Meta Thoughts on Sex Education

One of the things I would absolutely love to happen in my life is to become a sex educator in a full-time, professional capacity.

I mentioned this to a coworker the other day and she responded “oh!  me too.”  Another coworker agreed.  When I asked what they were interested in, specifically, Coworker A mentioned AIDS prevention, and Coworker B talked about reproductive rights in the developing world.  Both valid career paths, both related to sex education, but once they said that I felt a little nervous, since of course my interest in sex education has to do with de-stigmatizing sexuality and talking, point-blank and down and dirty, about sex.

When we talk about “sex education,” a lot of the time we are talking about things like disease prevention.  This is a valid goal, but I have to wholeheartedly agree with Cara Kulwicki’s conception of real sex education. In that formulation, any discussion of sex education is incomplete without acknowledging sexual pleasure.

Thinking about sex education, and what I’d like to achieve as a sex educator, and what I get out of the sex education provided by others, I came up with three rough categories of sex education.  These are based more on the demands of the audience than what’s being supplied, and so one form of education can easily meet multiple demands, but it’s one way of thinking about what’s out there.

1) Meeting a Social Need Before the Question is Asked. This type of sex education is issue-driven, and often provided to people who don’t express a particular interest in sex, or learning about sex.  Often there is no specific question posed, or effort made to research sex.  But this type of sex education meets a need, and can be a very powerful form of sex positive activism.
Rape prevention is one example here, as is HIV prevention.  This type of sex education might be provided through posters in public places, public service announcements, and free lectures to the public.  Sex education in schools can also fit into this category–it’s education that’s provided simply because someone is a student, and often the information provided is not something you would’ve thought to ask for.  For example, when we work queer-positive messages into school sex ed, or anti-rape messages, or teach about the destructive effects of patriarchy, we’re working education into a curriculum to pre-empt a problem that kids may not even be aware of.

2) General Sex Education. By “general,” I don’t necessarily mean education on everything there is to know about sex.  But what I’m referring to here is sex education that’s meant to cover a topic somewhat exhaustively, no matter how narrow or broad the topic is.  This would include books on topics such as lesbian sex, sadomasochism, or sex for survivors.  This would include many kinky workshops and “how tos.”  The key here is that the audience is looking for information about sex, and the educator is offering a fairly comprehensive chunk of information.  No one can no everything, but rather than sharing one particular experience, an educator offering this variety of education is saying “here is what people do, here are the subtopics that fall under this category, here are some resources, here are the basics you need to know.”

3) Gap-Filling. This last category embraces more specific education, where the audience has a specific question or is looking for individual perspectives. This would include, for example, sex bloggers who tell their own specific sexual stories.  Not all these bloggers consider themselves sex educators, of course, but if you read a lot of their stories, you’re going to learn something!  It also includes workshops that are about a very particular perspective on a particular topic.  It also includes FAQs or advice columns where the educator is answering a specific query about a sexuality-related topic.

I call this “gap filling” because it’s often going to fill in the gaps of something covered by a more general course.  For example, someone who received a fairly comprehensive general sex education in school might want to know more about the anatomy of the clitoris, which wasn’t covered.

So!

How do I relate to these categories, as an educator and as a consumer?

I find them useful because it’s clear to me that my niche, at least at present, is not necessarily going to be in general sex education.  For one, I don’t actually have that much sexual experience, or kinky experience.  I also don’t have one area in which I consider myself an expert.  The best thing I can do in this area is provide resource guides, which may be something I use this blog for in the future.

On the other hand, I can provide gap-filling.  One community on LiveJournal that I used to love was vagina_pagina, a general community for all questions about sex, anatomy, periods, STDs, etc etc.  It was great because you could ask this huge group of people the most obscure, embarassing question (does anyone else have a little divot next to their asshole?  I have this odd discharge, here’s what it looks like, any ideas?) and you’d get at least five or ten comments every time.  It was great at filling the gaps, even if you knew a lot about sex and sexuality in general.

Similarly, I love how I am always learning about sexuality, even when I think there can’t be much more to know, and principally through gap-filling resources.  For example, the first time I read Yes Means Yes I was overwhelmed by how all these new perspectives filled in the gaps and helped me describe my own experiences with sexual mistreatment/abuse.  On the kinky side of things, The New Bottoming Book gave me tons of ideas about how to ensure my own safety as a submissive, even though I’d been reading about submission for eleven years when I first picked it up.

This blog is mostly about filling gaps by offering a perspective on sexuality. My thoughts on their own are only the thoughts of one individual, but I think that these are a valuable resource.  Furthermore, what’s great about blogging and social media is that we can all build on each other.  Lately, Twitter has been giving me all sorts of new ideas that I wouldn’t have come up with on my own.  I’d love to attend some conferences and workshops that provide some more general sex education, but even these little 140 word statements can spark a train of thought.

This post was originally published on the blog Sex Positive Activism, which has now merged to become the sex & relationships section of Queer & Now.

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