By and for Us: How Marginalized Communities Are Redesigning Sex Ed Online
Sept 6, 2018 at 3pm
CAMERON GLOVER: Hi.
CAMERON: So my name is Cameron, and I'm here to talk about sex. [laughs] [audience cheers]
CAMERON: Yeah! I feel like all the talks so far have been really great and also very serious and very heavy. And mine is kind of like that, but not really. So hopefully it'll be fun.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Are photos okay?
CAMERON: Oh, yes. While I'm presenting, photos are fine to take of me.
So I guess the best, the best place to start is to talk about my own journey with sex and sex ed and kind of how I got into this field and doing this work. So like many people, I didn't really have an adequate sex education, formally. My sex talk per se growing up was my mom leaving one of those American Girl, “Your Body and You” books on my bed. [audience laughs]
Yeah, yeah. And I loved that thing, but she just like, left it on my bed, and there was no discussion. That was it. [laughter]
So I knew the mechanics of how sex worked and all of that, but I didn't really know anything beyond that. And me being me, I had so many questions, but I didn't really have anyone to talk to about it. I didn't really know where to find resources. So I was a pretty confused kid growing up, and I sought out these answers on my own. And sometimes they had good results, and sometimes not so good results. But that really impacted my own journey into wanting to become a sex educator in the first place. So 2016, I finished my undergrad, and I was working for a while. And I decided to get into this field because I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to be able to talk about my own journey and the ways that sex is important and intersects with so many aspects of our lives. And I wanted to be part of that conversation.
But even as a professional, I find that I'm still having all these questions and they're, I feel like the more that I look at the field and I look to professionals, I’m finding that we're all kind of having these same questions. How do we talk about these different aspects of our lives and connect it to the work that we're doing with sex?
So kind of looking at that, I had a few facts here about sex ed in the classroom and teaching with young people in schools and kind of what that looks like. So this is taken from a study from earlier this year where, in the U.S., sex ed is required in less than half of all the states, including D.C., but they don't necessarily have to be comprehensive or accurate. Which is really, I mean...OK. [laughs] So 24 states, plus D.C. mandate sex education be taught at all, and 18 states require information about contraception. Only 13 states require any sex and/or HIV education be medically accurate, which is terrifying. 37 states mandate that information on abstinence be provided whenever sex education is taught. 26 states mandate that abstinence be stressed whenever sex education is taught, and 18 states require that students should be instructed to wait until marriage. Because students are, yeah. OK. [laughs] And 12 states – only 12 states – which I thought this was really interesting. Only 12 states require that discussion be included on sexual orientation. And I thought that that last part was interesting because, as a queer person, I’m just like, OK, so what about literally everything else? What about identity? Like, all these different questions that are not being answered in the classroom.
So kind of me getting back into talking about this outside the classroom because mainly, my focus is on workshopping and working with people digitally. I wanted to kind of take all these questions that I had and kind of direct them in a way to make sex ed something inclusive, compassionate, and fun, right? ‘Cause sex is fun. And I feel like just looking at all of this, we can see that sex ed right now, as it is in the United States, like it's not something, it's still taboo. It’s not fun. Students aren’t, they don't want to talk about this. Looking at these stats, do y’all wanna talk about sex in this way? Yikes, right?
So the question that I started to ask myself and the question for creating this talk is really how can technology help us to create the sex education that we want to see out in the world? And what I found is that technology's pretty dope in this way because it's allowing us to create the kind of sex education that's individualized to our individual needs as educators, as therapists, as so many sexuality professionals in the spectrum of people within this field. And what's really cool is that everybody is able to kind of take their own personal experiences and work it into the ways that they practice and teach and interact with audiences, which is really cool.
So that's kind of like the basis behind this talk. I'm gonna spend the rest of the time talking about specific organizations and people within the field that are doing this kind of work and where to find them online.
So the first list that I have are organizations. And really, this is a growing list. And these lists are not comprehensive by any means, but this is a great, I think, starting point if you're looking to find more information on this.
So a group that I'm actually a part of, it’s called Women of Color Sexual Health Network, and it's a network of sexuality professionals of color, mainly women, but also inclusive of trans and non-binary people who talk about sex in different capacities. And what’s really cool is that this is very specific to people of color, which is still a largely underserved community in education at large, but especially with sex ed, as well. Sex Positive STL is a St. Louis-based organization that talks about sex ed as well. SisterSong focuses on reproductive health and reproductive justice. And O.school is a digital teaching platform where educators create their own streams; they host livestreams, as well. And they talk about different topics from, in education relating to education, trauma, all these different things.
