illustration of a person wearing gold hoops and a red t-shirt embracing their partner from behind, arms wrapped around them to reveal a rainbow cuff bracelet, two peach string bracelets, and a small heart tattoo on their wrist. the person being embraced is wearing a light blue tank top and has a flower tattoo on their left shoulder.
Illustrations by Maya Chastain

Zero.

That is a disgrace, as many U.S. states require sex education curriculums to be inclusive to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and queer community.

Sex education programs assume that those receiving the information are both cis and heterosexual. It is that degree of homophobia and transphobia that makes clogs less cute.

That’s why we worked with GLSEN, Advocates for Youth, and two queer sex educators to create a safer sex guide that understands the true complexity and diversity across gender identities, sexual orientation, attractions, and experiences.

Only 5 (ish) percent of LGBTQIA+ students saw any LGBTQIA+ representation in health class.

95 percent of students had sexual health questions that went unanswered in school.

It is also for any person who has ever wondered.

  • What conversations should I have with a partner before sex?
  • There is a risk of transmission of STDs during sex act here.
  • What can I do to make sex better?
  • How do I feel comfortable with my body?

Sexual health, sexual pleasure, and sexual play are related.

“The idea that someone is going to come along and introduce you to out-of-this-world sensations makes good fantasy,” says Andy Duran, queer sex specialist and education director for Good Vibrations. Case in point: the movies “Call Me By Your Name,” “Moonlight,” and “Below Her Mouth.”

Nobody can tell you what brings you pleasure. When we can tell our partners how to pleasure us, they will do it.

That’s why he recommends getting acquainted with your body via body mapping and masturbation.

Body mapping is the process of becoming familiar with your body. It is all about exploring what parts of your body are different.

It is important for queer and trans people to learn how to be touched in ways that are most affirming and pleasurable.

“Masturbation is more sexual than similar. He says it is a way to learn what brings you pleasure, what helps you orgasm, and what doesn’t do it.”

A list of things you might include.

  • stimulating your body parts.
  • Dancing erotically.
  • Watching erotic films.
  • Self-massage.

Birds and bees are not good for you.

Trauma-focused therapist and sexuality educator Aida Manduley, LICSW, explains that for pregnancy to happen, two things need to be present:

  1. sperm.
  2. An egg.

“One person needs to have testicles (where sperm. is produced), prostate and bulbourethral glands (to create the other components of semen), and a urethra (for the sperm. to travel through),” Manduley says.

And another person needs to have an ovary (where eggs are produced) and a uterus (where the sperm. meets the egg).

Your anatomy and the anatomy of your partner(s) are the key factor here, not your gender identity or sexual orientation.

People assigned female at birth who are taking testosterone may still be able to get pregnant, says Manduley.

They say that if a man is assigned at birth and taking hormones, he may be able to get a partner with a uterus pregnant.

Manduley says that if a healthcare professional tells you you are sterile or unable to get pregnant, it is a risk.

What about sexually transmitted infections? Sex is not immune to STDs. You have to get tested to know your status.

There are great websites, such as Get Tested, that’ll help you find a local testing center.

STD Test Express, Nurx, Everlywell, and SH:24 are great resources for people interested in at-home STI kits and testing.

They say prevention is the best medication. There are a number of risk reduction measures you can take if you have a STI or are pregnant.

1. Stay up to date on vaccines

Specifically:

Note: While the The vaccine for the human immunodeficiency virus. was previously only recommended for people assigned female at birth, the current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines recommend HPV vaccination for all people between ages 11 and 26.

“Some people who aren’t already protected may decide to get the vaccine after assessing their risk with the help of a healthcare professional.”

2. Consider PrEP

Preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a medication that an HIV-negative person can take daily to reduce their risk of contracting HIV while being sexually active with an HIV-positive person.

The CDC guidelines recommend PrEP for:

  • People who are HIV positive have sex.
  • “People who don’t use barrier methods often.”
  • Anyone who has been diagnosed with another STD in the last 6 months.
  • Someone who uses or has a partner who uses IV substances and shares needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject.

If you fall into one of those groups, talk to a healthcare professional.

Note: If you’re not taking PrEP and suspect recent HIV exposure, you can take postexposure prophylaxis (PEP) within 72 hours to reduce transmission risk.

“If you have a STI, you can go to your local testing center, urgent care or clinician’s office. Call ahead of time to make sure they have the medication in stock.”

3. Birth control

Again, “pregnancy is a risk when the involved parties have the anatomy for it,” Manduley says. If you’re looking to avoid pregnancy, talk with a healthcare professional about your birth control options.

If you have recently had sex with a partner who could get you pregnant, and you are not on birth control, you can use an emergency contraceptive within 3 to 5 days to stop the baby from being born.

If you did receive limited sex education, you should raise your hand because it involved avoiding eye contact and rolling a condom over a banana.

Spoiler alert: Safer sex goes way beyond condoms.

“If you know what we mean, you don’t need a banana to use a condom. Here is what you need to know.”

