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Reframing Sexuality: It’s More Than the Birds and the Bees

By Leslie Massicotte, Teens Climb High Program Assistant

When you hear the word “sexuality,” what do you think of? Probably a lot of you think of sex itself, sexual and reproductive anatomy, or maybe STIs (sexually transmitted infections) and HIV…. Some might think of identity--how you identify and who you like.

None of those are wrong. There’s just so much more!

At Compass Center, we like to use a model to describe sexuality called the Circles of Sexuality.

The circles show that sexuality actually encompasses five different areas:

  • Sexual health and reproduction: This is the birds and the bees category. It includes anatomy, STIs, condoms, pregnancy, menstruation, etc. Think of it as the facts of reproduction and sexual health.

    • Example: The vulva is the external sexual anatomy that includes the labia, clitoris, urethra, and vaginal opening. A lot of us call this the vagina but the vagina is actually the passageway on the inside of the body that connects to the uterus.

  • Sexual identity: This is about who you are, how you dress and act, and whom you like.

    • Example: I identify as a bisexual, cisgender woman and I present myself as femme. (Confused by all these terms? Check out this glossary!)

  • Intimacy: This has to do with feeling close to another person, either romantically or with your family or a friend.

    • Example: Experiencing intimacy when spending quality time with good friends.

  • Sensuality: This is your sexiness. What turns you on and what makes you feel good.

    • Example: Loving to wear sexy underwear because it makes you feel powerful and awesome!

  • Sexualization: This has to do with power, how sex can be used to abuse or shame others.

    • Example: Rape and sexual harassment are two examples of how sex can be used as a weapon by those in power.

Check out the circles below for more details about each one.

Why does using this (much more complicated) version of sexuality matter?

Well, if we frame sexuality as only being about sex, it does a number of things:

1. People start to feel really awkward and don’t want to talk about anything to do with sex.

2. Adults don’t think teens should know about sex so they prevent them from having sexuality education.

3. We lose out on valuable life lessons about how to be a person.

However, sexuality is an important part of ALL of our lives, from the time we’re born until we die.

Sexuality is always a part of our lives because we all have bodies, we all have health, we all need to communicate, and we all have physical needs and wants.

So if we can think of sexuality as being beyond just the birds and the bees, we open a whole world of learning and growth--for ourselves, for our relationships, and for our communities.


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