Sex education, privilege, and race

*note: this is the rambling of one cis-female, white, middle-class, straight-passing sex educator, and should be taken as just that – one person’s thoughts. Not the most important or right opinion – simply mine, and still an opinion in the process of being developed. My language may not be the perfect language, and if there is something that I’ve stated incorrectly, please let me know, and please know that my intentions are good and I want to learn to make my actions better.


With the recent focus on how racial and class equality are Pretty Fucked Up in our culture, we’ve had a chance, as a culture, to engage in discussions of how People of Color (or POC, for those of you that aren’t familiar with that abbreviation) are marginalized in hundreds of ways – from police profiling, to our legal and prison systems, to access to adequate representation and equality in sentencing, and on and on. And we know that it doesn’t stop at just the legal systems; we can all acknowledge, I think, that POC in the US are not given the same basic rights and privileges that white folks are given. I’m grateful that some of this conversation has extended into the greater discussions within the sex education & sex industries.

Recently, the brilliant Aida Manduley wrote an in-depth article discussing the whitewashing of sex education, as exemplified by the release of a book of collected writings of sex educators that did not appear to include a diverse range of people (and I say appear, because many mixed-race people, as well as people from some races and ethnic backgrounds, may “look” white when in reality they identify otherwise). I’m really, really glad that she wrote this piece, and that it’s been picked up and commented on by so many other folks in the sex education movement. If you have not read it, please, please go do so?

I’m grateful to have been educated by my friends who have histories and experiences that are different from me, and one of the first lessons that I learned was that, despite what my experiences are, I cannot possibly fully understand what other folks are experiencing and the effect that those experiences have on their understanding of their own sexuality, and sex positivity in general. Aida’s writing, and that of other folks who can speak to that, have been affirming for me in my own beliefs, and in the direction that my work takes. And for me, at least, I’ve come up with some factors that I need to ensure that I include in my own education and community building efforts.

First, my job as an educator and as someone who occasionally mentors other educators is to back the hell off the “center stage” and ensure that people who don’t look, act, sound, move, or think like I do are replacing me. The fact of the matter is that we don’t make it easy for folks who are non-white (and non-cisgender women, and non-middle-to-upper-class, and people who are dealing with physical and emotional difficulties, and on and on) to become sex educators on the national-attention level. While I may know all of the facts as I see them, I can’t share those facts with people in the same ways that someone from a relatable heritage, economic background,physical presence, educational level, and gender history can do so. In order for sex positivity to be a powerful force for personal change, it needs to reach all people – and that means that we need to see all kinds of people providing those classes, articles, blog posts, tumblr feeds, interviews, and media appearances.

Second, it’s important for me to avoid the assumption that there is a certain language level or education level required in order to teach. A four-year degree or post-grad work is not required to be a sex educator. Frankly, I don’t think a high school diploma is, either. You are a sex educator if you are passionate about encouraging other people to learn about their own bodies, claim their own boundaries, communicate their needs and desires to their partner (if they choose to have one), and feel good about who they are in their sexual expression. There should be no barriers to entry to the use of that identity. Someone who talks to their friends and helps their friends figure out how to have the orgasm that they’ve been trying to, someone who reminds their buddy that he has a right to not be “in the mood” every time his partner asks for sex, someone who teaches the younger folk in their families that having a period or a wet dream is a healthy thing…those are all people who are doing the real work of sex education, not just the “in front of the room” stuff that we culturally tend to think of. It’s time that I quit treating sex education as an exclusive club, instead of the wide open culture that it can (and perhaps should be).

Third, I can put my energy into ensuring that the bandwidth for the amazing educators that we have that have that are outside of the “traditional” mold is raised, and those folks are heard as often (if not more so) than the traditional educators we have. I can do that by not restating other people’s thoughts, and instead linking to them directly in social media. I can do that by sharing who I have learned from, and referring folks to their work as foundational. I can do that by purchasing books and visiting websites that include a diversity of voices (as an example, The Ultimate Guide to Kink includes a wide range of voices, including POC, non-gender conforming, queer, straight, and diverse ages and backgrounds). I can do that by donating money to POC-run organizations that seek to build peer educational opportunities. I can look for new ways to do that, and check myself by asking my peers that identify as POC (and other less-privileged groups) if I am doing things that get in the way of progress.

