*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.