Please upgrade your browser for the best Refinery29 experience. Read more.

Saved! Access Favorites in your account profile. Removed from my favorites

7 Sex Educators Who Are Totally Rocking It

  1. Begin


    See All Slides
    Sex education isn’t something people generally think of as a fun activity. More often than not, it’s depicted as awkward, boring, and uninformative (at best). In fact, when we polled our readers about sex ed, nearly a third of them reported that theirs was “terrible,” and 75% said that they didn’t feel well prepared to have sex after going through sex ed. But it doesn’t always have to be such a cringe-worthy experience. There are some sex educators out there who are figuring out ways to make sex ed not only interesting, but also inclusive, sex-positive, and effective.

    To prove it, we reached out to seven incredible sex educators across the country who are moving beyond the age-old condom-on-a-banana demonstration and shaking up the way we teach sexuality in America. From using pizza to teach pleasure and consent to taking sex ed to the back of limousines to addressing kink head-on, each of these educators has something important to share about how we can be more inclusive, relatable, and fun in our execution of sex education. Pay attention: These are examples of sex ed done right.

    Click through to see what these educators from around the country want you to know about sex ed and the super cool ways they’re going about it.

    These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

    The gap between what we learned in sex ed and what we're learning through sexual experience is big — way too big. So we're helping to connect those dots by talking about the realities of sex, from how it's done to how to make sure it's consensual, safe, healthy, and pleasurable all at once. Check out more here.

    Begin Slideshow
  2. Illustrated by Aimee Sy. Photo: Courtesy of Al Vernacchio.


    See All Slides
    0 of 14

    Al Vernacchio
    Sex educator, author, and speaker in Wynnewood, PA
    Claim to fame: creating the “pizza model” of consensual, pleasurable sex

    In one of your well-known TED talks, you describe the ways in which, as a society, we somehow end up talking about baseball when we talk about sex. What are some of these baseball-related metaphors, and how are they harmful?

    “In the baseball model, first base is usually kissing, second base is often thought of as feeling somebody up, third base in some cases is oral sex, and then a home run is vaginal intercourse or anal intercourse. This sets out a very controlled and scripted way to think about sex. It’s competitive, because you’ve got two opposing teams — somebody’s offense and somebody’s defense. It’s very regimented, in terms of you have to do things in a certain order, and it’s very focused on winning and losing. And while there might be an implied idea of fair play, we know from baseball that ‘win at all costs’ becomes much more of a dominant message than ‘play fair.’

    “And that model is sexist, because it assumes that the woman in a heterosexual encounter is the field upon which the game is played, and the guy is the player. It’s heterosexist, in that it defines sex in a very heteronormative way, and gay and lesbian folks and queer folks can’t easily fit the model. It’s goal-directed, in that it says it’s only ‘real’ sex if you get all the way around the baseball diamond and if you score a run.

    “Interestingly, ‘scoring a run’ seems to be more important for the boy than for the girl in a heterosexual baseball context. The fact that vaginal intercourse is a ‘homerun,’ and we know that a huge percentage of women don’t have orgasms from vaginal intercourse shows, again, the sexism and the way it’s tilted towards a male-dominated system. For all of those reasons, it’s really problematic.”

    The alternative metaphor you suggest is pizza. How does that that set us up for healthier, safer sex?

    “Rather than in baseball, where you get told when there’s a game on the schedule, with pizza it really starts with an internal sense of am I hungry? and what would feed my hunger at this point? Right away, there’s agency and choice. We can say, I am hungry, and I’m going to pursue that hunger. Or we could say, I’m hungry, but it’s not a great time for me to eat. Or, I’m hungry, but I’m going to have something other than this right now.

    “There’s no right or wrong way to do pizza. There are just a lot of preferences. I may like pineapples and you may like anchovies, and they’re not right or wrong, they’re just different. So there’s a lot of individuality. Also, with pizza, if you’re gonna have pizza with somebody else, one of the first things you do is talk about it; you may even negotiate. That’s really healthy, and that’s really absent in the baseball model. In baseball, you don’t need to talk about it. Everybody knows what you’re doing. You just show up and take your position and play the game, right?

    “Then, the outcome of pizza is not a competition. At some point you feel satisfied and you’ve had enough. You can decide you’ve had enough, you want more, and over-indulging tends to make you feel not so great.

