Sex and Self Education in the Time of #MeToo
We are still fighting for reproductive rights, and also fighting to maintain ownership of our sexuality every day. This is related to widespread inadequacy in Sex Ed in the U.S. (only 13 out of 50 states require sex education to be medically accurate). Women bear the responsibility to educate themselves and each other because of this shortage in education resources. That responsibility weighs more heavily now than ever, with organizations like Planned Parenthood under threat. With sexual education comes sexual health, and part of that education is self-exploration. In this post, Amara Purlle explores how the #MeToo movement has changed attitudes or heightened recognition of the freedom to explore our bodies as we see fit.
Oh, what a time to be alive.
Ladies, look at where we are and how far we’ve come. Let’s take a minute to collectively be grateful for all of the insane battles women have fought for us. We are grateful for the strength we have galvanized to find our voices on every platform, every corner, and from every direction. Women are still fighting, especially for our reproductive rights, and fighting to maintain ownership of our sexuality Every. Day. (Some men are fighting for us too, and I sincerely thank those who are.). Again, women step up and bear the responsibility to educate ourselves and each other, because sex education is so embarrassingly lacking in 2018. And this responsibility weighs more heavily now than never, with organizations like Planned Parenthood under severe threat. [P.S. please donate if you can…]
Institutional discrimination against women has also reflected itself in the longtime under-resourced sexual education curriculum in the United States. According to USC Nursing staff, only 13 out of 50 states require sex education to be medically accurate. The noxious cloud of Puritanical shame still looms over sex and sexuality, specifically that of the female for some reason. With sexual education comes sexual health, as well as steps toward emotional and mental health. Sewn into that education is self exploration. The rise of #MeToo has us reassessing boundaries, consent, and power dynamics, in and out of the bedroom. Some have referred to #MeToo as a witch hunt, which is ironic, given that witch hunts served to very publicly and visibly punish women who were perceived as threats to patriarchal hegemony. But the #MeToo movement has also exposed the shame and guilt that many women carry about temporarily misplacing their empowerment while navigating the complexities of survival and unfair compromise in a patriarchal society.
I wanted to explore how the #MeToo movement has re-framed and heightened recognition of women’s freedom to explore our bodies, and how we desperately need to teach and to learn about creating those safe spaces for exploration, more than ever.
Tried and True
I recently went back through the vaults and thought about the way I blindly explored my curiosity about my sexuality at the pubescent stage, based on how I was taught about sex in school. The lessons then were more about menstruation and physical changes than they were about sex. Because heaven forbid we learn anything about our bodies and how to care for them. I spoke with Austin-based sexologist Goody Howard, who has been offering sexual education workshops across the U.S. for 13 years. She believes #MeToo is presenting us the time and opportunity to reflect on how women internalize autonomy and pleasure. “This movement is also serving to recapture what pleasure looks like in a time where we’re not allowed to be attractive. We compartmentalize when we feel attractive. And then having to come home, reconnect to yourself, and allow complete sexual exploration,” says Howard.
Connect the Spaces
This collective shift that’s taking place with regard to defining our sexual boundaries re-frames our conversations with ourselves once we can reflect privately. We need to be honest about how we prioritize our sexual development, and incorporate fully realized sexuality into our daily lives. Howard observes this transition can be tricky for some. “When you want to reawaken that part of yourself, you really do have to wake it up. It’s been dormant, and sometimes you just don’t notice,” she says.“A big part of that disconnect comes from owning your sexuality as a being when you are in your own safe space, and still feeling like it’s being violated when you leave your home. Own your pleasure while existing in spaces where your personhood is in potential violation.” I mean, she’s right. You have to look a little hard to get to a place where you can enjoy your own body. When you’re not allowed to live who you are as a sexual being, you fall into a trap of unnecessarily compartmentalizing yourself. Examine the way you treat yourself. Navigate your sexual response to sexual stimulation and follow through. Exploring yourself with that new understanding means you won’t have to downplay that part of yourself.
Over the last decade there has been a major increase in the number of femme-generated sex toys, and I cannot overstate this importance. Howard teaches a vulva-focused oral sex workshop called Lip Service using a synthetic reproduction of a vagina. “The thing that shocked me when I started teaching the course was that the male-designed reproduction did not have a clitoris. How do I teach something correctly when the aide itself is not anatomically correct?”
She also stressed the importance of lubricant when it comes to exploring one’s own pleasure. “Not everyone thinks they need lube, which is bananas. Everyone needs lubricant! Natural moisture evaporates, it dries up. Lubricant creates a barrier between you and whatever you’re playing with, and there are plenty of femme-created (and vegan!) lubes to choose from now.” Since we already know the onus will always be on grown adult women to carve out the necessary time and space for proper self-care and exploration, we can use this to teach not only ourselves, but our partners too. Maybe on a real vagina with a clitoris.
Where’s The Line?
Among the many wonderful points Howard made during my conversation with her was asking us to consider consent within the framework of social acceptance, the shift in what’s “normal”. “The thing is, #MeToo has also raised awareness of what consent and coercion really look like. Maybe what you thought was pleasure for you was coercive to someone else and you might be on the BDSM spectrum, and that’s fine,” Howard says. “Ask yourself whether you’re conditioned to accept certain treatments as socially acceptable. Maybe your partner is a habitual line-stepper. In any case, you need to examine what pleasure looks like for you, and own that.” To be clear, the absence of no does not mean yes. We can identify what a crossed boundary looks like and reframe it socially for ourselves. “Those of us who don’t have a #MeToo story don’t want to have a #MeToo story,” Howard says. “We’re hyper-vigilant in that regard.” We are certainly vigilant. And we are fighting still, for ourselves, and for future generations of women. It is our right and our tradition to fight for each other, as well as learn from each other.
Keep up that good fight.