British soap operas have for decades been both barometers and drivers of social change. Shining a light on big issues like teenage pregnancy, domestic violence, racism, bereavement, addiction and homophobia, shows like EastEnders, Coronation Street and Emmerdale have brought touchy subjects and hard-hitting problems that may once have been swept under the carpet and ignored front-and-centre into the living rooms of the country.

The quality of the storytelling and the positive impact has varied, but soaps do still have a role to play when it comes to educating the public and giving those directly affected by such issues a voice at last.

But there will always be dissenters – resistance awaits. Some attitudes remain at least a half-century out of date, with the particular brand of suspicion and narrow-mindedness you get from someone who preferred minorities to stay quiet and out of the way. Even now, when many of us think very little of seeing, for example, gay and trans characters on our screens, there are those who find this upsetting and puzzling.

But this is a good thing – we want them to get annoyed by it, to be angered, to protest. Because at least, then, it is making them think. It's out in the open, and what we can see in plain sight, we can fight. Plus, we get the reminder that, admittedly, very few of us living in the real world actually need: homophobia and transphobia are still out there, on every corner, queuing behind us in shops, pulling up alongside us at the traffic lights, or sending us Christmas cards signed "love Mum and Dad".

Earlier this week, Coronation Street, one of the UK's most watched TV programmes, showed a gay kiss. In fact, it was more than a gay kiss. Two men, in the early stages of a relationship, had lunch together and retired to a hotel room where they began doing what most of us would do after a couple of lunchtime wines and a bed – they started going at it. It was acting, but the kissing, unbuttoning and slobbering felt passionate, authentic. While the scene ended abruptly in an argument, it was encouraging to see a prime time soap opera offer a relatively realistic view of what happens when two men who want each other close a bedroom door.

The "passion" took up around 15 seconds of airtime, and understandably upset some Coronation Street viewers. I say "understandably" not because they had a right to be annoyed, but because most of them had probably never seen anything like it before. Gay ardour in soaps is usually chaste doe eyes across a crowded room, or lips locked in sexless fakery (no tongues) with each actor counting down the seconds until "Cut!" Gay kisses usually give way to ellipses... a second chapter, with shirt buttons undone or hair mussed, is unusual.

As we all do when we need to complain and don't care who hears it as long as somebody does, disgruntled viewers aired their grievances on social media. There was talk of gay sex being "rammed down their throats" – no comment, honestly, it's too easy – and claims characters' sexual orientation wasn't the issue, but the scene was too explicit. This critique was flimsy at best. Some two episodes before, two straight characters were interrupted as they began to have sex on a desk, and yet social media, miraculously, stayed largely silent.

It can be cathartic to shout down homophobes, or try to reason with them, but beyond that, I'm not sure how effective it ever is. And sometimes, if we're honest, we're not really looking for change, we just want it off our chest – we need a cushion to scream into.

I doubt I'd personally manage to change many of their minds about gay people – I fear it would be a waste of energy, a battle I could never win – but I want them to understand, or at least confront, why having scenes like this on TV are important.

It's quite simple: having two gay men, or women, kiss passionately on TV normalises gay sex. Straight sex has ruled television for decades, in varying levels of explicitness, and there isn't one aspect or consequence of it we don't see played out in front of us every day. Flirtation, contraception, pregnancy, impotence, adultery, lust – straight sex is as the foundation of every TV drama.

Gay sex tends to be used as a plot device to drive a storyline forward – hitherto straight man begins to have gay feelings for somebody's brother, incredibly passionless affair ensues – or to expose homophobia and bigotry in straight characters and instil misery in their gay targets. Things have improved, gay characters tend to be more fleshed out, but we still have a long way to go before they're portrayed as accurately, as sexually, as their straight counterparts. To be blunt: we never see it go in and out.

Along with shining a light on the Victorian attitudes that still exist in some corners of Britain, featuring "authentic" gay sex in soaps helps show viewers struggling with their sexuality that there's nothing shameful about it. It encourages conversations – some of them no doubt very difficult to start in some homes – about what it means to be LGBT in the 21st century. It shows we too have desires and our own identity, and if we act on them, the world isn't going to end tomorrow.

Gay people need to see this on TV; we need to make straight people aware of us. We need attitudes to be challenged and exposed because the more people stop and think about the ridiculousness of being hung up about gay sex – hell, any sex at all – the more likely they are to think again, to apply it to real situations, to people they know.

Seeing two men kiss properly passionately on Coronation Street isn't going to turn anyone gay, but it is going to give hope to someone worried being gay can be a lonely, sexless existence – and there's a lot of it about. They too can check into a hotel room, have a passionate snog and then have a huge row, with only a few shirt buttons undone for their trouble. All of it, out there, available to them, the mundane reality of relationships. And that's why straight people don't have to accept it, but they have to understand – the world does not belong to them any more. We're bringing sexy back; we are coming for our share.