Friday 23 March 2012

Alternative Sex Education


Posted by Sebastienne

So, the OxFringe programme is out, and it's official - Lashings are performing a show called "Alternative Sex Education" on the 8th and 10th of June. It's at the Old Fire Station, an incredibly central & accessible venue which we are totally chuffed to have secured - ten minutes from Oxford train station and one minute from Oxford bus station. (Londoners: by train you can get from Paddington to Oxford quicker than you can get from Ealing to Barking.) See more details & book tickets here.

Development is well underway for the show that we're calling "" - bouncing off from a review we got which said "if only Lashings could end up on the national curriculum", and also the desire that many of us have to do a schools' tour one day, we're developing a show that's based around the types of sex & relationship education that we wish we'd received.

We're super-excited about some of the things that this is going to let us talk about! Titles are being thrown around like "The Consent Song", "Bad Romance", "Professor Galatea's History of Eurocentric Queerdom"... (by the by, Professor Galatea would love to hear your suggestions for historical figures to be included on this list, particularly in the 1550-1850 bracket).

But it's also tough.
Previously, a lot of our work has been about deconstructing social/cultural trends, where generalisations are not only necessary but part of the analysis (the existence of one mainstream happily-ever-after for a queer female couple does not make a lie of the trends we mock in "Dead Girlfriend").

When we're talking about something as deeply personal as sex & relationships, it becomes much more difficult. A lot of things that come up, which seem like good ideas at the time, get slowly deconstructed until we are left with the message, "just talk to them!!". This, while good advice, is not enough to entertain an audience for a whole hour.

So, it looks like we're asking a lot from you this week - as well as hoping that you'll consider funding us for this ambitious project, we're also going to ask for your experiences. What snippets of sex/relationship wisdom do you wish that you had learnt in school?

I'm going to start us off - I wish I'd known what queer meant. I spent so much time trying, in a terribly teenage way, to find the right label for myself; cycling through "lesbian" (until I went to gay clubs, and saw all the pretty boys in eyeliner), "bisexual", "pansexual", "omnisexual", "femsexual" (which, apparently, meant that I fancied all types of women and femme people of any other gender..), "trysexual" (I'll try anything once), even (in a complete absence of understanding of ace issues) just plain "sexual"... to the extent that my catchphrase in my Sixth Form yearbook was, "and my sexuality today is..."

Now, maybe that was an important voyage of self-discovery. Or, maybe, if someone had just sat me down and explained that it didn't matter, I was just queer, I could have spent my time worrying about other things?

So, what do you wish you'd learnt at an earlier age?


  1. Dude, yes, the label-hunting! Something I still worry about at my ripe old age of - not as young as I was at school.

    Perhaps additionally I could offer: I wish it hadn't all been taken so seriously. I wish they hadn't been quite so strict in their definitions and their divisions, and that they'd made us feel that it was ok not to know - to experiment with one's body and one's mind, and to blur the boundaries.

    In fact that's pretty much what you've said with *queer* I guess! Rock on.

  2. I wish I'd known that you don't have to prove your identity to people. I always knew I liked girls (and boys, but a bit less) but I thought that nobody in my uni LGBT soc would take me seriously because I'd only dated guys, so I never joined.

    Also, I wish I'd known that lesbians (in particular and queer people in general) aren't necessarily cooler than everyone else. I mean, a lot of them ARE ;P, but growing up in a small village all the queer folk I saw were on TV, and I didn't ever encounter normal queer people doing normal stuff until I moved to London. I knew I liked girls but I didn't have the tools to picture myself in a relationship with another girl until I started hanging out with a lesbian couple and realised that in many ways they were more or less the same as all the straight couples I knew.

    Also it would have been nice to find out earlier that there isn't one concrete thing called VIRGINITY that you've either got or you haven't.

    1. Ohmygod yes to all of this!

      One of my first thoughts when wondering whether to identify as queer was "I can't be queer, I don't have the clothes." Seriously. And I was 24. Queer people *do* seem massively cooler than everyone else!

      Also ditto to the feeling like my attraction to people of genders other than male doesn't really count unless I've dated one :(

  3. Blogger keeps eating my comment about the good things about my sex education :( Oh well. Here's what I think got missed out that really shouldn't have been:

    - Transexuality. I don't recall the existence of trans* people coming up once, the entire time I was at school, in any context at all, and the more I think about that the more shocking it gets.

    - Rape culture. We were given some very basic 'no means no', 'don't say yes unless you're sure you're ready' and 'don't give in to pressure' messages about sexual autonomy, with a little lip service paid to 'and don't pressure your partner either'. But we never discussed rape myths, we never talked about aquaintance rape being more common than stranger rape, we never talked about what to do if you were raped beyond 'go to the police', we never talked about the low rate of rape convictions and how that impacts on whether people decide to report, and we certainly never touched on the idea that if you did give in to 'pressure' and had sex you didn't want to have, that could be in any way your partner's fault rather than your own for 'making a bad decision'.

