I was very excited to contribute to the recently published, highly awesome book Sexual Deviance and Society, published by Routledge and written by my colleague and friend Meredith G. F. Worthen.
I wrote a bit about the book here. Go take a look if you’d like more info about the volume.
As promised, I’m sharing the full text I wrote for the book in a series of posts. Here’s a passage from spotlight box 11.2 — “What is a Sexpert?”
Enjoy! (you can also read “What is Webcam?” right — here)
Recall from Chapter 8 that sexual health education in the United States varies widely with some teenagers exposed to abstinence-only curriculum and most receiving limited information about condoms and contraception. As a result, many Americans are under-educated about sexual health issues. For example, in a nationally representative survey of 498 U.S. adults between the ages of 18-19, 41% reported knowing little or nothing about condoms and 75% reported knowing little or nothing about birth control pills (Kaye, Sullentrop, and Sloup 2009). Sexperts are a unique type of sexual health educators that have emerged in direct response to these gaps in our understanding who seek to enhance sexual health knowledge and awareness for everyone throughout the life course.
Sexperts are widely varied. Some are conventionally trained educators and therapists; others are skilled in alternative institutions and/or draw from a wealth of community activism and lived experience. In many instances, sexperts connect with particular communities and their unique needs. For example, Joan Price, an “advocate for ageless sexuality,” writes and speaks about senior sex (Price 2014). Multi-media pleasure advocate Sunny Megatron is a BDSM expert and the host of Showtime’s “SEX with Sunny Megatron” program (SunnyMegatron.com). Conner Habib is an author, porn performer, and sex workers’ rights advocate, as well as a frequently cited expert on LGBTQ sex (ConnerHabib.com). These people, as well as many other sex education experts, work to connect sex-related information with relevant communities.
Sometimes sexperts develop educational materials in the form of adult instructional films. Different from conventional porn in which the intended purpose is fantasy-based and has nothing to do with education, adult instructionals are made with input from educators, experts, and/or sex work professionals. An average adult instructional is not dissimilar from any other sort of how-to video – a detailed description followed by a demonstration and Q&A. Topics range from relatively basic how-tos (e.g. foreplay and oral sex) to life course and body-related topics (e.g. plus-size sex and sex during pregnancy), as well as more “deviant” sexual behaviors (e.g. anal play for heterosexual men and various forms of BDSM) (Tibbals 2015b). Through their pragmatic approach, adult instructional films provide viewers with a sort of tacit permission to explore what may be relatively edgy sex adventures with the guidance of experienced professionals.
Educational institutions are also beginning to see the value in sex education coming from sexpert contemporaries. Many universities even train student peer educators as sexperts. Dartmouth University’s sexual health peer advisors, for example, respond to student requests for education regarding reproductive health, healthy sexuality, sexual identity, body image, sexual orientation, sexual decision-making, abstinence, sexual pleasure, contraception, STI prevention, consent, and communication (Dartmouth.edu). Similar programs exist at other universities in American colleges (e.g. Boston University, University of Alabama, University of Kentucky, University of Michigan, University of Nevada, University of Oklahoma), in Canada (e.g. University of Calgary, University of Montreal) and elsewhere (e.g. University of Melbourne).
Beyond this, Internet resources can also provide invaluable sexual health information, especially for young people who do not have access to accurate in-home or at-school sex education. For example, since 1998, Scarleteen has provided free high quality sex education to millions of young people around the world. Their user-friendly website offers “inclusive, comprehensive, and smart sexuality information and help for teens and 20s” (Scarleteen.com). Go Ask Alice! is another educational website supported by a team of Columbia University health professionals. Its Q&A format provides readers with “reliable, accurate, accessible, culturally competent information and a range of thoughtful perspectives so that they can make responsible decisions concerning their health and well-being” (GoAskAlice.com). This is especially significant because most teenagers surf the web for in search of accurate facts about sex (especially LGBTQ teens, see Mitchell et al. 2014) and although there are plenty of websites with fallacies out there, resources like Scarleteen and Go Ask Alice! receive millions of hits each year and arm teens with helpful and accurate sexual health information.
Overall, human sexuality is varied and diverse. And because porn is frequently misappropriated as “educational,” in many ways, both sexperts and adult instructionals function as a sort of sexual exploration bridge – a way to dip your toe into something you may be interested in and test the waters without actually engaging in the behavior (yet) (Tibbals 2015b). As such, though no one sex educator will meet the needs of every single communities norms and values, sexperts are providing a valuable service, filling gaps in our understanding left otherwise unattended.
Well… what do you think about sexuality experts, aka experts?! (a great positive career opportunity!)
(pictured: pay attention to sex education!)
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