You may have noticed this blog has been somewhat lately with the exception of couponing posts. Much of whats going on in my life I don’t feel totally comfortable sharing publicly, for a variety of reasons. So while my journal has been filling up rapidly, I haven’t published much at all. Many times I want to, but I also am starting to see the benefit and necessity of keeping parts of my private life a bit more, well, private.
Anyway, the focus of today’s post is a different kind of struggle. Those of you who’ve been around for a while know that I love teaching about sex. Although I don’t talk about it extensively on here, it pops up from time to time because it is as integral a part of my character as couponing and cooking and dancing. Lately though I’ve noticed resistance. You see when I started doing Passion Parties nearly 4 (!) years ago, it was just a way to earn money. Then I discovered the sex-positive movement and fell in love, learning everything I could about sex and relationships and orgasms, especially as they relate to women. My first job furthered my obsession by highlighting the huge unmet need that exists in healthcare when it comes to sexual health and, especially, pleasure. So I came to Hopkins and…all of a sudden nearly everything I’m learning about sex is negative. Pregnancy is something you are ‘at risk’ for, just like STIs. Rape and trafficking are running rampant in my backyard, the military, colleges across the nation, and among close friends. There’s “no money” in sex ed, either at the community level or within healthcare because it doesn’t provide a profit. Training is often met with resistance and so on.
This is the background against which my transformation from the sexpert/sex toy lady into sex educator, speaker, and consultant took place. Suddenly I find myself wanting to qualify statements about pleasure to recognize that some of my clients undoubtedly have experienced the dark sides of sex. I feel pangs of guilt here and there that I’ve been so focused on the fun and the pleasure and the passion that I did not acknowledge these other aspects.
In other words, I’m struggling to find the balance between ‘sex is fun and great and healing’ and ‘sex causes so much pain and suffering and destruction.’
Along with all of these mixed emotions is another: incredible gratitude. Because as more and more of my friends disclose their negative experiences to me, my heart at once breaks and fills up – for their suffering, for my safety (luck?), and for their willingness to share. Its a beautiful moment when you go that deep with someone. Trusting another to hold your heart and soul with compassion and without judgment is a huge risk. You make yourself vulnerable in ways that are equal parts terrifying and gratifying. But sharing that takes relationships to a whole new level, it lets you see and understand and care in all new ways.
This greater awareness, on a personal and academic level has changed the way I think, write, and talk about sex. In some ways its a blessing. In others it has made my work extremely difficult, paralyzing me at times as I struggle to answer the question: on which side do I want to work?
Of course this question speaks to something larger: what do I even want to do? I know my strengths–public speaking/teaching/performing, writing, creating content and curricula. I know the macro-level movement I want to be a part of–decreasing sex negativity and shame. I know how I want to feel in my work – present, engaged, and influential. I’m less confident, however, about how I want to apply those strengths and, of course, the practical side of me worries about the sustainability of such strengths. Which makes me sad given the number of mentors in my life who coach and teach and present and write…
I’ve started to wonder if maybe my purpose is to balance the light and dark aspects of sex. I’m still exploring exactly what this means for me. Rather than be paralyzed while trying to ‘figure it out,’ though, I’ve begun to incorporate both sides into my current work, adding qualifying words to my newsletter (e.g. ‘consensual sex’ instead of just ‘sex’), sharing posts related both sexual pleasure and rape culture, healthy relationships and body shaming on my social media pages, and working with survivors and policy-makers. In the meantime, I know there will be more moments like the one that inspired this post, moments when I stare at a blank screen, angry with the world and wondering how I can talk about orgasms when approximately 30 individuals were assaulted in the hour it took me to write and edit this.
To me, being sex positive isn’t about ignoring all the bad shit that comes along with sex. Instead, its about really acknowledging all of the negative while also recognizing that sex itself is not bad. In fact, sex can still be beautiful despite the way so many use it as a weapon, a tool for violence, manipulation, and control. We so often assign external ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ to things that we forget most of them are totally neutral and value can vary greatly with context. The brand of sex positivity I want to promote encompasses all of this and more – a true balancing act. Here’s to hoping I find my way there sooner rather than later.