“Do you think kissing is gross?”

Until my junior year of high school I assumed I was straight. Because of a fabulous sex-ed class that taught nothing of sexuality, I was under the impression that sexuality was firmly placed in the gay-straight binary and that because I was not interested in women, I must be straight.

When all the girls of my middle school class were growing into their new found woman’s bodies and discovering that  perhaps boys weren’t the disgusting cootie-ridden creatures of elementary school, I didn’t know where I belonged.

Sex frightened me. Maybe I was poorly educated. Maybe I was too far gone into the girls-should-be-pure bullshit children are fed. Either way, sex was a concept that was so disgusting it was frightening. It was a concept, not an act and I couldn’t even process it as something physical that happened between individuals. I couldn’t giggle nervously like everyone else during health class when we watched poorly made videos on the reproductive systems and read from poorly copied handouts. In my twelve-year-old mind, I was the mature one.  I was the one who was waiting to date and have a boyfriend. I was just a late-bloomer, that’s all. Sooner or later I would develop a crush, fall in love, and become a part of the sexual world.

One day in 7th grade, we were running laps around the gymnasium for gym class and one girl ran up beside me and asked me, “Do you think kissing is gross?”

“Yes.” I told her and she fell back a few paces to titter into her hand with her friend. Though I felt humiliated, I also felt like a grown up: I was above their petty talk about kissing and boyfriends.

I still think kissing is gross. What has changed is that I understand now that not only is there a word for my sexuality, but that being asexual says nothing about a person’s maturity. Girls who dated in middle school and high school were not less mature than I was. This is the same way that I am not more immature for not dating now that I’m in college.

I find that too often asexuality can be an excuse to claim a moral superiority and that in the opposite camp, sexuality has become a right of passage. I cannot tell you how often someone has told me “Don’t worry, you’ll find the right person some day” because they assume that a healthy adult life involves romance and sex.

As we get older we cross a line where it’s no longer acceptable to be a virgin because you’re expected to be a grown and mature adult. The irony is that in childhood, we’re taught to take the moral high ground and abstain from sexuality in order to be more mature.

My hope is that as more people learn about the diversity of sexuality, more people will break away from linking sex and morality, and sex and maturity. My wish is that sexuality becomes mandatory in health/sex-ed classes. With more education on the subject, people won’t feel the need to draw lines between us and them, mature and immature based on sex.

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What we are taught about sex and gender

Until last year I did not know there was a difference between the terms sex and gender. I feel foolish to say so now, but I’m wondering how many others were just as shocked to learn the two words were not synonyms? I was in a class on how to write history and we dipped our toes into gender and feminist criticisms of historical practices. At the time I was angered by the entire interlude of feminist criticism. Why would I want to learn about feminism? What could feminism teach me about being a woman that I didn’t already know just from being alive? In my mind at the time, women were not oppressed.

When my teacher asked us to define gender and sex I was amazed at how many people were able to contribute to two very distinct definitions. I was even more amazed that two definitions was nothing like I had been taught. Gender as a performance of cultural norms and sex as biology was a new concept. I was raised with such a strong aversion to the word sex that until that moment, it had no other meaning than procreation. Gender was the neutral word my family could say and use comfortably. We never referred to sex to refer to sex organs.

I can’t be the only one who was raised this way. Although I know that it is up the parents to decide when and how they will teach their children sex education, why is there such an aversion to the word sex? If it is more accurate to describe one’s sex then why do we substitute gender?

I wonder if my education on sexuality would have been different had I known that sex was not procreation. If I had known and had been less afraid to explore what sex and gender were, I might not have grown up wondering why I didn’t like men, but that I didn’t like women either. I might not have struggled to find a word to identify myself. I might not have waited until tenth grade to become a comic book fan and buy shirts from the boys’ section. My gender and my sexuality would have been mine to explore earlier in life.

When gender and sex have the same meaning dialogue between parents and their children can never be exact and the crucial stage of questioning sexuality becomes more difficult to reach.

I do not pretend I would have been comfortable if my mom or my brother had used sex as a term for biology, but I would have learned to accept it. I would have grown accustomed to adult language and adult ideas. I would have grown up around feminist ideas whether anyone in the house knew so or not. There is no greater gift to identity than the right words to use and a no-fear attitude toward approaching sexual differences.