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Sex ed, nerd-style

Feminine person with long hair and red fingernails browses books on a bookstore shelf

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.


Erotic Journal Challenge logo

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.

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

 

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

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What yoga class has taught me about BDSM education: A teaching philosophy of sorts

Photo of a tabby cat stretching between a sidewalk and a car wheel

Today I realized that my approach to teaching BDSM skills and concepts has a lot in common with the things I liked in the weekly drop-in yoga classes I took for a while.[1]

In those classes, there is basic instruction for everyone, no matter if this is the first time they ever get on a mat or if they have done this for a decade already. Breathe. Arrive in the moment. Stay on your own mat; it doesn’t matter what everyone else can or can’t do, measure yourself against yourself. Focus on here, on now.

There usually is a basic version of an asana, a yoga pose, that is taught first. Feet like this, weight there, stretch out from here. It is the raw material from which your version of it is created. Because there are always adaptations, and they are of equal worth. Yoga is meant to adapt to us, to the way we are, right here, right now.

If you have trouble with your knees, do it like this.  If you have a sensitive neck, leave out that bit. If you can’t reach this body part, reach that one. You can do this pose like this, like this, or like this. If you like, you can use a belt, a block, a cushion, a blanket to make it work for you. If you can’t stand, do it sitting down, like this. If this is too much for you today, only take it until here. It’s always okay to take a break. Listen to your body. Stay on your own mat.

If you’d like more of a challenge, try it this way. If you can reliably do this version, try out that one for variety, if you like. If you feel like experimenting, you can try changing this part of the exercise and see which one feels better to you. Listen to your body. Stay on your own mat.

When you start struggling, end the pose or take it back to a less demanding version. Arrogance and overconfidence are likely to get you hurt. There’s always more to learn, for everyone. Find your own range of movement. Take breaks if you need to. Listen to your body. Stay on your own mat.

It is assumed that everybody, every body is different. We are middle-aged and youthful and old, skinny and slender and chubby and fat; we have scars and injuries and constant aches and weak spots and that one muscle that keeps tensing up. We do this for the company, the challenge, the comfort; because our doctor told us, because our friend is here as well, because this is our last hope, because we are just curious, because this is part of our spirituality, because this is a type of sport that works for us. We have all lived a different life before we’ve arrived in this class.

It is assumed that even the same body, the same person will be different every time we get onto the mat. We’re tired, distracted, nervous, recovering from an illness, well-rested, up for a challenge, bubbling with energy, quiet, centered. It’s all okay. We’re all here, now.

We come with different inherent abilities, have made different experiences in and with our bodies, learn at different speeds and in different ways. Some of us spend the best part of the hour battling memories of humiliating experiences in physical education class where we were most definitely not okay the way we were then, the way we maybe still are today. Some of us constantly put ourselves down if we don’t get it “right” on the first try because no one ever told us that getting it “wrong” is a normal part of learning. Some of us need to learn how to learn in the first place because we’ve never been in a situation where we were bad at something, where we had to practice to get better, where we had to work for anything. Some of us feel like we have to be the best at all times or we will be the worst because no one has ever given us permission to be mediocre, just okay, just good enough. Some of us find everything easy and fun and playful, until we acquire an injury, an illness, a disability and have to recreate our yoga practice from scratch, and then everything is just hard and sad and frustrating for a long time. Some of us need to learn how to have compassion for and patience with others in the same class who struggle with things that were always easy for us. Some of us need to learn to leave their complacent comfort zone and take a bit of a risk. Some of us need to learn to stay with our comfort zone. Some of us need to learn to even feel their bodies at all. All of us need to learn to be okay with how we are, right here, right now. All of us need to learn that this is not a competition. There’s always more to learn, for everyone.

***

And there is one teacher (with their own complex backstory and their own current struggles), speaking to everyone in their class. The class consisting of random people who just dropped in out of curiosity, people who will be here once and never return, people who want to get back into this after a health-related time-out, people who have finally worked up the courage to deal with their bodies and all the history stored in them, people who have been here every single week for years, people who will fall in love with doing yoga instantly or slowly or not at all; random people who practice yoga every day at home, people who go to extra yoga workshops and yoga retreats and read books about yoga, people who will never get on a mat outside of this class, people who have acquired exactly the gear that works for them (this mat, these pants, that shirt; this color, that material) after years of trial and error, people who just threw on a band shirt and a pair of sweatpants because that’s what they had; random people who consider this a lifestyle, people who like the movement but can’t relate to anything woo-woo, people who consider this a sport like any other, people who have no idea what yoga will mean to them, what place it will have in their lives, but are curious to see where this takes them.

