I read a CNN article a while back that reported record high STI rates in the US https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/28/health/std-rates-united-states-2018-bn/index.html?no-st=1535673990. As a sexuality educator and HIV/STI Prevention Specialist, I knew this already, but watching this information make the rounds in various news outlets and on social media was more than a little harrowing.
In addition to the many hats I wear, I used to work for a community-based non-profit as a kind of hybrid healthcare provider and activist. I provided testing for HIV and other STIs and I distributed condoms, lubricant, and other prevention resources to folks all over my community. I am also a research sexologist, conducting scientific research on sexual behaviour, stigma, and identity in LGBTQIA, BDSM/Kink, and non-monogamous communities. At the heart of all of it, for more than 10 years, I am a sexuality educator. More specifically, I teach sex education to older adolescents and adults. One thing that is consistent across the many platforms through which I educate is this: most people have never received proper, comprehensive, inclusive sexuality education.
Did you know that in the US, at the time of this publication, only 26 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education and only 18 states mandate that sex education be medically accurate and only 3 states prohibit the programming from being religious? https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/sex-and-hiv-education Poor sex education results in things like record high STI and HIV rates. Insufficient and/or inaccurate sex ed also contributes to unplanned pregnancy, low self-esteem, sexual assault, sexual injury, early onset intercourse, and much more. The thing is, though, people learn it somewhere. And if they’re not being taught what they need to know by their teachers, health care providers, or parents, they’re getting the information from friends and from the https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/facts-american-teens-sources-information-about-sex To put an even finer point on it: a large number of adolescents and adults form many of their ideas about sex and their bodies from porn.
I tell clients all the time, “Learning to have sex by watching porn is like learning to drive by watching The Fast and The Furious”. While that’s funny, and true, we all have the internet in our pockets – and so do our kids – and that means that people are accessing porn and erotica in greater numbers than ever before.
I believe pornography and erotic fiction, just like any other forms of entertainment, should be able to take amazing creative liberties. You want to write an orgy scene with 3 mermaids, 2 aliens, and a throng of manly, muscle-bound, human hotties? Go for it! (And send it to me so I can read it, okay?) But, as someone who has to help people unlearn all the bad information they expose themselves to, I’d like to make a plea: when possible, consider that whether you want to or not, you are educating people. Porn and erotica have a huge hand in shaping the fantasies and sexualities of many consumers. That is so powerful! But, in the words of Uncle Ben, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”
So, if you’re an erotic author (or an aspiring one), here are a few things that might be worth asking yourself as you plan and write your stories (Think of them like writing prompts):
I also encourage erotic writers to work on their own sex education. Odds are you didn’t get any better sex ed than the rest of us. You can’t write what you don’t know. There are so many amazing resources for good sex education out there! I recommend starting with two books: Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life, by Dr. Emily Nagoski, << https://www.amazon.com/Come-You-Are-Surprising-Transform/dp/1476762090/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535679694&sr=8-1&keywords=come+as+you+are>> and Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life by Dr. Justin Lehmiller << https://www.amazon.com/Tell-Me-What-You-Want/dp/0738234958/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1535679723&sr=1-1&keywords=tell+me+what+you+want>>.
If you’re not a writer, but rather a consumer of pornography and erotica, remember that these mediums are meant to be entertaining – not necessarily educational. Please don’t assume that what you see in porn and what you read in smut is going to be true for you in your real life. They can be amazing ways to fuel your imagination and help you have conversations with your partner(s) about what you like. I also recommend you find medically accurate, scientifically based resources for sexual health education, and I encourage you to read the books I recommended above.
Okay, I’m climbing off my soapbox now. Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.
Seriously, though, if you’d like to continue this conversation or you’d like me to connect you with resources or with a sexuality educator who can help you take your writing to the next level, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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