Let's talk sexuality.

Gay. Lesbian. Straight. Bisexual. Transgender. Questioning. No matter who you are, everyone is part of the sexuality conversation. In the end, it’s up to all of us to keep the open conversation going even when it’s difficult.

Things to consider about Sexuality

  • Sexuality. It’s a pretty sexy word in itself, and its meaning has evolved to mean different things over time. Sexuality is a collection of our sexual traits, and it’s actually a really important part of how we express ourselves as human beings. It’s not just simply the act of having sex, but it’s also part of how we relate to ourselves and others and express the physical, emotional and maybe even spiritual parts of our personalities.

    Although media and cultural influences do their darndest to steer our perceptions of how sexuality “should” be expressed, these examples only represent a small segment of people’s feelings and actions around sexuality. In fact, most of what we see on the internet, TV or movie screens perpetuates a narrow and unrealistic representation of sexuality and relationships. All the more reason to just talk about it and keep the conversation rooted in what’s real, wouldn’t you say?

  • We totally get it. These terms can get super confusing when you don’t know what’s what, so here’s the no-nonsense scoop:

    • Gender identity is how you identify yourself in terms of being a man, woman, somewhere in between or maybe a little of both. Your gender identity comes from how you see yourself fitting into societal gender roles.
    • Gender expression is how you intentionally or unintentionally choose to demonstrate your gender identity through appearance, actions, behavior and social interactions. Your gender expression could change day-to-day or depending on what you’re doing or how you feel.
    • Assigned sex is usually assigned by a doctor when you are born based on the appearance of your genitals and sex organs and may be measured by the hormones and chromosomes in your body. Most people think of biological sex as either male or female, but it’s actually a little more complicated than that. Some people are born with both male and female sex organs, genitalia that is difficult to identify, or chromosomes that do not seem to match their physical appearance. These, along with other presentations, are known as intersex.
  • A stereotype is a standardized mental picture held of all members of a particular group. It may assume that a person or group of people have certain abilities, characteristics, behaviors and values just because they belong to a specific race, gender, religion, social or economic class, etc.

    Gender stereotypes are pretty much what they sound like—assumptions about how members of a perceived gender or sex should feel or behave. These, like most other “you are this, therefore you are that” theories, can be harmful because they perpetuate narrow ideals of how people should act, especially in relationships. Gender stereotyping can also lead to incorrect or hurtful assumptions about what someone’s gender identity, sexual orientation or gender expression means for them. So to avoid falling into the stereotyping trap when it comes to relationships, here’s some stuff to remember:

    • Everyone should be able to openly communicate what they want and don’t want in a relationship.
    • Expressing yourself is a learned skill that can be developed by anyone and everyone.
    • Emotions and feelings need to be respected (everyone else’s are just as valid and important as yours, even when you might understand them).
    • Violence is not an appropriate way to express yourself. Ever.
    • Unless you can read minds—which is pretty unlikely—all partners in a relationship should feel free to communicate about their sexual boundaries.
    • Sex is not the most important part of a relationship. Is it fun? It sure can be. But it’s not the end-all, be-all. There are lots of other ways to be physically and emotionally intimate.
    • A healthy relationship is based in equality and respect, not power and control. If you’re in an abusive or coercive relationship, it is your right to get out of it. Here are some resources that can help.
  • These two terms are opposites.

    Transgender, or “trans*” as it’s commonly called, is an umbrella term used to describe a person who does not identify with the sex assigned to them. Basically, this person may appear to be male or female and have all the physical traits of that sex, but does not mentally or emotionally identify as such.

    Some transgender individuals choose to change their looks using clothes, hair styles, makeup or other bodily alterations to make their outward appearance better match their personal gender identity. Taking hormones to is another method in which trans* individuals may participate in order to aid their body in accentuating some of the physical characteristics of the gender they identify with. Others may choose to seek medical gender-reassignment procedures to surgically change their features for a more permanent change. It takes a lot to make this kind of change including approval from multiple people and a mental health evaluation. Gender-reassignment can be extremely costly as it is rarely covered by insurance.

    Cisgender, a much less commonly used term, is used to describe a person whose gender identity aligns with their assigned biological sex. For instance, a person who is assigned a male sex at birth and identifies himself as a man, or a person who is assigned a female sex at birth and identifies herself as a woman.

  • Sexual orientation refers to the concept of sexual attraction—whether a person is attracted to the same sex (gay or lesbian), the opposite sex (heterosexual), both sexes (bisexual) or neither sex (asexual). Many people believe, and some research supports, that people are born with a specific sexual orientation and that it is not a choice.

    Today, it is commonly accepted that sexual orientation occurs along a continuum and that not all people fit into just one category, in the last decade youth have reclaimed the word queer to be reflective of this continuum. It is not uncommon for people who identify as being gay or lesbian to participate in sexual behaviors and relationships with the opposite sex—or vice versa. In fact, some people might choose not to identify with any specific orientation at all.

    All that said, no matter what sexual orientation you identify with, it’s important to stay safe and understand the risks of unintended pregnancy and STDs. Curious to learn more? Read the rest of our “Things to Consider about Sexuality” or visit our birth control method selector to see what types of protection are available.

