Content note: This entry discusses different ways of learning about sex and kink. As part of that, it also talks about abortion, AIDS/HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and very briefly mentions fantasies about non-consent and bestiality.
What were you taught about sex as you grew up? What/how did you teach yourself? Who taught you the most?
I was lucky.
I had parents who bought their daughters a picture book about pregnancy and giving birth, complete with black-and-white photos of a baby coming out of a vagina. (This was in 1970s Western Europe, for those of you wondering.) I had a mother who openly talked to her daughters about bodies and sexuality. Sure, all of her information assumed cisgender people and heterosexuality, and she didn’t go much beyond the bare basics of anatomy terms (no cutesy language for anything!), menstruation facts, and baby-making fundamentals. But she did mention pleasure (even if she didn’t elaborate on it), and she did teach us that we have a clitoris.
Looking back, I assume few other kids around me at the time had gotten as much accurate information about sex and related matters as early on (or at all). I have to give my mother props for giving us this kind of sex ed because she certainly hadn’t gotten anything like that in her own youth. I’m sure it wasn’t always easy for her, especially since she is an extremely private person in terms of her own sexuality.
I was lucky.
I had parents who, as soon as I could read, made sure I always had access to a library and never restricted any of my reading choices or shamed me for them. By the time I had become a teenager, I had developed a strong habit of hitting the library whenever I wanted to know more about something beyond the bits and pieces I was taught at school or at home. So, as soon as I realized that puberty was becoming a thing in my life, I of course started reading all the sex ed books the local libraries offered and learned all the theory about menstruation, contraception, and sexuality, whether it was technically age-appropriate or not. By the time I was about fifteen, I read Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden and Shere Hite’s The Hite Report: A study on female sexuality alongside the occasional sex and relationship advice column of youth magazines. For me, there was no such thing as too much knowledge, and knowledge could be found almost anywhere. I can’t even remember the first time I came across the concept of lesbians or bisexuality. It was all just part of the general stream of fascinating information I had tapped into — as were detailed descriptions of (cis) women’s masturbation techniques from The Hite Report and fantasies about sadomasochism, non-consent, or bestiality that were included in My Secret Garden. I don’t remember ever being disturbed or seriously confused by anything I read. I just filed it all away under “huh, interesting.”
This probably makes me sound like I was one of those girls who started having sex way before everyone else, right? Yeah, no. I was pretty much the opposite of that. I was intellectually precocious and found sexuality an intriguing subject to learn about, but I was a late bloomer physically and socially. I was the girl who couldn’t wait for her period to finally start so I would finally be accepted into the circle of those in the know. I was the girl who didn’t even start kissing anyone until I was fifteen. I was the girl who never had a single teenage relationship — no “do you want to go out with me? check yes/no/maybe” notes, no romantic hand-holding, no “heavy petting” with a fellow teenager, no nothing. Instead, I was the girl who knew everything and had done almost nothing (except, eventually, kiss various boys at various parties and have epic, one-sided crushes).
I was lucky.
I have always had access to reproductive care. I have always been able to get an insurance-covered prescription for the birth-control pill, should I ever have needed it (I didn’t). I knew about emergency contraception (the “morning-after pill”) before I ever had sex (and I have used it more than once after a condom unexpectedly broke). I have always had access to a legal abortion, should I ever have needed one (I didn’t, but both my mother and my sister have had abortions — my mother had a horrific experience with a backstreet abortionist in the 1960s which she has briefly mentioned to me exactly once and never told her husband about in almost forty years of marriage; my sister has been to a nice, clean, quiet office of an actual licensed medical doctor in the 1990s, even though she still had to go through the state-mandated process of forced “counselling” and a several-day mandatory waiting period before she could get her unwanted pregnancy terminated).
I was the girl who wrote a lengthy and obsessively researched article for her school paper about abortion (100% pro-choice; no ifs, ands, or buts) which nearly got that edition banned by the school’s principal (one of my proudest achievements in my entire school career). I was the girl who could list at least five different contraception methods and their relative safety off the top of my head and work that information into a random conversation with my schoolmates if it seemed necessary (and it often did). Before I ever had any kind of sex with anyone.
I was lucky.
