BY Briahna McTigue & Avril Paillot

“In the past when I started sleeping with women and exploring my sexuality, I turned to porn,” says Florentine Chamoin. “I was curious to know what lesbian sex could look like and the different things I could try out.”

With limited access to resources about queer sex, Chamoin used porn as a tool to explore her sexuality.

“Queer sexuality isn’t really talked about or taught at school, and we don’t all have parents who will talk to us about it. So we have to figure it out on our own,” Chamoin says.

“Straight sex is considered the default, and most people will receive some kind of information about it. That’s why we turn to porn to learn about our sexuality.”

Individual stories about the barriers to sexual education and discovery, such as Chamoin’s, link to a wider social stigma surrounding sex. Within that, porn’s ability to help viewers explore their sexuality often goes unspoken.

“There is a stigma that watching porn is shameful, and masturbation is stigmatized as well,” Chamoin says.

“The shame surrounding porn runs much deeper than just porn itself. It has to do with the shame surrounding sexuality overall as a society,” says sexologist Katérina Forget-Kyriakou. “When we’re shaming porn, we’re shaming a whole structure that was built for sexual discovery, and it can really bring that shame right back into the bedroom with us.”

For some porn users, online platforms are the main source of information they use to answer their questions and concerns.

LGBTQ2+ flag hangs from a building

LGBTQ2+ Flags Hang Outside the Saloon Bistro Bar in Montreal’s Gay Village. Photo by Briahna McTigue.

In Canada, 58 per cent of queer and gender nonconforming youth report that they use online content for their sexual education. This is 14 per cent more than straight and cisgender Canadians.

Home to approximately 1 million LGBTQ2+ citizens, this means that nearly 580,000 Canadians find online self-education more accessible.

“Porn can really help us normalize our sexuality, sexual desires, and the niche ways we access pleasure,” says sex columnist, Taylor Neal. “I say niche because everybody’s pleasure comes from a nuanced place based on lived experience. And when we explore these spaces, we can often feel a lot of stigmas arise. We’re raised in a world that tells us our desires are weird and taboo if they don’t fit into this narrow, cis-het narrative about what sex is supposed to look like.”

Comprehensive sexual education is recognized by United Nations institutions like the World Health Organization, UNESCO, UNAIDS, and the United Nations Population Fund.

However, a report by Action Canada for Sexual Health & Rights—formerly Planned Parenthood Canada—found that the sex-ed experiences of most Canadians did not meet international standards. They were deemed to be outdated, not inclusive, un-monitored and usually offered by educators receiving minimal support.

“My sex-ed was literally abstinence,” Neal says. “At my highschool, it was taught by my gym teacher and it was like ‘here’s how to put on a condom, but also if you have sex you will get pregnant and die’.”

Without the knowledge that we need to empower ourselves and learn about our bodies, sexuality and consent, we may become more vulnerable to experiencing sexually transmitted diseases, unplanned pregnancies and unsafe sexual relationships.

“We already don’t have access to much sex education, and when we do, it’s binary and not always queer inclusive,” says Forget-Kyriakou. “So there aren’t many spaces where queer individuals can comfortably and safely explore that growing up.”

Improper access to sexual education can lead to increased risks for everyone. However, members of the LGBTQ2+ community are disproportionately at risk due to their already marginalized position. They are more than twice as likely to experience inappropriate behavior in public and online spaces than straight, cisgender Canadians.

This, in conjunction with the innate challenges of being a minority, has an impact on their mental health. 32 per cent of the community reports mental health struggles, and 41 per cent have been diagnosed with a mood or anxiety disorder.

“At the root of it all, education allows choice. Without education we don’t have choice. If we don’t know that we can be anything we want to be, and we’re not educated in all of the ways that we’re able to express ourselves, then we’re not going to,” Neal says.

Taylor Neal performing at a burlesque show

Taylor Neal dances a solo performance in a Pin-Up Posse burlesque show. Photo from Taylor Neal.