Outside condoms

Outside condoms can be used for penetrative and oral sex involving a penis to contain bodily fluids (e.g., semen, ejaculate, and pre-ejaculate).

Condoms can be used with sex toys. Sex toys made from porous materials are a must.

How to use an outside condom

  1. The condom should be placed over the penis. Pinch the tip to leave a small space for fluids.
  2. Roll the condom over the shaft until it meets the base.
  3. Apply lube to reduce friction.
  4. When you are done with the condom, hold the rim of the condom with your hand.
  5. Throw away the condom.

Manduley says to use lube that is compatible with toys and barriers.

“They say that oil-based lubes aren’t compatible with latex barriers. Silicone-based lubes should not be used with toys.”

Inside condoms

The condoms are designed to line the walls of the vagina or anus.

Only one brand is available in the United States, but health clinics often have them. Woot!

A note on terminology

We have included alternative words for readers to use for their genitals.

Whenever we use the medical term “vagina,” we’ll also include “front hole,” as clinically recommended by researchers in the BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth journal.

How to use an inside condom

  1. Inside condoms have a closed and open ring. Apply a small amount of lube on the outside of the closed end.
  2. Push the ring as far back as possible, so that the condom can line up the internal hole.
  3. The hole opening should be left open for the open rim of the condom to hang out.
  4. Body parts or toys will go into the open rim of the inside condom during penetration.
  5. Slowly remove the toy from the condom. Then remove the condom from the body by pinching the open rim.

Dams

Dams serve as a barrier for cunnilingus or analingus.

How to use a dam

  1. Open the package and unfold the dam.
  2. Have the receiver apply lube to their bits to boost the feel-good sensation.
  3. The dam should be placed over the body part where oral sex will be performed.
  4. “Throw away the dam when it’s done.”

“Manduley suggests that if you can’t tell which side is touching which body part, you should get a new one. If the barrier is compromised, it is not effective.”

Note: Dams can be pricey and hard to find. Luckily, you can make your own dam by cutting open an outside condom. This step-by-step guide can help you get started.

Gloves and finger cots

Finger cots keep your finger bodily fluid-free and protect your genitals from the germs found on your finger.

Engaging in fisting or external manual stimulation? Grab a five-finger cot — aka a glove — instead.

How to use cots or gloves

  1. Put your hands on the cot or glove.
  2. Apply lube to barriers and bits to increase pleasure.
  3. Only one glove is used for one body part. A new glove is a body part.
  4. “When you’re done, pinch the base of the barrier and pull it towards your fingers to keep fluids in their place.”
  5. Disregard the glove.

Manduley says to get them in a color that feels fun or sexy to you and your partner. Black nitrile gloves are a key part of the sex toolkit.

The best sex is consensual and communicative. Here’s what you need to know.

Consent 101

Sexual consent is an ongoing agreement to participate in a sexual act that is granted before it happens.

It is required before.

  • any sexual activity (including kissing)
  • any new sexual activity (consenting to one thing doesn’t imply consent for another)

Beyond being legal and ethically required, checking in with your sexual partner before and during a sexual encounter can help create a safe environment where sex can be a mutually pleasurable and positive experience. That is a wonderful thing!

There are some ways to get consent.

  • I would love to taste between your legs. Is that something you would like?
  • Can I kiss you?
  • Do you want to show off the new sex toy you got in the mail?
  • Can I send you a picture of myself naked?

You might be wondering if consent can be non- verbal. Implied consent is difficult to understand. Why? It is easy to misinterpret cues.

It is best to get verbal consent.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Communication needs to go beyond consent for the most pleasurable experiences.

That means:

  • Tell your partner where you like to be touched.
  • How do you like to be touched by your partner?
  • Asking/knowing/using words that your partner finds affirming.
  • Being on the same page about sex safety.

Some questions you might ask before you get down.

  • I want to make sure we are using language that is good for us. Can we talk about the words we use for our bits and the words we like more than one act?
  • I like having my genitals called my girl dick and I like having oral sex called going down on. What terms do you like?
  • I am wondering if we can check in on what safer sex practices we want to use.
  • I like to have a few conversations before having sex. Do you mind if we discuss the sex acts we want to explore and how to do them safely?

Most sex guides say that sober is a must for consent. Manduley notes that it is silly to expect people to not hook up while under the influence of substance.

That is where harm reduction can be found.

Manduley says harm reduction can look like a combination of the following.

  • Discuss what kinds of sex will be taking place before using substances.
  • Mix fewer substances (e.g., keep it to only alcohol instead of alcohol and cocaine).
  • Discuss what substances people are currently using.
  • Some substances can cause dehydration, so make sure there is water available.
  • Discuss if this is the first time someone has used a substance. If it is, consider going slower than you would otherwise.
  • If you know the effects of popular substances, you can better recognize if someone else is using them.
  • If you have a hard time understanding your partner, you should check in periodically with them.
  • “Carry safer sex supplies in the same kit as your substances so you don’t lose them and remember to use them.”

