and after.

“If you want to have [a] more in-depth conversation or there’s something that you don’t like or something someone might [find] hard to hear. Those things are often conversations [that] are often easier to have when you’re not already naked,” she said.

Matthew Bromley, the University of Ottawa Pride Centre coordinator, agrees with the requirement of communication — both before and during the moment — as well as being with partners you trust.

“Letting your partner know your boundaries, [is] honestly one of the main things you want to do. It doesn’t matter how experienced you are,” he said. “You want to be with someone — or persons if you’re having multiple partners — people that you can trust on an equal level.”

This is especially important if one of the partners is less experienced or is having sex for the first time.

“It’s a lot of different things besides just saying yes. It’s defining what you want out of a sexual experience, so it’s like being very open with your partner talking with your partner,” he said. “especially your first time having a sexual experience letting them know what you want to do before you actually do it.”

“A lot of people think that it’s gonna break the mood, but it doesn’t. If you’re in a safe sexual relationship with someone, you should be able to talk openly about those things.”

Safety First

Practicing safe sex is also crucial for every encounter. 

Jade Sullivan and Mikayla O’Neill, the U of O’s Womxn’s Resource Centre’s co-coordinators, say that you should confirm you’re mentally, physically, and emotionally ready for sex.

“This includes getting tested for STI/STDs, ensuring that you aren’t sick or ill (to pass onto your partners) and having the proper safer sex products such as lubes, birth control, dental dams and condoms,” they said in a statement.

It’s also key to remember you can still get pregnant and to take the right contraceptive measures that accommodate you best. Planned Parenthood Ottawa has a definitive guide of birth control, with filters such as ‘cheap’ and ‘discreet’. 

Whittle also expanded on the importance of having safe sex beyond a physical realm.

“There are also different kinds of emotional needs that people might have,” said Whittle. “For some people, it might be like ‘I don’t want to have sex with your roommates home’ or ‘it’s really important to me that we leave the lights on.’ ”

If you decide to use sex toys in the bedroom, it’s important to pick the ones that fit both you and your partner’s needs. Though they can appear to be overwhelming, they’re simply tools to enhance your experience. 

“A lot of people get afraid [of] sex toys because they’ve never used them and I can understand why. Research is very, very important,” said Bromley. 

“I think there’s a little bit of social stigma around using them, [and] some people think that it’s shameful. But it’s really not, it’s just another thing to introduce into the bedroom.”

Sullivan and O’Neill claim one of the most common misconceptions about sex toys are that there are limited types of toys such as the vibrator and other penetrative items.

“This is a huge myth because there is such a wide variety of sex toy options outside of penetrative or clitoral stimulators,” they said. “Also, sex toys are not only for cis-gendered women; anybody and everybody can use sex toys regardless of gender, ability, religion, sexual orientation and more!”

Whittle advises people to start small and decide what kind of function they want from a sex toy.

“In general, we advise not to get something too expensive for a first toy because you can’t bring them back,” she said. “So it’s a good idea to get something less expensive at first [and] see what you like. Then if you want to invest in something later on, you’ll have a better idea.”

Beyond the Rodeo

Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights outlined in a 2019 report that provincial and federal governments “are failing to make sure that children and young people get equal access to the sexual health information and skills-building opportunities they are entitled to.”

For LGBTQ2+ students, in particular, having sexual experiences (or lack of pressure to) in university can be especially liberating for those coming to terms with or exploring their sexual orientations.

Whittle highlights that exploration and figuring out what feels good is a huge part of education. There’s even less sex education for LGBTQ2+ youth which can lead to negative repercussions.

“There’s nothing wrong or shameful about queer sex or any forms of sex. But lots of people feel like what they’re into or who they’re into makes them weird or dirty or something,” she said. “I just think that’s untrue. As long as it’s consensual I think all desire, all bodies, and all sex is good.”

An example of this occurred in 2019 when the provincial government unveiled a new sex-ed curriculum that would delay the introduction of gender identity to students until Grade 8. 

Sufficient sex education should be provided for all students, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. Sullivan and O’Neill say a lack of sex education surrounding things like masturbation and BDSM leads to stigma and fear.

“[We] think when we limit sex to strictly vanilla-reproductive sex, it leaves a lot of the education up to porn and media, which are not the best educators,” they said. “Sex doesn’t have to be penetrative or oral; you can engage in dry humping, masturbation, anal and more.”

“There should be education on how to have sex with yourself, others and different kinds. Another area that lacks is the variation in body types. We are not all cis-gendered able-bodied Barbie and Ken dolls. Nobody is the same, nor do they have sex the same — so, teaching sex in this way is not beneficial to anyone.”

Below is a list of sexual health/education resources particularly for the LGBTQ2+ community