March 3, 2016

How Online Sex Ed Can Set Us Free.

Image: Glenn3095 / Flickr

An online sex ed class might be the last thing you thought you’d want.

Truthfully, an online sex class or any kind of sex class can seem weird—even to me, as someone who teaches them!

That’s because the word “sex” has all kinds of connotations that come with it. Sex class conjures all kinds of weird images, like Barbara Streisand in Meet the Fockers—low lighting and bad Indian draperies. Someone who openly identifies with sex also calls up all kinds of associations: “weird,” “slutty,” and “shallow” come to mind. I mean, it’s a bit weird. My parents are going to see this post in my Facebook feed.

It’s not a simple subject to talk about for most of us. It doesn’t seamlessly grace conversations, even with doctors who deal with reproductive health. Some people lead boldly with sex talk that blasts us onto our heels. Maybe you wince when someone brazenly brings up the subject. Maybe even the title of this post both revolted and attracted you.

There are just so many associations that we have with the word “sex.” Most of us haven’t taken time to deconstruct those associations, and so we continue on in our own sexual scripts with our narrowly defined sexual selves. We continue on feeling like the world of sex is vast and secret, like all the treasures are locked up and we don’t know where to find the key. Many of the women I work with explain to me that they have a sense of the healing and transformative capacity of sex, but it seems elusive and they don’t know where to start.

What the heck is a sexual script?

The most common sexual script I hear is the tally taking script. It goes like this: “I go down on him. He goes down on me. I come and then he comes.” Two for two. The goal of this interaction is always orgasm, because the point of sex is orgasm. So if orgasm isn’t happening or is qualitatively different, there must be something wrong. And if one person doesn’t “make” the other come, or go down on the other, something is off. I work with this script all the time in the form of: if I receive, I have to give. It’s not fair if it’s not equal.

Another common sexual script I hear from women is that they want sex so much more than their male partner and they don’t know what to do. They think something is wrong with them because society tells us men want sex all the time. (By the way, men don’t necessarily want sex all the time, and differences in libido are common with couples in both directions.) There are many other sexual scripts and it is revelatory to examine ours. What ideas do you have about the way sex works? Are those true? Where did you get those ideas? Do they need to be updated?

I also often hear from women that they didn’t understand how they could be sexual and spiritual. They want to be a good person and a spiritual person, and they don’t know how to do that while also having a sexual identity. Women aren’t necessarily even suffering because of this; they have learned to tolerate and to please, and that reinforces their idea of “good.” Until one day, part of them wakes up and they start to recognize the trade-offs they’ve been making.

As a culture, we have a narrow view of sex.

Most conversations don’t go any deeper than about how often sex is happening. Rarely do we talk with our friends about the quality of sexual experiences we are having. This may be because we value intimacy and a couples’ bond. We haven’t learned to share new territory that we are exploring, or emotions that have arisen, or realizations we have had during sex, without making it about our partner. As a culture, we are in adolescence when it comes to sex.

Before most women even come to my office, or begin the online course, a lot of their work is already being done. For many people, even calling someone who works with sex is a huge barrier.

Signing up for a course on sex—what does that mean about me?

Are we allowed to talk about this? What will this person think of me if I admit sex is important to me? What if even she can’t help me, then what will I do?

What if there really is something deviant, wrong, unlovable, or not enough about me?

You have to be brave to take a course on sex or make an appointment with someone to talk about your sexual self. Staking a claim to the right to be interested in sex and invest in that interest is a huge step.

Other people arrive with so much frustration. They thought that they had dealt with a traumatic experience, abuse, or difficult relationship dynamic. They thought that they were over it. They are tired of feeling the same ways, attracting the same partners, telling themselves the same stories. They’ve been to therapy. And yet, they are having trouble getting pregnant, or having trouble moving to a deeper level of intimacy with a partner, or something still isn’t right. Some of these wounds happen to the body, and no amount of rationalizing, analyzing, and excavating, no amount of meaning-making can disintegrate the memory etched in the body.

I am a late adopter of technologies. If I hadn’t been living abroad where Facebook was my tether to friends and family—international phone calls were not only expensive but also often did not even work—I would really be behind the internet curve-ball. I prefer to be around warm humans, and to look people in the eye. I love the teacher-student relationship and always considered that to be the most potent learning format

However, to my surprise, I found that an online and potentially anonymous course on sexuality was the only safe way that many women could make their way to the subject matter. Many of the women told me that they never would have gone to a live event on sexuality. However they say that after the course, they feel like they would be able to and even want to go to an in-person event. The idea and material was too confronting, too charged for them, until they stepped into it. Yeah for un-shaming!

Recently, I have had women writing to me to make confessions.

I say “confessions” because they have that shrouded feeling of secrecy.

Underlying the confessions are questions.

“Am I still lovable, even though… ?”

Am I still lovable even though my body is totally different than before I had kids? Am I still lovable even though I had an affair? Am I still lovable even though I’m attracted to people other than my partner? Am I still lovable even though I was molested by my uncle and liked it some of the time? Am I still lovable even though my body wants one thing and my mind wants another? Am I still lovable even though I’m refusing sex with my partner, and I don’t know why? Am I still lovable even though I binge on porn?

There is not a person alive who doesn’t have thoughts like these.

Each of us is lovable.

We all pretty much know that, but somehow there is a loophole when it comes to us. Everyone else is lovable. I would love someone else who went through this, but because it is me, I can’t find that forgiveness. Women unload huge burdens off their chests that they have been carrying as evidence that they are not worthy of love. I can feel how dark it has been for them. I marvel at how easy it is for me to love them anyway. Not because I am some Mother Teresa with compassion superpowers. It’s because what we store away as evidence of what makes us bad, or damaged, or weak becomes so much larger in our own being than what anyone else perceives. And also because we all have parts ourselves that linger in the dark. When any one of us sheds light on them, we all breathe a little lighter.

But don’t take my word for it.

These questions are huge opportunities to find out what you really think and know to be true, to find a deeper sense of acceptance for yourself. If you loosened your morality, outside of a fixed sense of right and wrong, what do these questions and doubts lead you to? A deeper level of freedom awaits you. Have courage!

If you think an online sex course might be the right medicine for you, check this out.


Author: Kimberly Johnson

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Romana Klee/Flickr

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