“A lot of us are just learning about all of this as an adult too, which is where the concept of ‘late bloomers’ comes from. A lot of queer people think they’re late bloomers because they didn’t know they were queer until they were adults. But that’s because we didn’t have the tools to see ourselves represented and identify with that.”

Despite the ways that porn platforms can help those who are traditionally underrepresented in sex-ed discourse, there are still some cautionary elements to be considered.

Through her work as a sex therapist, Forget-Kyriakou has had to navigate this with clients. “If you have no personal experiences to draw from, you might be very disappointed when you have your first sexual interaction. It can be hard to adjust to the reality of what sex really is,” she says.

Social worker and psychotherapist, Rebecca Puterman, also has experience working with clients who have layered relationships with pornography. “In my experiences talking to people, I also know other impacts that porn can have,” Puterman says.

“There could be many disturbing images and acts that people could see at a very young age. And if you don’t have the adequate support to manage what you’re seeing, it could affect young viewers watching it. It could affect sexual behaviour early, and possibly lower satisfaction in relationships and sexual interactions.”

The sites we use can also impact our relationship with porn, as well as the way we view and learn about sex.

Pornhub, for example, is one of the most commonly used platforms. Between Sept. and Nov. of last year, the site had 12.8 billion monthly visits, making it the leading pornographic website for global use. Despite its popularity, it is also well acquainted with public criticism and lawsuits.

“Especially on Pornhub, there are some things that can be disturbing and shouldn’t necessarily be accessible,” says Forget-Kyriakou.

“It’s taboo, so we hide it, but we don’t do enough about it. We should be talking about it and trying to make it a more regulated and secure space for everyone.”

In 2023, Canada placed 9th as one of the highest ranking Pornhub users. With the platform’s headquarters located in Montreal, the city has become a well-known hub for pornography.

“I will say, I’ve used Pornhub and I’m sure we all have. It is just accessible and easy, and that’s why it’s still being used internationally today…because it works,” Neal says.

“That said, a lot of the platforms that are giving porn for free on the internet, like Pornhub, are mainly oriented around a lot of male-gaze, single-lens based porn. Within that, there’s a lot of misogyny and not a lot of representation.”

Instead of Pornhub, some of the vetted platforms that Neal and Forget-Kyriakou recommend are: Cheex, Dipsea, and Bellesa.

woman looking at Bellesa porn website

Bellesa is an ethical, women-driven pornography and sexual wellness platform founded in Montreal. Their website also includes a ‘sex ed’ blog page. Photo by Briahna McTigue.

“There are so many people promoting sexual wellness and wanting to share resources and tools for ethically made porn,” Neal says.

“That’s all well and good, but if you can barely afford your groceries or your rent, and you just want to get off, then you’re going to go for the easy thing. I don’t think that’s something to be demonized. I think it has to come with a layer of understanding of what you’re accessing, and how you’re perpetuating this lack of ethics around the products you’re consuming. Just doing so intentionally, I think is kind of what it comes down to. And if you can, then you should support the other platforms that are doing things in the best way they know how.”

Despite the lack of fully-realized, comprehensive sexual education for all Canadians, Neal feels optimistic about the changes they see happening.

“I’m actually really excited to say that I feel hopeful about where Canadian sex-ed is going. There are a lot of sex educators who are doing youth groups, going into schools, and holding community spaces for youth and adults. A lot of these are also from queer and disabled lenses too,” they say.

Important dates in Canadian history that paved the way for LGBTQ2+ communities today. Timeline by Briahna McTigue.

Local groups such as the non-profit group Sex and Self Concordia, are great examples of hands-on work that is making a difference. They host regular workshops and give away free items in their wellness pantry at the Frigo Vert on Mackay St.

The pantry is often stocked with sex toys, menstrual products and gender affirming gear like binders.

Ultimately, while porn is adding a needed balance to the presence of queer sexual education, Forget-Kyriakou looks forward to this tool being replaced.

“I hope that as we move forward, we can continue dismantling these issues, so that porn won’t need to be a main space where queer people can learn about their sexuality,” she says.

Main image by Briahna McTigue.
Published May 14, 2024.