I embarked on this research because, as a queer woman, there was a time when I fervently Googled myself. I don’t mean myself, “Carmen Rios,” but myself: the keywords “lesbian sex,” the keywords “lesbian dating,” and mostly just the keyword “lesbian.” I had learned so much about myself before I turned 20, most of which I learned by using the Internet, and suddenly I was gay and I was starting all over again. So I went right back.
I was blessed enough to receive Sex Education in high school, mostly because it got pushed up to my freshman year because of an unprecedented amount of pregnant students enrolled at the time. We talked birds and the bees, cheating on your partner, using condoms, and the myth going around our halls that a male birth control pill actually existed. I closed my eyes during the pregnancy and delivery video and got the highest grade in the class for being brave enough to look at the word “Syphilis” for more than one hour in preparation for the final exam. I left the class feeling weird about sex, like maybe it was something that would just happen to me or something I’d eventually get into. I was terrified of it because I didn’t want to get pregnant, get a disease, or get talked shit about.
When I came out, I began to think about sex as a form of pleasure for the first time. Now that the process no longer involved stuff that made me uncomfortable (i.e. men) I could finally think about it and think about making it happen without freaking out or withdrawing into myself. I actually started seeking it out, mostly because I wanted some kind of girl-on-girl companionship and I figured it would come sooner rather than later in that process in the 21st century.
The only problem was, I didn’t really know what a lesbian relationship looked like (the best part was finding out being queer means having no rules) and I definitely had no idea what to do in the bedroom with another girl. People around me constantly talked about “the myth of lesbian sex” and I was pretty certain that I was unable to become a mythical creature and that therefore it was unlikely and impossible. I was convinced the situation was hopeless. I couldn’t find “how to have lesbian sex” in my sex ed worksheets or my textbooks. I didn’t see girls doing it on TV. This is something I’m not exactly super proud of (but I’m working on it), but it was at that point that I turned to my search engines for help. I mean, what’s a queer girl supposed to do?
What I found were abundant resources, all starting with www. I found guides to lesbian relationships and dating, advice columns about how to communicate with your partner better, and communities of people unafraid to talk openly about girl-on-girl action. I found people a lot like me, too, mostly in the form of anonymous people submitting questions to Riese, Laneia, and Rachel from Autostraddle about sex and first-time lesbian anything on Formspring. When I went on my first date it was with a girl I met online using OKCupid and I remember asking one of them what to do and a slew of strangers used Formspring to give me advice. I had found something that made me feel comfortable finally approaching the idea of having lesbian sex in the first place (and thank God, because everyone knows how much fun that is).
Learning about sex online was vastly different for me than sitting down with my gym teacher and listening to him wax philosophical about his girlfriend’s one run-in with Toxic Shock Syndrome. Online, I found a different mechanism for education – advice and discussion and real life experience. Learning about sex in the classroom was about being too scared to get pregnant and die to ever enjoy carefree heterosex ever again, but learning about it online was like reading a series of short and poignant stories about love and lust and losing a lot of sleep. And plus, I didn’t even know about lesbian safe sex or think about consent in same-sex sexy time before doing all this reading.
The thing is, queer people aren’t the only people who rely on the Internet to have better sex or learn about sex at all – but I am focusing specifically on queer woman for the sake of my study and also because it is a field I like to play myself. Similarly, queer women, unlike straight women, can not rely on educational resources like sex education to learn about sexual practices, safe sex, and relationships in their community.
Young people today are consuming media at rapid rates, and it teaches them about relationships, love, sex, and getting hurt in a much different way than a textbook or a gym teacher ever could. In this study, I am looking closely at and analyzing content on queer women’s websites and social networks that facilitate “sexual education” on the Internet, as well as reviewing prior research efforts centered around queer youth online. In the end, I will gain a better understanding into how the importance of queer spaces to queer sex education leads to a different cultural definition and understanding of sex for queer women, and perhaps queer people overall.