  • There are seemingly endless different sexual behaviors to suit people of every sexual orientation, relationship status or gender identity. From oral to anal, “vanilla” to kinky, fantasies to fetishes, and sex toys to roleplaying—no sexual behavior is off limits as long as everyone involved is consenting and open to conversation. We say, as long as you just talk about it and discuss how you’re going to stay safe, go ahead and experiment. Trying out new sexual behaviors can be a fun and exhilarating experiences for a healthy relationship.

  • Absolutely. Most STDs/STIs and many common vaginal infections (including yeast infections, trichomoniasis, and non-specific bacterial vaginosis) can be spread during woman-to-woman sexual contact. In fact, many infections can be transmitted just as easily through oral-to-genital as genital-to-genital contact.

    Human papilloma virus (HPV) is one of the most commonly transmitted STIs in lesbians. HPV can cause anal and genital warts and lead to anal, cervical, mouth and throat cancers, so it’s important for sexually active lesbians to be screened by a health care provider. The more partners you have in a year, the more often you should get tested.

    Quick tips: Using dental dams, condoms (even with toys) or gloves and making sure your hands and toys are clean can help prevent transmission.

  • STDs/STIs occur in gay men and men who have sex with men at a very high rate. These infections include fully treatable ones like syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, pubic lice and others, and those for which there is currently no cure (HIV, hepatitis, human papilloma virus (HPV) and herpes).

    Receptive anal sex in particular can lead to higher risk for infection due to the delicate nature of the tissues in that area. The more partners you have in a year, the more often you should be screened because you could have an STD without symptoms and be unknowingly passing it on to others.

    Quick tips: Using condoms and making sure your hands and toys are clean can help prevent transmission. Also, in the event that you are exposed to HIV, contact your provider IMMEDIATELY to discuss your options, including post-exposure prophylaxis.

  • Similarly to men who have sex with men (MSM), sexually active bisexuals are at high risk for spreading and contracting STDs. Although women who have sex with women have lower rates of HIV, if a woman has sex with a man who has sex with men, she can seriously increase her risk of transmission.

    Human papilloma virus (HPV) is one of the most commonly transmitted STIs in sexually active populations overall, and therefore in bisexuals as well. HPV can cause anal and genital warts and lead to anal, cervical, mouth and throat cancers, so it’s important to be screened by a health care provider. The more partners you have in a year, the more often you should get tested.

    Quick tips: Using condoms, gloves and dental dams and making sure your hands and toys are clean can help prevent transmission. Also, in the event that you are exposed to HIV, contact your provider IMMEDIATELY to discuss your options, including post-exposure prophylaxis.

  • We’re just going make this really simple: Anyone who is sexually active can contract any STD/STI. It doesn’t matter what your sexual history is, what gender you have sex with or what kind of sex you have—It. Can. Happen.

    Having sex with anyone who has engaged in higher risk behavior (such as receptive anal sex, multiple sexual partners or unprotected sex) can increase the risk of contracting HIV or other STDs, so it’s important to understand your status and know how to protect yourself.

    It’s possible to have an STD without symptoms and not even know that you’re spreading it to others, so the more partners you have in a year, the more often you should be screened. And always remember that safe sex is the best way to stay…well…safe.

    Quick tips: Using condoms, gloves and dental dams and making sure your hands and toys are clean can help prevent transmission. Also, in the event that you are exposed to HIV, contact your provider IMMEDIATELY to discuss your options, including post-exposure prophylaxis.

  • Some health care providers are—how do we put this lightly?—a bit “behind” when it comes to understanding the overall health needs and concerns of LGBT individuals. And while many advocates are working to promote education and improve the situation across all medical practices, there is still a ways to go. You can search a directory of LGBT-friendly providers here.

    Now, we know it can be awkward, but it’s important that you be open with your health care provider about your sexuality and sexual behaviors. This is the only way to ensure you get the best and most relevant care. If you feel that your provider is being discriminatory due to your sexual orientation or activities, there’s no shame in making a switch to someone you can trust and better connect with.

  • Nope, sure can’t. In 2013, the Colorado Division of Insurance (DOI) posted a bulletin (B-4.49) stating that discrimination in health coverage based on sexual orientation is not allowed, making Colorado the third state to protect LGBT people from unfair treatment in the insurance market. The bulletin states that insurance companies cannot:

    • Impose higher rates or charge more because of an applicant’s sexual orientation or transgender status.
    • Designate an individual’s sexual orientation or transgender status as a pre-existing condition for the purpose of limiting or denying coverage.
    • Deny, exclude or limit coverage for medically necessary services as determined by an individual’s medical provider, if that service would be provided—based on current standards of care—to another individual without regard to their sexual orientation or transgender status.

    This is a major victory for the entire state of Colorado, and is especially important for the transgender community, which has a history of being denied coverage. Learn more about how the Colorado bulletin affects you. Also, a conversation from Colorado Public Radio’s Colorado Matters on this subject might help you understand more.

     

    If you are in Michigan or anywhere else and have insurance through the ACA Marketplace, you should also be good. Any insurance sold on the ACA Marketplace must be non-discriminatory – as it is federally protected. However, Michigan law, and some other state laws, do not require private insurance to protect LGBT people from unfair treatment. View this Movement Advancement Project map to learn more about your state.