I have never been sexually active without the threat of AIDS (well, technically, now I am, because an HIV infection usually doesn’t kill health-insured people in Western Europe anymore — but that’s a very recent development). Unlike many people just a few years older than me, I have never had to stop doing sexual things I enjoyed just because there suddenly was a risk of literally dying from a mysterious and incurably lethal sexually transmitted infection. I always knew about the necessity of safer sex. I have never had penetrative sex that didn’t include some kind of barrier over the penetrating body part: a condom, a glove, a finger cot.
In fact, in the late 1990s and early 2000s (I had come out as queer by then, which had of course also been a subject of many trips to the library), I spent a long time practically studying safer sex, especially safer sex beyond “use condoms for penis-in-vagina-or-anus sex.” I collected every single safer sex brochure I could find, no matter who it had been written for: heterosexual vanilla people, women who had sex with women, men who had sex with men, sex workers of all genders, gay male BDSM practitioners, adventurous straight(ish) folks, teenagers of any gender… Back then, I found that gay/bi male kinksters got the broadest range of information in the most detail, that straight people could count themselves lucky if they ever even heard about gloves as a safer sex item, and that everyone could probably benefit from using more (quality) lube for more sex acts. I also found that almost no one thought that women who had sex with women needed any kind of safer sex information altogether (which is why there never was more than one brochure for us in print at a time, across this whole European country — compared to dozens each that addressed various groups of heterosexuals and men who had sex with men). Which is of course bullshit, especially when it comes to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that aren’t HIV.
Around the same time, I made it one of my missions in life to talk not just about safer sex but sex in general with absolutely everyone I could bring around to that topic. I just couldn’t resist sharing all the fascinating sex-related things I had just read in a book imported from the U.S., a brochure from the public health department, or on a printed-out website with my assorted friends and acquaintances. I sipped from beer bottles at my favorite queer hang-outs and nonchalantly discussed fisting and anal sex, dildos and dental dams, lube and porn with whomever hung out with me for longer than five minutes. I sat at kitchen tables, drank coffee, and explained safer sex practices to my roommates and their friends, which usually ended with me getting out my box of latex gloves so everyone could try out how it felt to wear one. I found out that sharing some of my own experiences and making myself a bit vulnerable first was an excellent way to make other people feel comfortable enough to talk about their own experiences and/or ask me their burning questions about sex. I also found out that almost no one had the sex they were stereotypically assumed to have by the world at large: I met lesbians who weren’t into cunnilingus (and happy that way), gay men who had never had anal sex (and no desire to change that), and a lot of people who were either a lot tamer or a lot dirtier than I had initially assumed based on my pre-sex-talk impression of them.
I was lucky.
By the late 1990s, I had determined that BDSM was something I was interested in exploring further. A friend (and affair) introduced me to IRC channels for dykes and for BDSM practitioners. Soon after, there were mailing lists, forums, and websites that connected me to queer and/or kinky people all over the world (but mostly in North America). I quickly found my way to writings by Patrick Califia, Carol Queen, Gayle Rubin, Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy, Kate Bornstein, and many others. This ‘generation’ of authors and activists collectively taught me about safe(r) and consensual BDSM, community etiquette, kink history, gender beyond the binary, sex-positive feminism, and many other issues related to queer sex and kink.
A different friend (and play partner) told me about a small conference for kinky women, and we decided to go there together. It was completely overwhelming and completely amazing; and almost twenty years later, I am still in touch with several of the people I met at that event. After that, I went to various BDSM munches in various cities, helped run two of them for a while, and participated in countless themed discussions and peer-taught workshops within my corners of the European BDSM community. Of course I also kept reading: non-fiction books, personal blogs, Fetlife articles and discussions, websites, info brochures — anything that seemed interesting. And I played with many different people, all of whom also taught me useful things about kink (and sometimes sex), and many of whom told me they had learned things from me in return.
Five years ago, I spontaneously decided to offer my first workshop at a kink event. It went well, so I did it again. And again. And again. And so on. And I have no plans to stop. I guess I’ve made it a habit to learn things about sex and kink and then share what I’ve learned with others: sex ed, nerd-style.
I was lucky. I am still lucky.
This week’s prompt for the Erotic Journal Challenge was “sex ed.” It’s the first time I’m joining in (sneaking in just before the deadline) and I’m looking forward to being inspired by future prompts again.
Edit: I’ve realized this post also fits the “mentor” theme for this week’s Wicked Wednesday, so here’s the badge for that as well.
Image source: Pexels