I think this is important for me. I believe that it’s important for our culture, because until every person has access to solid, health-and-pleasure based information about their sexual well being and intimate relationships, we can’t really say that we’re doing the most effective work as sex educators. It’s a tall order. But it starts by each person critically thinking about how they are either adding to that access of education, or what they can do to stop detracting from it.

Beyond The Love Keynote

As some of you know, I recently was asked to deliver the Friday night opening keynote for Beyond the Love, an amazing poly-centered event in Columbus, OH. This is an event that delights me, both heart and soul, and I was really honored to be asked to participate. If you’d like to watch it, just click the video below!

Again, my deepest gratitude to Dan, Dawn, and Karen, whose energy is devoted to creating the special, sacred place called Beyond The Love. If you’re poly, or poly-curious, the next BTL will be in late 2015; come out & join us!


Hey, Sexy Smartypants! Learn How to Kiss, Whydoncha?

Everything you need to know about how sex will go with your amour de jour, you can tell from your first kissing session.

Not the first kiss. The first session.

Kissing is intimacy in miniature. The first brush of lips together, how fast the tongues come into play, how to move your bodies and faces to further accomodate and change up the kiss, what you do with your teeth, your nose, your jaw, your glasses, how you use your hands – they all give clues.

I’ve found that folks that dive into a kiss like a drunken Shriner into a wintery Lake Michigan are often focused exclusively on getting to a goal. The kiss is the expected first step to get to the hookup, and should thereby be rushed and moved past as quickly as possible in the pursuit of the almighty orgasm. They often shove a tongue between their potential partner’s lips and teeth, often chasing the other’s tongue into a fast retreat to avoid being trampled or tied in knots. Their teeth bruise lips, their lips apply too much suction, and they proceed willy-nilly, believing that what they’re doing is what All The Folks Like, AmIRight? ™

Then we have the kissing equivalent of the dead fish handshake – a mouth that opens, hinge-like, and simply allows itself to be plundered (or often, briefly explored but then ignored). The lips have no muscle tone, and whether because they’re inexperienced, nervous, or uncaring (usually it’s one of the first two), they don’t actually “kiss back”. Like an ostrich sticking it’s head into the sand, their tongue (and psyche) scurry away to hide until the potential lover moves on to something else that they’re more comfortable with.

Of course, rarely do we find a lover like one of the two above (but yes, they do exist, and I’m not naming names). Most people are somewhere in between. And nobody knows what the perfect kissing style is for the object of their (at least temporary) affection. The thing is – nobody knows how, exactly, the other person wants to have sex, either. And the skill of the lover – and of the kisser – is in their ability to read cues, follow direction, and co-create an experience.

This requires that we be fully in the moment with the person of our osculatory attention. The world needs to go away for a while. Ditto our expectations. Start out gently – even if you are both into savagery – and let it escalate as the other person fully engages in the kiss. Take your time with it. You don’t need to go from lips touching to tonsil flicking in two seconds flat; in fact, start out by kissing their neck, or just brushing their lips with your own. When you like what they’re doing – move into that same style. Gasps and moans can also let them know that we love how their tongue is teasing the inside of our bottom lip, or that we want them to go a little harder (and if YOU hear those gasps and moans, follow the roadmap that they just laid out for you!). Stepping closer in with our bodies is a sign that we’re really into it; stepping back a little creates some distance and can be a way of slowing it down (or, perhaps, making it stop altogether because it’s just not working). Hands can stroke cheeks, neck, and earlobes to tease the kiss a little further along.

And if the kiss is amazing – and I fervently hope that it will be! – you can take a breath and smile at each other while you negotiate what’s next!


Re-thinking the FC2

What I don’t know about sex (yet!) could fill a book. And until the past few years, I knew next to nothing about the FC2 (or “female condom”) other than the fact that it was expensive and it’s bulky. What I’ve found, though, is that the FC2 can be an ideal solution to safer sex (and reduction of discomfort for some users!) for a large number of people. And because of efforts to make the FC2 more affordable and obtainable, the people who are using it are no longer limited to folks that can afford the almost $3 price.

