I don’t talk about my sex life in print or in public very much. It’s not because I’m ashamed of what I do (though shame is a very pervasive force in Western conceptions of sexuality), but rather because I feel that I reach people better as an educator when I’ve got a bit more distance from the topic.
There’s also the fact that I teach at the college level, and some sex-negative folks freak out about the idea that their children’s teachers (despite the fact that my students are all over 18) might have – gasp – a sex life (I’ve discussed some of academia’s sex-negativity here). When I teach my academic classes, my sex life really isn’t relevant, even though I tend to do a lot in the academic gender studies arena. As a feminist, I’m keenly aware that the personal is political, though, so I don’t withhold personal information (like the fact that I’m married) if it seems like it’ll enhance whatever discussion we’re having. I go into more detail about my reasons for staying silent on my sexuality here.
However, I was recently invited to talk on a panel in front of a human sexuality class at a different university than the one I teach at. I wasn’t there in my capacity as a sex educator, but rather as someone who’s willing to talk about sex and relationships based on personal experience. I’m happy to disclose a lot about my personal life in one-on-one conversations, so this was a very new context for me… but I did it, and I’m SO glad I did!
I won’t bore you with the details, but basically I (and the other panelists) candidly answered questions about our sex lives, the kinds of relationships we’ve been in, how we communicate with our partners, how we begin and end relationships, how we handle topics of safer sex, and so on. I felt very comfortable sharing my experiences and talking about why I like sex and the kinds of sex that I like to have. Everyone there was incredibly respectful, and I didn’t feel slut-shamed (as I have in the past) for daring to admit that I like sex.
I’ve griped about how taboo it is to talk about sex in the past, and this experience truly helped normalize talking about sex. It was awesome. I feel like if people can see that it’s normal to talk about sex, it’ll give them permission to do the same, and that’ll slowly help start us on the path to a culture where sex is normal (not secret, taboo, or stigmatized). This is one way to be a beacon of permission, as my colleague Kate McCombs puts it.
The other part that has me excited is that it just…felt good to talk about sex. It felt normal. It felt safe. It felt sex-positive. It reminded me of one of the main reasons I’m a sex educator: because I need to make the world a safer place for people to engage with (consensual, healthy) sex in every way imaginable. And in order to do that, I have to put my money where my mouth is, and both create and inhabit safe spaces where talking about sex is just another thing that humans do.
As I wrote in this post just one day ago, it can be scary to open up about one’s sexuality… and sometimes for good reason, because people can be really punitive in our sexphobic culture. But I’m starting to push myself find (and create) safe spaces for talking about sex, both because it feels good, and because I think it paves the way for a more sex-positive future.