Kath Ebbs is a proud queer feminist from Sydney and high school graduate who is campaigning for queer topics to be included in the sexual education curriculum.
What are your memories of sex ed during high school? Did you find it informative? Empowering? Or lacking the information you needed?
Is it sad to say I don’t have many? My fondest was year 5 when you knew you were about to have “the talk” and boys and girls were separated into two different classes - like what? There was lots of giggling involved. In our class you actually got a lolly if you didn’t laugh – safe to say I didn’t get one.
During high school I honestly don’t remember a lot because it was hardly talked about, and when it was time to meet the “quota”, our teachers were squeamish about it and only covered the bare minimum. How are you meant to retain information in such an environment?? Obviously if the teacher feels uncomfortable, the students will too. I remember our male P.E teacher had to leave the room when we were learning about periods, perpetuating the idea that we should be ashamed of our bodies.
I didn’t even learn how to have safe sex in my whole six years of high school, isn’t that crazy? We all had to work it out for ourselves.
Also, by the time I left school, I had no idea what LGBTQIA+ actually meant. I'm having a flashback writing this, and I feel so weird about it, but when I was 18 someone on the street asked me if I could tell them what the acronym stood for in a Pride Month survey and I didn’t know...it was literally gibberish to me.
So, here’s a quick list of all the things I DIDN’T learn during high school sex ed:
- Consent - how to give and receive it, what it looks and feels like, and how to assert yourself if you’ve changed your mind
- There’s more than one sexuality and one gender, you can explore your options – and how to do so safely
- Extreme period pain is not normal
- Woman also masturbate and have wet dreams and it’s healthy
- How to regularly check your breasts
- What sexual assault looks like - in all its forms - and what to do if it happens to you
- Intersex and transgender folk
- Identifying and treating things like thrush, vaginismus, STDs, UTIs etc
- Sex with a disability
Was your high school LGBTQIA+ inclusive?
Not at all. I went to a Catholic girls’ school, so you can only imagine. Our year group was inclusive, as were most of our peers, but as an institution, no. We were never taught about other sexualities, genders, etc. I was in high school during the Australian ‘Yes Vote’ campaign, and we did not speak of it at all.
Were your peers LGBTQIA+ inclusive?
Mostly yes! My year was very LGBTQIA+ positive, however, it wasn’t until we all left high school that the bulk of us came out (myself included). Since my school wasn’t a Queer-friendly environment, there was no discussion of sexuality beyond heteronormative, and a lot of us didn’t realise we had other options.
What do you wish you could tell your high school self?
Hang in there. School isn’t everything. Once it’s over you’ll be able to fully live your life. Soak it up for all it’s worth...and speak up more.
What are your current thoughts on consent being taught in high school?
There’s no point teaching teens about sexual health without discussing consent – it must be at the forefront of every discussion without any fear or awkwardness from teachers, because healthy sex starts with consent.
I know personally that if this information had been openly available during school, I wouldn’t have had to re-learn what healthy intimacy looked like later in life. I left school not knowing how to assert my boundaries as a woman, with no proper understanding of what consent was. I was scared of exploring other sexualities, shameful about my body and deeply traumatised from my first brush with intimacy at a high school party. This needs to end here.
I find it concerning that I’m more shocked when I meet a woman who hasn’t endured any form of sexual assault, than when I meet someone who has – and if that doesn’t say something about how much needs to change, I don’t know what does.
We need men, women and gender queer folk to all be part of the conversation. We need to stop blaming victims and sending women into fear, instead of power. This is a systemic issue that needs to end because too many people are hurting. Kids are going to explore sex , whether you like it or not, and it’s time we give them the tools they need to do so safely – no more sweeping things under the rug and sugar-coating them. It’s time to step up.
Do you think brands are trying to be more LGBTQIA+ inclusive these days?
Absolutely. But I do fear it to be a little performative sometimes, like with brands who do nothing for the lgbtqia+ community all year but then create (and profit from) a Pride collection when Mardi Gras rolls around. It’s not cool, but sadly, it happens a lot. I’ve also come across brands who want to use diverse people in their campaigns, then don’t want to pay the ‘diverse’ talent for their time, saying they’re offering ‘exposure’ instead. This just isn’t good enough.
How can they be better?
Care all the time, not just when it’s cool. If you’re using diverse talent, protect them before, during and after your collaboration. And do your research into the LGBTQIA+ community – if you want to work with us and be more inclusive – it's not hard to find out what we’re about first.
Tell us about your plans to create a more queer inclusive sex ed program? What do you hope to achieve?
I’m committed to spreading awareness to address the lack of information. Unless you’re Queer, it’s hard to comprehend just how harmful this lack of information is - sometimes it’s deadly. My job is keep up the momentum for the next generation, with a focus not just on Queerness, but on proper consent, respect and having power over our bodies. Sex is such a huge part of our lives, yet we’re so scared to talk about it.
Why do you think this is so important?
Young adults are leaving school and entering the world covered in shame and without the proper skills in such a huge area of their lives; some of us are also traumatised.
Personally, because I was not taught about proper consent (and I’m almost certain most boys weren’t either), I found myself in a pretty awful situation at a party when I was 15. Because of the lack of information I’d received, I spent the next 5 years blaming myself for feeling weird and being blocked off from any sort of intimacy. It wasn’t until I was in a therapy session at 22 that I realised I’d been sexually assaulted, but neither myself – or possibly the guy involved – realised at the time.
It also took me years to realise I was Queer, again, I thought something was wrong with me. Every time I had feelings for a girl I would cry, or be disgusted with myself, and when dating men, I thought something was wrong with me because I lacked passion and enthusiasm. After a relationship with a cis man, for a short time I proudly came out as A-sexual (which is perfectly ok), but then met my current partner Zoe and everything changed. I realised I had been completely blocked off from my desires because I didn’t know they could exist.
How can we help you?
Continue to spread awareness and platform queer and diverse voices! Whilst we continue to fight for laws and regulations to be changed from the top, we have this amazing tool in social media to bypass a lot of red tape and get through to our younger generation.
If you can’t see it, you can’t be it. So, if the schools are not yet ready to pull their fingers out, we can make sure the rest of the world is validating our peers through the media. Include queer, trans, disabled, intersex, and people of colour in all conversations. Allow women to speak of their experiences publicly. Believe women. Share important information. Get behind causes not only when they’re trending. Have the hard conversations; and stand up for others as if the situation was affecting you.