The condom was created to give women an option to control their own safer sex, by creating a barrier protection method that could be inserted prior to intercourse at the wearer’s discretion, taking the decision to use a traditional condom out of the hands of their partner and putting it solidly in their own. However, we’ve found a number of other ways to use it…enough that many sex educators (myself included) are calling in the “receptive condom” instead of the female condom, because, well, it works great for all kinds of receptive penetration.

Anal sex? Perfect for that, especially if you like it rough. The inner ring is folded and slipped into the rectum, and then a few fingers inserted to push it further back into place are all you need. Pull the inside ring out; if it’s not being used vaginally, it’s not necessary (but it makes a spiffy bonus cock ring!). Compatible with all lubricants (it comes with silicone lube on it, but you can use water and oil based lubes as well), and made to cling to the inner walls of the body, it’s perfect for larger cocks, toys, and yes, in a pinch, small fists, too. Bonus? When you’re thrusting vigorously, or if the penis that’s doing the penetrating flags a little, you don’t have to worry about the condom rolling up and going inside the body (thereby breaking the barrier).

Vaginal sex? In addition to the marketed uses, it’s great for sex during light menstrual cycles (since it may actually contain some of the blood), as well as for having it in place if the wearer is going to be partying and might fumble a condom in the heat of the moment. A few folks that I’ve talked with have noted that there is also a benefit to having the condom cover the opening of the vagina itself, since irritation and chafing are issues that they’ve dealt with in the past with other barrier methods.

The overriding factor, though, is that it can make sex feel…condomless. There is no tight squeezing effect on the penetrating partner, and no latex chafing to the receiving partner. Smooth. Sexy. Warm. Wet. HOT.

Grab a few, and take a practice drive with them. You may find that the FC2 is something that you’ll want to add to your sexual arsenal!

10 Signs of Healthy Sexual Self Esteem

I usually read those linkbait-y blog posts that promise ten life hacks, or twenty ways to cut down the clutter in your house…I suspect that I’m hoping that they may actually prove fruitful, but most often it’s a rehash of what I already know. But a few days ago, I started thinking about our sexual self esteem – how we feel about ourselves, sexually – and how little that we talk about the underlying structure of sexual wellness. Cosmo (and tons of other sex help resources) shout out that here, now, are five amazing ways to please your lover! and keep them faithful to you! and all sorts of other malarky – and none of that helps us to have better self esteem (though some of the tips are occasionally pretty fun to try out!). So here’s my rendition: ten signs that your sexual self esteem is healthy. None of us are going to always be perfect with these; like our emotional and physical self esteem, it is a constantly growing, changing, and evolving process. I think, though, that these are some good questions to ask ourselves as we explore how we want to grow in our intimate relationships (including the most intimate of all – the relationship with our self).

1. I feel good about my sexual identity

2. I feel that the ways that I wish to engage with myself sexually are healthy

3. I feel that the ways that I wish to engage with others sexually are healthy

4. I feel pleasure from the sexual activities that I partake in, both during and after the activity

5. I am willing to negotiate for what I want without shame or guilt

6. I am willing to hear “no” and respect it.

7. I am willing to speak up if I am uncomfortable with a direction that a sensual encounter is moving

8. If I experience betrayal, abuse, or harassment, I am able to ask for help in healing from it.

9. I accept that my partner(s) sexual desires or orientations may not fully match my own, and I do not feel that the disparity is my fault or my failure.

10. I understand the levels of risk of various sexual behavior (physical, emotional, reproductive, or spiritual) and am able to choose to engage in sexual behavior from an informed position, and am aware of ways to mitigate the risks.

I also want to acknowledge that there are many people who, because of circumstance, are unable to effectively advocate for their own sexuality or sexual well-being, so this is, in essence, a privileged concept. I still believe that these are worthy goals, even if they are temporarily unattainable for some (and really, what can we do to help them advocate for themselves better? Better access to education, support, and social service would be a great start!).

This is very much a work in progress for me – and I’d love your feedback, in the comments section. If you want me not not publish the comment, just say that and I’ll keep it between us. Otherwise, I’ll share it so others can consider your thoughts, too!

Everything they told you is wrong…and here’s why

Everyone – really, everyone – is suffering from mis-information and messed up expectations around their sexuality. If there is one thing that I have really learned in the last few years of being on the retail end of sex education, it’s that we create our own reasons for failing sex lives and lack of sexual pleasure. Yes, really. We do. So…let’s talk about some of those, shall we?