Conferences. Conferences are really cool because you get to connect with people in-person as well as just in the field, and a lot of them have further resources online as well. So Sex Down South—which is actually happening right now—it's based in Atlanta. And there's like a whole bunch of different talks, but I believe it's, there's a very prominent amount of educators of color that go there as well. PolyDallas Millennium—which was started by a Black woman—that is hosted in Dallas every year. And the focus is on consensual non-monogamy. ExploreMore Summit is not necessarily sex ed-focused, but it does incorporate sex educators and their work utilizing online resources such as social media, workshopping, things of that nature. National Sex Ed Conference, which is hosted every year, specifically for sex educators. And Woodhull Conference.
Bloggers are also really important ‘cause I think that bloggers kind of bridge the gap between professionals and people that are seen as moving the field forward and also just like regular people, right? So a lot of bloggers, I feel like the field is, overall, it's very whitewashed. It's very centered on people with positions of privilege. But these bloggers in particular I found are starting these conversations in really interesting ways. So PolyRoleModels is really great. It’s, to my knowledge, I think the only blog that is specifically created by a person of color that talks about non-monogamy. And what this blog does—my friend, Kevin Patterson, hosts it and created it—and he interviews different people across the country about their non-monogamy, about their polyamory. And they talk about the ways that they are practicing non-monogamy, how that impacts them, and also how their identities intersect with how they practice polyamory, creating a more humanized version of it rather than just like that picture of the three people with feet that floats around the internet. [audience chuckles]
MakeupAndSin is a New York-based blogger, and she does a lot of really great work. She's also a sex educator at Pleasure Chest, I believe. June is a sex educator that I just started following, and I’m like obsessed with their work. And they talk a lot about disability and how their identities as a chronically ill person intersect with being a sexuality professional. As well as Chronic Sex, which hosts, that person hosts Twitter talks as well that focus on disability and sex. And Palimp? [laughs] I know them in real life; their name is Avery, but they also focus a lot on intersectionalities of disability within sex.
So here are a few YouTubers that I found. It's…it’s kind of tricky because of different– Sorry. I'm having, like…. But the different regulations can impact how people are able to talk about sex on YouTube in particular, as well as other social media platforms. But Hannah Witton is really great. She talks a lot about her disabilities and how that impacts her teaching sex education. HonestlyNae talks about sex ed from the perspective of a queer Black woman. Riley Jay is a transgender person and talks a lot about media criticisms as well as how that relates back to sex education at large. And Shan Boodram, as well, is a sexologist based in L.A.
So I personally–my favorite form, I guess, of educating myself is podcasts. I love them. I feel like they're a really great way to dive in to many different topics and kind of get your feet wet, even if you're not necessarily that familiar with the topic. So Sexually Liberated Woman was started by, I believe she's Portland-based, an educator named Ev'Yan Whitney. And she does a lot of work online and particularly on Instagram as a sexuality coach. Sex Gets Real is also a really great resource as well. It's hosted by the person that also runs ExploreMore Summit. Down For What- Down for Whatever, The Dildorks, Queer Sex Ed, and also, my own podcast that's starting in October 2018. It’s gonna be called Sex Ed In Color. That's going to be me interviewing sexuality professionals of color and just talking about our work and talking about the ways that we are bringing our own identities into the field and creating the work that we want to see.
And then there are also people that go, of course, beyond, above and beyond how we look at traditional digital platforms: Afrosexology, Ericka Hart, Feminista Jones, Sunny Megatron, Mollena Williams. These are all people that I kind of look to within the field who are doing fantastic work in addressing, in particular, race and gender within the field but kind of go beyond just like looking at social or hosting conferences or livestreams or workshops and things of that nature and really talk about centralizing their own individual experiences to connect to the larger question of what sexuality is and how that evolves into what it can be for people.
So if I wanna leave you with anything, I wanna say that sex education is important, and I think that technology provides us with tools to expand that and make it inclusive and welcoming for everyone. So you can find me on Twitter and on Instagram as Black Girl Manifest, that is B-l-k-G-i-r-l Manifest. [chuckles] And you can also find me on my website. So thank you. [applause and cheers]
Cameron Glover is a freelance writer, budding sex educator, and Black girl finding her way in the world. Her work has been featured in Harper's Bazaar, Glamour, INTO, Pacific Standard, and more. Follow her on Twitter.