Sex-Positive Sex-Ed: there’s no money in it!

You may have noticed that my resources and website for young people contains some pretty racey stuff. Porn, teaching young people how to have sex and how to have amazing non entry sex, how the clitoris and G spot actually work as well as the other usual stuff about how to use condoms and have safer sex

This is called having a sex-positive approach and when I was trained and schooled as a sex educator 10 years ago I was taught that we don’t just teach about STIs and unwanted pregnancy but that we should also teach about the good stuff and how to get it. How to ask for and how to have great sex within trusting intimate relationships.

I set up and designed and printed my own leaflets because young people were asking me this stuff all the time: particularly young men. They wanted to be good at sex as well as staying safe and there’s only so many times you can draw the clitoris on the back of a condom bag before you get bored, or your pen runs out.

However as a marketing strategy it sucks. People are wary of these resources. Many of my emails bounce because they have sexual references in them, many sexual health professionals can’t even access this website let alone

I was going to go into partnership over the summer with an organisation that I thought were very sex positive. This was massive for me as I thought that the work I was doing was going to finally get a wider audience. Unfortunately this work got cancelled because their funders thought it might upset the Daily Mail, which to be frank has been a massive kick in the bollocks.

Everyone is still scared of the Daily Mail and the right wing press, I can understand that. I was on the front cover of the Uxbridge Gazette once with the headline ‘Sex Tips for 7 Year Olds’ (which was rubbish of course) after a conference I ran about working with young men. If the Iraq war hadn’t started that day, it would have made it to the Evening Standard too. I know what it’s like, it sucks.

But sex education is always going to be controversial. Sub-editors are always going to bend the truth to get a cracking headline. There are always going to be out of context quotes and, believe me, there’s no money in sex-positive sex ed. But if we don’t do things because we are scared of what might get mis-reported or scared of controversy then we may as well just pack it in. Seriously. Sex-positive sex ed might be controversial, but it’s the only kind of sex ed that works.

Rant over. Comments? Thoughts?

3 thoughts on “Sex-Positive Sex-Ed: there’s no money in it!

  • Thanks for posting this. I work on HIV and sexual and reproductive health in lower income countries, mostly in the areas of research, evaluating programmes, developing policies and strategies. Although I am further away from actually providing services than you, I face many of the same challenges. Typically I’ll be asked to advice a big programme or a government on how their work is going or on how to redesign it so that it fits the priorities and sticks to evidence-based approaches. On glass-half-empty days though, I get the impression that basically my job is about making strategy and policy documents look good… attractive to donor agencies maybe…? but that they are rarely implemented in the spirit that they were designed. The stuff that wouldn’t pass the Daily Mail test… sex education, work with sex workers, drug users, men who have sex with men… tends to get de-prioritised pretty quickly by implementers. On the other hand, consultants like me do get criticised for proposing unrealistic approaches.

    I suppose the glass-half-full version of all this is that we just have to hope we are making small, incremental progress, gradually sharing knowledge about evidence-based approaches. We’ve just got to hope there’s enough of us being stubborn enough for long enough!

  • Since writing this I came across another example. I tweeted lately about how we should promote masturbation to young people (safer sex, pleasure, learning about bodies, great for those not sexually ready, what’s not to love about it?). A big government funded organisation re-tweeted what I said so it showed up in their timeline.

    20 minutes later I noticed that they had deleted their RT. I asked them why this was and they said that someone else in their team was offended by it, they thought that using the term ‘masturbation’ and talking about pleasure was too graphic. This org uses their twitter feed to promote safer sex but can’t talk about masturbation….

    Being sex positive is about standing up for stuff like this.

  • Yes, I hear you. Good article.

    Imagine my amazement when I heard two sparky young Aussie women tell me that in school as part of their sex education they’d been taught how to put a condom on with their mouth. I actually thought, what a brilliant idea! Kids are reluctant enough to use contraception and with STDs on the rise it would give young women a good way of taking control of contraception. But of course I immediately thought of the lurid Daily Mail headlines that this would engender in the UK and realised that this would probably never happen here in my lifetime.

Comments are closed.