    “It’s a model that is much more inclusive, much more based on individual agency, decision, and choice, and that is not competitive and it’s about shared satisfaction and pleasure. If our sexual encounters were more like that, we would be a healthier, happier society.”

  3. Illustrated by Aimee Sy.


    See All Slides
    1 of 14

    Why is language important in teaching healthy sexual behavior?

    “Sex is all about communication, and healthy sexuality is all about communication. So, if we don’t have the language, and if we don’t have a fluency with being able to talk about our bodies and our relationships and our actions, then it’s very hard to achieve healthy sexuality. I think we’ve all had experiences where we’ve felt unable or unwilling or unsafe to say the things we really wanted to say, or ask the questions we wanted to ask. So, part of my goal is to create the opportunity for conversation and to help people learn how to create that opportunity in other situations in their lives.

    “In my class, I talk about learning to be ‘multi-lingual’ when it comes to sexuality, because there are different ‘languages’: We talk to our sweethearts differently than we talk to our doctors. We talk to our parents maybe differently than we talk to our children. Being fluent in many ways, in many languages of sexuality, is what I think is the key.”

  4. Illustrated by Aimee Sy. Photo: Courtesy of Taryn Crosby.


    See All Slides
    2 of 14

    Taryn Crosby
    Sex educator and social worker in Brooklyn, NY
    Claim to fame: bringing her pleasure-focused sex ed workshops to limos and bachelorette parties

    What’s different about the way you teach sex ed?

    “I like to be really conversational. I’ve become more comfortable with the ‘expert’ label, but I feel like I’ve had the time to read and study and have experienced more, and so that’s why I have more knowledge. But people own their experiences and know what feels good to them. Sure, I have more information and knowledge about topics specifically, but I need to know information from you to see what’s gonna work.

    “I’ve been at bachelorette parties; I’ve been in the back of limos. I did one recently at a nude play-party that a group of friends is trying to start. People have ideas about what it’s going to be like — that it’s going to be more of an entertainment or demonstration kind of thing — but it’s really a conversation.”

    What’s the most difficult question you’ve been asked during a workshop?

    “The trickiest is when women say they’ve never had an orgasm before. I can talk about tricks or methods or toys, but there are so many things that contribute to women having orgasms. A lot of it has to do with the way that we feel about ourselves, our knowledge of our bodies, our expectations around what an orgasm looks like — and that’s a lot to break down in one educational session.”

  5. Illustrated by Aimee Sy.


    See All Slides
    3 of 14

    How can we be talking to young people about difficult or taboo subjects in a more comfortable, accessible way?

    “One of the important things is that it’s not just one conversation. In movies, you sit down and have the birds-and-the-bees conversation, or you have the one conversation about condoms. But we know that it’s more effective if it’s an ongoing thing.

    “Another is to be consistent with our messages. We’re sending messages, even if they’re not verbal, with the way that we restrict gender behaviors and the expectations we have around gender. All of those things affect our sexual behaviors and how we think of ourselves sexually.”

  6. Illustrated by Aimee Sy. Photo: Courtesy of Melanie Davis.


    See All Slides
    4 of 14

    Melanie Davis
    Sexuality educator, trainer, and consultant in Bedminster, NJ
    Claim to fame: breaking down stigmas about older adults and sexuality

    Why is there such a stigma and lack of awareness around older adults’ sexuality?

    “It starts with a bigger picture than sexuality. As a culture, we tend to marginalize older adults — they’re not hip, they’re not cool, so somehow there’s this assumption that they’re not interested in the world around them, and that they’re not interested in sex anymore. These assumptions are harmful. Older adults are sexually active, they are sexually interested. Yes, desire changes, but that doesn’t mean that their interest in having relationships and intimacy necessarily disappears.

    “Research has shown that older adults report more satisfaction with their sexuality than younger adults. In part, they’ve just gotten beyond the point of being embarrassed by every physical flaw, so they’re more comfortable with themselves; they’re more comfortable with their bodies; they know what works and what turns them on.”

    What are some of the major sexual health issues that concern older adults?

    “Physically, sexual pain can be a significant problem; often, that’s related to muscles losing tone, or to surgeries and cancers that affect the body. Hormonal changes can create discomfort. Also, as tissues age, they become more susceptible to sexually transmitted infections because they’re more delicate.

    “Emotionally, there are issues of partner loss — through separation, divorce, death, cognitive changes, or significant health changes. Couples are navigating new ways of being sexual, or sometimes grieving the loss of the sexuality they once enjoyed.”