So the teacher has to adapt. To everyone. They need to explain in words, in technical terms as well as in metaphors and analogies, need to show how it looks and point out the important details, know the places people tend to not pay attention to, need to let people try it out and walk around to offer instruction, motivation, comfort, a challenge. They first have to make sure that no one is hurting their bodies, have to correct the twist of a torso, the placement of a knee, a distribution of weight, suggest a break. Then there is time for variations, further steps, background information. They have to remind everyone that yoga is not a competition, to stay on their own mats. They have to welcome the newbies and recognize the regulars, understand who needs a challenge and who needs an easy success today. They need to remember to ask people before they touch them — and remember who of the regulars already gave them blanket permission to adjust their bodies and who of the regulars prefer a hands-off correction at all times. All of us learn in different ways, and one is not better than the other. So the teacher has to teach in more than just one way.

The teacher also needs to question any assumptions they might make based on looks and other first impressions of their students. Because that super-fat person over there in the ratty old t-shirt and the neon-colored tights may be more experienced and well-balanced than anyone else in the room (including the teacher), and that skinny person with the flowing cotton shirt and the thermos of herbal tea who keeps talking about their amazing trip to India may be nothing but a clueless poser about to hurt themselves badly and alienate everyone else with their casual racism and gender essentialism. They need to be aware of their own biases (and every teacher has some) and be transparent about them so their students can contextualize what they are being taught. They need to be able to say “I don’t know,” and then ideally follow up with, “…but I’ll look it up/ask someone else and get back to you” or “…but you could look/ask for that information there.” They need to keep learning.

The students have to learn to stay on their own mats and to focus on their own minds, bodies, and reasons for being here in the first place. They need to face all the places in them that are stiff and limited for lack of use, uncomfortable for the history they hold, too unstable to safely carry the weight put onto them; that resist change, that open up only on the thirty-seventh try, that want more than they can take without causing damage; that bend beautifully, that stretch further and further, that sink steadily into the ground like an anchor, like roots to grow from, that are light and easy and just a complete joy to hold and move and relax. If the students stick with it long enough, everyone will struggle with something. This is a normal part of learning.

***

My intent behind writing the educational material on this blog is similar to these yoga classes. I’m trying to talk to everyone who shows up, offer something useful for the complete beginner, for the one who has done a bit here and there and now wants more, for the one who has taken a long break and is now carefully coming back, for the person who has been doing this for decades. I try to give you the information you need to avoid injuries and other harm, and to take calculated risks if you like. I try to share ideas for something new, for a different angle, for you to try out and play around with. I may offer a new perspective that you haven’t seen before. I try to be mindful of different backgrounds, different philosophies, different abilities so no one is excluded by default. I hope people learn enough from me to make their own adaptations and fill in the gaps I’ve left. I hope I’m not the only teacher they ever have (in fact, I encourage everyone to check the educational information I give here against the input of other educators and practitioners — after all, I will always have gaps in my knowledge and experience, I may be misinformed myself, or I may simply make an error, as much as I try not to).

That said, not every piece of information, not every example, not every idea in this blog is meant for everyone. I trust all of you to be able to make your own choices about how to engage with my material, to take what feels useful, to adapt what needs adjusting, to leave what isn’t for you. I trust you to figure out which is which for you.

What I offer here won’t be perfect for everyone who comes here. That’s okay. If you find something in this blog that seems way too advanced, scary, disgusting, or weird — or way too boring, cliché, repetitive, or uninspiring to you, please move on to something else because clearly that content is not for you, at least not right now. Find a different post on this blog that speaks to you more. Find a different blog, a different teacher. Write a comment or send me a message that points out or adds the pieces that are missing for you. Come back another time. Skip the educational bits altogether and just read the other parts of the blog. Do what works for you.

And if you don’t understand something I said, please ask for clarification in a comment below the respective article or in a message and I will do my best to answer.[2]

***

If this is too much for you today, only take it until here. It’s always okay to take a break.

If you’d like more of a challenge, try it this way. If you can reliably do this version, try out that one for variety, if you like.

When you start struggling, end the pose or take it back to a less demanding version. Find your own range of movement. Take breaks if you need to.

Listen to your body. Stay on your own mat.

There’s always more to learn, for everyone.

And that includes the teacher.


Notes

[1]  Please note that not every yoga class is like this. In fact, not every yoga class I took back then was like this. These are just the parts that worked well for me (and sometimes my ideas for alternatives to the parts that didn’t work for me at all), the parts I took with me as lessons about how to respectfully teach a body-and-mind-related thing to a group of random people who are all very different from each other.

[2]  This is a declaration of my intent, not a legal contract I’m making with anyone. If I can’t do it, or can’t do it quickly, I won’t. This blog is not the most important thing in my life, and even if it was, sometimes other shit just happens and gets in the way. I also reserve the right to shut down/delete, mock, or just ignore questions that seem to be asked in bad faith or that appear to be asked with the sole intent to hurt me or provoke an emotional reaction in me. I may also refuse to answer questions if the answer would compromise my privacy or that of the people who appear in my writing.


Image source: Pixabay