1. If you have a penis, here’s the reality: there will be times that it will be too sensitive, and times where every sexy person in the world could dance in front of you and it won’t become erect. And that is REALLY OKAY. Your worth as a lover has absolutely nothing to do with the erectile capacity of your cock. Trust me, there are plenty of fun things to do without an erect penis in the picture. And it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take pleasure in the sensation of touch! Stroking a non-erect cock apparently (by the looks on previous partner’s faces) feels pretty damn good; don’t shut yourself off from that!

2. If you have a vagina, here’s the reality: if you don’t orgasm from penetration alone, you’re in the overwhelming majority. If you have “trouble” getting to your big O, you’re also not in the minority. As Sheri Winston noted in a recent in-service training that I attended, women get aroused from the inside out; it has to take time to spread through the body in order for the best possible orgasm. But if you come a little faster? That’s great, too! You can play around and see what your body does when you change up sensations and speed.

3. If you are transgender, it does not mean that you *have* to have any hormone treatment and/or surgical intervention. Many trans* folks choose not to, for a huge variety of reasons. You are not “more legitimate” if you’re on T and have had top surgery, or if you’ve had implants and your voice is higher. You get to choose what’s right for you, for your body and your spirit – nobody else does.

4. If you are a queer person, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be attracted to members of a different gender than your norm. “Gold Star” folks are fewer in number, and many people feel that having sex with someone once (or even a dozen times) doesn’t change our self identities. In other words: I can fuck men and still be a dyke. You can get a BJ from the hot guy at the bar and still be mostly straight. It’s all up to you.

5. If you are trying to have safer sex, you’ll have to do a risk assessment and decide what level is okay for you. The quick answer – put a condom on it – is not just problematic from the standpoint that all sex must involve an erect penis (hah!), but it also doesn’t take into account skin-to-skin transmitted viruses. The best way to play it safe is to know what that means for *you*, and communicate it clearly with your partner(s). Whoever has the most conservative practices wins, always. He wants oral, his partner needs there to be a barrier? Guess what – the barrier wins.

6. When is the right time to disclose a positive STI status? At least before action is imminent. Preferably far enough in advance for the folks you’re engaging in play with to have a chance to decide how that will change things. If it’s time for action and you haven’t disclosed, change up what you’re doing to stick with things that will not have the potential to transmit anything until you get a chance to. Dry humping? Yes, sir! Watch each other masturbate? Hell yeah! A gloved finger up the ass and the other hand with a glove on stroking the front? You betcha. That’s pretty close to as safe as you can get – and it’s HOT.

7. When your partner (or partner du jour) discloses their status to you, take a deep breath before you say ANYTHING. Disclosing one’s status is one of the biggest risk-takers that anyone can take; the person disclosing it is not only telling you to keep you safe and be honest with you, they’re also putting all of their hopes for fun or future love with you out there on the table. Ask them questions – what does this mean for you? Are you on meds? What are the ways that it gets transmitted? How do you normally play safe? You may be very, very surprised by their answers. Then, do a little research. There are thousands upon thousands of relationships that are vividly sexually active that have one person who is positive, and one who is negative. The presence of a virus or infection doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun; in fact, early disclosure should tell you one really big thing: your potential partner is being honest and ethical with you at great potential cost to themselves. Honor that. And even if you cannot find a way to feel comfortable continuing your interactions, be appreciative of that honesty.

8. When we get older, we don’t stop feeling sexual. Orgasms don’t have an expiration date. Your sex life can (and likely will be!) juicy as long as you want it to be; whether it’s with one partner, many partners, or solo. In the retail part of my life, seeing couples coming in who are being playful with each other in their 60’s and 70’s is not at all uncommon; in fact, one of my favorite customers is well into her 80’s and buys herself a new toy every so often because she enjoys her body. PS: If you think sex in your 20’s is great, I will tell you that your 40’s will be amazing, and I’ve had dear friends in their’ 60’s and 70’s tell me that it just keeps getting better!