    I think, though, that what I really wish I'd been given more of is not sex ed but relationship ed. And the two things that I most wish I'd been told as a teenager (and that would have made my early university years a lot easier) are about relationship structures rather than specifically about sex:

    - Polyamory exists. It's a real thing people do in real life and not just a fictional concept. Not wanting sexual/romantic exclusivity doesn't mean that you're immature, lacking in self-control or haven't experienced true love yet; it means that you don't want sexual/romantic exclusivity, and should probably be looking for people who feel the same way (who EXIST. Because it's a REAL THING).

    - 'A relationship' is not a monolithic entity. There isn't a standard set of rules that everyone in every relationship adheres to (and that everybody understands except you). You're in a relationship if you agree to be in one; if somebody says 'you did x, you're my girlfriend now' and you didn't agree to/don't want to be their girlfriend, you aren't, no matter what x was. If you do want to be in a relationship with someone, you don't have to do it the way you think relationships are generally done, or even the way the other person wants to do it; you're entitled to have your own preferences, set your own rules and negotiate your own compromises if there's a difference of opinion.

    1. Since I consider myself to have had a better-than-average sex education, here are some things that I'm grateful I was taught that I know not all my friends got as part of their sex ed:

      - That there are a number of options for birth control beyond condoms, the pill and abstinence, what some of their pros and cons are, and that abortion is one of those options (not that there wasn't a certain amount of hand-wringing and 'when other methods fail' attached to that last statement...).

      - Where the clitoris is, what it does, and that the majority of women need clitoral stimulation for orgasm.

      Additionally, we learned this at a young enough age (12-13, I think) that the knowledge was actually useful when I first started exploring masturbation.

      - That BDSM exists, a vague idea of some of the things it can entail, and that there's nothing wrong with it provided it's something you'd agreed to do with your partner.

      This was really important to me - I was just coming to the realisation that I was kinky, and the only place I'd heard kink discussed outside of the classroom was in a newspaper article about The Spanner Case. 'The state reserves the right to prosecute you for doing this even if everybody involved consented' was not the best first message to get about my developing sexual preferences, and having BDSM presented in class as just a thing that some people like doing helpled a lot with counterbalancing that.

      - That not all sex is PIV sex.

      We were given a list of 'other sexual activities' (this is where the BDSM came in, actually, as well as phone and cyber sex, masturbating together, manual and oral sex, and I think a couple of other things) specifically in the context of 'here are some things that you might want to do with somebody if you want to have sex with them but don't want intercourse'. They were listed in order of STD transmission risk. It was hardly a radical critique of the PiV-centric model of sex, but it was useful and presented in a practical way.

      - That LGB people exist, that some people in the class were likely to be among them, and that both these things were OK.

      This wasn't actually particularly well-handled - bisexuality barely got a look-in, and while the teacher made a point of saying that homophobia and homophobic bullying are wrong, they didn't do anything about the giggling/mocking that happened when a gay teen talked about his experiences in one of our sex ed vids. But I appreciate that it got talked about (partly a symptom of my privilege in going to a private school; since Section 28 wasn't repealed until I was 18, I could easily have ended up at a school where it wasn't mentioned at all), and I especially appreciate that it wasn't in the context of 'there is this minority that exists somewhere out there' but rather 'at least one or two of you will probably discover this about yourselves by the time you're adults'.

  4. There are all kinds of things I wish I'd learnt. Firstly, that sex is mostly had primarily for pleasure rather than for having babies. What and where the clitoris is and what it does. I don't recall ever learning about same-sex sex apart from a brief mention that it exists. What transgendered means, what queer means, what asexual means, that it's OK not to give yourself a concrete label (and that this doesn't necessariy mean you're 'confused'). What dental dams are and how to use them. That sexual pleasure is a normal thing and that you aren't a 'slut' if you enjoy sex. And that relationships can take all sorts of forms and that they don't all have to be the same.

    Considering I only left school 4 years ago it's pretty bad that they didn't teach us any of this.

  5. "Also it would have been nice to find out earlier that there isn't one concrete thing called VIRGINITY that you've either got or you haven't."

    "Also ditto to the feeling like my attraction to people of genders other than male doesn't really count unless I've dated one :("

    Both of these things.

    I also wish I'd know what heteronormativity is and that it seems to extend even to attempt to explain away non-straight sexual and romantic attraction (e.g. "it's perfectly normal to feel attracted to someone of the same gender-- it doesn't mean you're not straight". "It's normal for a young girl to have a crush on her friend". I also wish I hadn't taken such pains to internalise these messages.

    Oh, and I wish I'd had peers to talk to that didn't think anything other than PIV sex was gross and abnormal. :-/