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Ask Dr. Laura: LGBTQ Alphabet Soup and The Virginal Voyage

Dear Dr. Laura,

Growing up, I heard the acronym LGBT. Now I hear LGBTQ, LGBTQIA, etc. Where do all these terms come from? Why do we need so many?

Dear Wordy Wonderer,

LGBT, LGBTQ, queer, magical rainbow unicorn society. Whatever umbrella term you use for the non-straight/cisgender community, it all means the same thing at its core; people who are considered by straight society as “sexual minorities.” And statistically they have a point—we are minorities. There are less LGBT people on the planet than straight and cisgender people according to population polls and surveys. The new terms demonstrate how as community we have collectively evolved and collaborated to form words that best describe our plethora of identities and experiences.

Let’s do a little bit of historical background to start our journey down the rainbow-brick-road. All across the planet, since the dawn of recorded history, LGBT people have existed. In ancient Greece, Japan, India, and the Americas, civilizations both acknowledged and often celebrated queer people as a natural state and sexual preference. It wasn’t until the rise of Christianity and the mass colonization of the world by European explorers that the tides became less gay-friendly and the waters infested with homophobic sharks.

Gay history was covered up like a bad Burberry poncho and almost forgotten. Its roots did arise from time to time in social discourse. For example, most early psychologists thought everyone had the ability to like both men and women, but should choose the “ideal natural state” of heterosexuality. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that the terms “homosexual” and “heterosexual” emerged. From there, sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists started to categorize people into gay/straight, etc. And surprise, surprise, people can’t actually be categorized like types of cheese or variations of orchids. We are just too darn unique and complex!

In the 1950s through the 1970s, the first gay and lesbian communities began to form and advocate for our rights. In the 1980s, the term LGB came into existence followed by LGBT in the 1990s. More and more sexual minorities wanted to be included into the acronym in order to feel seen and heard—of course, the struggle there is that you can add so many that no one can remember the full list, like memorizing pi after 3.14. So do we say “gay,” “queer,” “LGBT,” “LGBTQ,” “LGBTQIAP2S”?

At the end of the day, there is no clear answer—no one size fits all. Some people now use GSM for “gender and sexual minorities,” but even that doesn’t seem to encompass everyone who needs to be included. On the opposite side, some argue that too many “sexual minorities” have been included, such as “allies” (you’re a decent human being—that shouldn’t make you a sexual minority), or “fetishes” (you like bondage, but that doesn’t mean you can lose your job or housing because of it like someone who is gay). For me, in my professional role, I choose LGBT while intentionally mentioning that it is meant as an umbrella term, not as a literal explanation of every identity. In LGBT circles, I also feel comfortable using “queer community,” as I enjoy reclaiming pejorative terms as empowerment. But, I would feel uncomfortable with anyone outside the community trying to use it, as it is still triggering and used negatively in our culture.

Why are there so many terms? I think it comes down to a bit of a generational divide for many. Pre-millennials tend to stick to “gay” or LGBT. Millennials have access to so many more avenues of self-expression and dialogue than previous generations did. This led to an emergence of new and more descriptive language around sexuality, gender, and desire. If any word helps express the lens through which one moves through the world, thus creating a sense of agency and visibility, I say hey I’m all for it, just please be patient in explaining what it means to you if someone isn’t yet aware. While there may never be a universally agreed-upon term for all sexual minorities, we can all come together around the idea of creating a supportive and affirming network of people who have a natural ability to make life more beautiful, diverse, and who throw the best dinner parties on earth.

In Sex Positivity,

Dr. Laura

Dear Dr. Laura,

I’m thinking about having sex for the first time. I’m not sure how to know for sure if I’m ready. How can I tell?

Dear Virginal Voyager,

Ahhh, the first time. The first time you eat ice cream, the first time you drive a car, your first Cher concert. All such pivotal moments in one’s life. As a sex educator, I get this question ALL. THE. TIME. People are so curious about peeking into the Pandora’s Box that is S-E-X that they fret and fuss over how it should be, who it should be with, where it should be, etc. We also get so many mixed messages about having sex for the first time. On one hand, it’s supposedly the most life-altering event a person can experience and is sacred. On the other hand it’s treated as something to get over and done with as soon as possible any way you can. So which is it—a sacred flower to guard and protect, or something like an Eamon CD that you should throw away the moment you can? (Shout out to 2003!)

First of all, remember that sex is a buffet of delicious dishes that you can choose from and see what does and doesn’t work (see previous column for defining queer sex). You get to decide what you want to define as sex and under what circumstances. Sex is a very powerful, symbolic, and meaningful act for many people. In many religions, it is sacred because of the amount of psychic energy that is transmitted between partners during intimate acts. And yet, at the end of the day, there are many intense and intimate acts outside of sex that can be seen as bonding and beautiful. Sex isn’t the be-all end-all for anything. Whether this is your first time getting your groove on with yourself, another person, or with a new partner, it is a meaningful event for many people.

So how do you know when it’s time to wave your checker flag and start your engines? Well I’m going to provide you with an official checklist that you can use for your first time ever or with any new partner. Use it as a solid framework but modify and alter it to fit your needs.

  • Consent must be clarified. Consent is a broad and oftentimes complex concept. As nice as the tea video is, consent as a paradigm is not as simple as a cup of tea. You have to discuss what ways you will verbally and non-verbally say that you are okay moving forward physically. You also have to feel comfortable saying yes and no to this person. Consent must be a clear affirmative, enthusiastic YES without pressure or coercion (such as threatening to leave if you don’t do what they say) and when both people are in their right mind and body (that’s a big old no to being drunk or high). It can be verbal or non-verbal, such as meeting you halfway when you lean in for a kiss. If you feel like you couldn’t really tell them to stop if something isn’t working because it would hurt their feelings or that they might not listen the first time you said so, then it would be wise to wait for another better-suited partner. Getting used to asking for what you do and don’t want is imperative to a safe and healthy sex life, and something everyone should be practicing.
  • Safety must be covered (pun intended). STDs and pregnancy are a part of life and sex. Even if this is a onetime deal, you still have to talk about if you have both recently been tested, what you were tested for, what the results were, and what kind of protection you want to use moving forward. If pregnancy is a possibility, you need to talk about not only how you want to prevent it but options you are open to if a pregnancy does occur.
  • Pleasure needs to be discussed. Even if you have had sex with a hundred people before this one, every single person is a unique sexual snowflake. You don’t know if what you are daydreaming and wet-dreaming about is anything like what the other person is wanting or imagining unless you ask. I suggest you make a Yes/No/Maybe list with your partner and see where you overlap and where you differ. The things you both have a full enthusiastic yes for should be the things you try first. As hard as it may be at first (pun intended), you have to get used to communicating throughout sex as well. Ask verbally, “Do you like when I touch you like this or like that?,” “What have you liked in the past/when you masturbate?” Non-verbal communication is also key. Listen to how your partner’s body and face are responding to touch and motion. Are they relaxing and moving with you, or are they tensing up or looking uncomfortable? Ask and adjust as necessary to this feedback.

Most people never get to go over these things before they have sex for the first time and they end up being really disappointed and frustrated. It might feel difficult to start these conversations, but 1) they are vital to your health, safety, and wellbeing and 2) the more you do it (talking that is, but, yeah, sex too), the easier it gets. Listen to your body and heart and trust that you have the skills to be a savvy sexual shopper.

In Sex Positivity,

Dr. Laura


Laura McGuire

Dr. Laura McGuire is certified as a sexuality educator through the American Association of Sexuality Educators Counselors and Therapists.
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