9. If we have a disability, it doesn’t mean that we have to stop being sexual, either. Sex is in the mind as well as the body; tracing a finger along a partner’s palm can be as erotic as intercourse. Dirty talk has a special place in my heart, because as long as there is a way for partners to communicate using words, there is a way to be sexual. Sometimes, better sex can be as simple as asking a quality sex educator how to change things in your physical surroundings (such as using support pillows, or thigh harnesses, or ergonomically shaped vibrators, or shifting between activities). Sometimes, it’s something to discuss with our medical professionals to ensure that we’re getting the most out of our bodies. A rich sexuality is part of our birthright as human beings; it’s not something that only “able bodied” people can aspire to. It’s YOURS.

10. If you’re the parent of a younger person, they have a right to have accurate, non-judgmental information about sexuality as soon as they start asking for it. While we aren’t going to get graphic (and certainly, parents have a right to their own privacy of their intimate and sexual lives), hiding things from kids just leads to passing on a sense of shame and guilt around sex. If you don’t know how to answer their question, ask them why they want to know. They may tell you that they heard kids talking about it, or saw it on a tv show, or they may even tell you something about themselves that they’re afraid of and looking for reassurance about. Yes, kiddo, it’s okay for you to touch your genitals, but we prefer you do it in your room because everyone has a right to privacy. Yes, kiddo, it’s okay for you to think that another kid at school is pretty, even if your friends tell you that you’re weird for thinking that. Yes, kiddo, sex is what makes babies happen between folks with vaginas and folks with penises, but it doesn’t always, and it can be a lot of fun to do that sex thing even when you don’t want kids; you just have to be careful, and here’s how. Being open with your children means that you can save them some of the issues that so many of us grew up with – that we were wrong, or flawed, or dirty, or worthless. It means that your kids have a better chance at having a strong sense of self, of their own value, and are more likely to make choices as they get older that end up contributing positively to their lives.

And, a collective list of the songs that get love and sex “right”

As a companion post to this conversation about songs that are all about non-consent, I’d love your ideas about sexy songs that talk about the pleasure of both (or all!) partners being engaged and excited about it. Same rules – put a song in the comments and tell us why you think it’s full of win!

In no particular order:
Let’s Get It On, by Marvin Gaye: He specifically says he isn’t going to push, and “if the spirit moves you, let me groove you”.

Our collective list of the top songs that emphasize lack of consent

It’s been sort of a running joke with some of my sex positive friends that we should make a warning list of the top songs that are….well, instead of using really rough language, let’s just say that they’re inappropriate in their objectification of and non-consensual power over others (almost always women, but not exclusively). So, inspired by friends on my Facebook page, I decided to start a post to collect your contributions. And yes, I’ll have another post to highlight the songs that we think talk about love and sex in empowering ways, too!

Leave a comment below with the song title, and why it’s problematic; I moderate them all, but will approve ‘em (unless you’re just trolling) and add them to the body of this post from time to time, as well.

In no particular order:
Baby, It’s Cold Outside (he counters her objections to leave, and offers her more drinks)

Is Fat the new Slut?

I’m a fat girl. I’ve been a fat girl all my life, even when I was skinny. I am currently somewhere between my heaviest and my lightest weights as an adult. I have a big ass, I have to wear big jeans to cover it, and I wear a bigger bra to contain the girls. And you know what? I am TOTALLY AWARE that I’m fat. I mean, hello…I touch my body and can feel what it feels like. I own a mirror and can see the image that it reflects of me. I hear it when you call me fat. Society does not let me live it down; it vomits up bile about my fat, and shames me into trying to take drastic action to change it. It tells me that I’m not healthy, it tells me that I’m not attractive, and it tells me that I am not good enough. Some of my favorite designs don’t come in my size. Because, you know, fat folks are not worth making clothing for.

And we know that now it’s not okay to refer to people as sluts because they engage in consensual sex, right? Even though people do, we’ve started a public discourse about the word “slut”, and sexual enjoyment, and sexual rights. And events like Slutwalks have been held all over North America, to bring attention to the fact that women can be sexual beings and that rapists and molesters cannot blame their psychopathic behavior on the fact that her skirt was short, or her shirt was too low cut.

But it’s okay to call me fat. It’s okay to judge me based on my size. I must be VERY unhealthy. I must have partners that don’t find me attractive. I must be miserable. I must wear misshapen clothes because I want to hide my body, or if I wear tight clothes, it’s because I’m trying to make myself believe that I’m not fat. I will obviously die about twenty years sooner than thin folks. Tsk, tsk.