“If you can’t remember what barriers were used, you might consider emergency contraception.”

“Don’t want to take off your clothes? You can still get it on.”

Enter: outercourse.

Dry humping, kissing, and over-the-clothes grinding are often forgotten about after high school, but these are super-duper pleasurable, sensual, and intimate, and should be enjoyed by folks of all ages,” Duran says.

To make outercourse better.

  • “It’s a good idea to add a little lubrication to the skin.”
  • Use buttons to benefit.
  • Add in a wearable sex toy.
  • Practice looking at something.

There is usually not a risk of transmission of the STDs, so people experience orgasm more easily through outercourse. Anxiety and stress are big blocks to pleasure.

Safety considerations

If all partners keep their clothes on and there is no bodily fluid exchange, STIs are not a risk. And neither is pregnant.

However, sitting in your own fluids after the fact can increase your risk of Vaginosis is caused by a bacterium. or yeast infections, so consider changing afterward.

“It is very intimate to look at your partner’s body with your own hands. It can feel good for them, depending on the types of strokes and pressures you use.”

The hand is the OG sex toy.

Hand sex is included.

All of these are made better with lubrication.

Safety considerations

Please, for the love of “Didn’t you learn anything during the COVID-19 pandemic?!” wash your hands before touching anyone’s bits.

Your hands are covered inbacteria that could mess with the natural pH of you or your partner.

Giving yourself a manicure is recommended by Duran. He says that fingernails and toenails can tear delicate internal tissues or puncture a hole in your barrier. It was very bad.

Can you play with long nails? Yes, actually. Manduley says it will require a little more preparation.

“They say to put cotton balls inside the fingertips of a cot or glove. If your nails are sharp, you won’t have to use the glove. It was clever.”

Note: While hand sex is generally considered a safer sex option, the hand can act as a vector for infectious agents. So, if your partner has an STI, you touch them, and then use that same hand to touch yourself, infection transmission is possible.

It seems like oral sex is just a pre- act, but it is an amazing activity that deserves to be considered the whole show.

What is it that makes it so hot?

“The giver gets to literally taste their partner, smell their partner, learn their partner’s anatomy with their own mouth, and practice communicating with their partner,” Duran says.

The receiver has a lot of nerve-rich bits.

Safety considerations

Despite common discourse, it is possible for STIs to be transmitted via oral play.

So, talk with your partner(s) about the last time they were tested for STIs. If it’s been a while since one or all of you were tested or one or all of you have an STI, use a dam or external condom.

If you notice cuts, sores, bumps, or high risk bodily fluids on their genitals or mouth, please hold off. It can be a sign of an STD and increase the chances of getting one.

Intercourse! Fisting! Fingering! Strap-on sex and pegging! Anal beads, prostate stimulators, and plugs! Internal vibrators, wearable vibrators, and thrusters!

The world of sex is wide and wide.

The partner being penetrated is usually the top, while the partner being penetrated is usually the bottom.

“A bottom might enjoy penetration because of the physical sensation, the feeling of fullness, the power dynamics it creates with their partner, or because they like sharing that part of themselves with their partner,” he says.

“He says that a top can enjoy being able to feel their partner’s body parts from the inside or in control.”

A top can enjoy the way penetration feels against their own body, or against a toy that they have control of.

Safety considerations

Beyond just knowing your own current STI status and your partner’s, and (correctly) using a condom, glove, or finger cot, use lube!

“During anal sex, lube is important. The anus doesn’t produce any natural lubricant and the tissue in the anal canal is very thin.”

There is too much lubrication in the anal lining which can cause damage. The risk of transmission of the STD is increased by this.

Also: “Make sure any toy that’s going in the booty has a flared base so it doesn’t get accidentally lodged up there and require an ER trip,” he says.

The flared base keeps it planted firmly outside the body.

Sex is supposed to make you feel good.

“If you find that sex has become a challenge for you — whether that’s because it fills you with shame, makes you feel dysphoric, or is physically uncomfortable — it’s time to bring in a professional,” Duran says.

A professional could mean something.

Finding a healthcare professional who’s the right match can be another key factor in sexual health and wellness. So, no matter which type of professional you seek out, make sure they’re queer inclusive and gender affirming.

You might have other questions now that you have a framework for safer and morepleasurable sex practices for people with a sexual orientation or gender identity. There are additional reading material based on category.

Specific sex acts.

On STDs.

On contraception.


Mere Abrams is a researcher, writer, educator, consultant, and licensed clinical social worker who reaches a worldwide audience through public speaking, publications, social media (@meretheir), and gender therapy and support services practice OnlineGenderCare.com. Mere uses their personal experience and diverse professional background to support individuals exploring gender and help institutions, organizations, and businesses to increase gender literacy and identify opportunities to demonstrate gender inclusion in products, services, programs, projects, and content.


Gabrielle Kassel is a New York–based sex and wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She’s become a morning person, tested over 200 vibrators, and eaten, drunk, and brushed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books and romance novels, bench-pressing, or pole dancing. Follow her on Instagram.