So when did that change happen – the change where calling someone a “slut” is challenged as being inappropriate, but we didn’t pick up on the fact that calling someone “fat” has the same shame and guilt based judgement on another person’s appearance? Women who fear being called “slut” will alter their bodies, their attire, their demeanor, their words and actions in order to avoid it – and we don’t want that, because we want everyone to be able to be authentically who they are. But fat folks still should only eat salads in public, not wear bright colors (and DEFINITELY don’t wear anything revealing), purchase only low-fat food at the grocery store, or really ┬ájust not even exist, just to avoid being called out on their body size. Double standard, much?

Let me clue you in on something: fat is pretty fabulous. Some of the hottest femmes I know are women of size. Some of the most desirable men in my world have a tummy. I know fat women who can run marathons, climb up the stairs of a skyscraper, and star in porn videos that sell thousands of copies. I know fat men who can save your ass from dying in a car crash, who can tear down oncoming offensive linesmen on the field, and who make “big and tall” into words of deep compliment. And still, they all get the same shit – “Oh, if only you’d lose weight…”.

The Fat Acceptance / Fat Activist communities are starting to take back that word. Fat is fantastic. Fat is sexy. Fat is flirtatious. And if you think fat makes someone unhealthy, how healthy are the people who are starving themselves to be “thin enough”, or the people who are slender but smoke two packs a day?

Stop telling people that they’re fat. Stop putting your own limited notions of attractiveness on them. Stop assuming that because society tells you one thing, that it’s true. Just. Stop.

The Poly Manifesto; or, a treatise on how Sarah does non-monogamy

I talk about having written this in some of my poly / non-monogamy workshops, and occasionally I get asked for a copy. I review this every year or so to make sure that it’s still the framework for my relationship decision making; so far, it’s held up to that review for about 6 years. I’m posting it here primarily for folks who want to create their own mission statement (or manifesto, if you’re being very Marx-ish), so they can see what someone else has put together and hopefully take some inspiration on topics or concepts.



Sarah’s Poly Manifesto

1. I am responsible for my own life, my own happiness, and my own well being. That responsibility for myself must take precedence in my life; if I cannot take care of myself, then I have no way of taking care of or being a support for anyone else.

2. No matter how many partners I may have, I still need to be ok with being by myself. Nobody can live in a constant state of companionship, and I am the one that has to look at myself in the mirror and be happy with what and who I see reflected back at me.

3. I will generally not make agreements in relationships that do not permit me to express myself in a way that feels authentic to me. If I do, then I am prone to resentment if it continues.

4. When it comes down to it, each relationship is important and deserves to be treated with the same consideration and respect as any other relationship. Classifying relationships as more or less important is likely to lead to frustration and neglect.

5. I embrace a hierarchy of needs, as opposed to a hierarchy of people. If I’m on a date night with one partner, and another partner calls with an emergency, my decision of who to be with will be based on where the need is greatest. Likewise, I expect to give my partners the same consideration and not make their decisions more difficult by doing anything less than supporting them.

6. I embrace sexual responsibility. I make my rules about safer sex behavior in conjunction with my other partners, but I do not let them make my final determination about what is appropriate. I am clear with new partners what my rules are, and I advise current partners of any changes in either the people I am having sex with or my decisions regarding my safer-sex practices, so that they can make appropriate decisions for themselves.

7. I do not believe in a “veto” per se; I expect that if I have issues with someone that one of my partners is dating, I will be able to talk to that partner and have my concerned listened to, but I also believe that respect goes both ways and I should respect their decision unless it creates major chaos and drama.

8. I don’t want or need additional drama in my life. My main request of my ongoing partners is that they not bring anyone into my personal life that will create more drama or strife.

9. I do not automatically share my partners. Sex or play with me does not involve anyone else, necessarily, unless that has been negotiated separately.

10. I do not have long-term power exchange dynamics in place in any of my relationships, save the one I have with Daddy. I intend to keep it that way, at least for the foreseeable future. However, should that change, no relationship that involves a power dynamic with me should be interpreted as having any power dynamic in any other direction with any of my other partners.

10. The things that will win my heart are the same things that I anticipate offering a partner – patience, honesty, generosity of spirit, humor, candidness, trust, and honor. The things that will lose my heart are abuse of trust, dishonesty, selfishness, irresponsible sexual practices, and lack of consideration.