It’s Samuel L. Jackson. I couldn’t resist.
This is not about making a New Year’s resolution. This is about celebrating how far I’ve come, embracing how far I have to go, and hoping to inspire others to do it right the first time.
So, most of you know, I had the chance to talk to the local senior circle about sexuality and aging. It was a blast–I’m so glad I did it and I’m looking forward to an opportunity to do some sort of an encore if the chance arises. The attendees were so engaged and asked great questions. Our office manager attended and spent most of the time giggling at me in a good-natured fashion. Our poor volunteer coordinator–lovely soul but not nearly as brazen as I’ve become–spent a fair amount of the time blushing but did not shut me down despite the use of the words “cock ring” multiple times. Our new advertising executive–well, I’m not sure what he thought of me, but I’m okay with whatever he needs to think.
What was so amazing about the whole experience, though, is that I was so comfortable talking about things that are taboo–I’m very proud of that. I was also thrilled when my audience reinforced my belief–most of us continue to see ourselves as sexual human beings throughout the lifespan; we want to keep learning and grow our capacity to experience pleasure. (I also got a great piece of advice from one of the gentlemen who came up and spoke with me after the presentation was over–never buy “Viagra” on the internet. It’s incredibly overpriced and it’s not the real deal. Just thought I’d share–learn from his pocket-ectomy.)
Talking to the senior circle reminded me of the days I did sex education in health classes when I was a school nurse. This is where the “regret” part comes in…. Although I know I made an impact on some of the kids who heard me talk (some of them still tell me about it), I wish I had given them better information. You see, I talked a lot about anatomy, STDs (now called STIs or “sexually transmitted infections”–someone decided the word “diseases” was inaccurate and charged with negativity) and pregnancy prevention. I showed the slides of the dripping penis and the vulva covered with genital warts. I have former students who joke (I hope) that they are still traumatized by those pictures.
Here’s what I wish I had done: I wish I had talked to them about pleasure. I think part of my mistake came from not knowing any better–I was really sincere about not wanting “my” kids to have unplanned, life-changing pregnancies and I was equally earnest about preventing disease (infection) transmission. I also think that I knew on some deeper, unspoken level that talking about sex being pleasurable is STILL the biggest taboo.
So, if I could do it over again, I would still talk to them about safety and I would still talk to them about contraception, but I would avoid the “sex=death” message that our kids so often get in sex education classes (if they get any education at all). I was listening to Tristan Taormino’s podcast (“Sex Out Loud“) and she and a guest educator made some great points: yes, sex is risky. But you know what? We do far riskier things every day and we don’t think about the risks because our culture normalizes those behaviors. For example, flying in an airplane, driving your car, riding a horse, trying a new medication for the first time–in many ways, all of those are far riskier than most of the scary things we associate with sex (infection and pregnancy). Here’s the other thing–we take precautions with all of those things to make them safer but they don’t lose their inherent risks; we are just taught that getting smashed up in a car accident is less scary and less likely than catching a sexually transmitted infection. (Not true by the way… the number one killer of teens and young adults is accidental death–not HIV infection or tertiary syphilis.) I don’t want to minimize the potentially devastating impact that a serious illness or an unplanned pregnancy can have on a person’s life, but what I really want to help people understand that as long as we incorporate thoughtful behaviors to minimize our risks, sex is really about pleasure, joy, and connection.
I told “my” seniors–and I truly believe this–pleasure is your birthright. Those of us who are American just had the misfortune to grow up in a society founded by the Puritans–and we still carry a lot of baggage from that. I’ve actually just finally gotten over the fact that I’m really interested in sex–my sex life, the sex lives of others, and looking at and thinking about things I might never do myself. In our mainstream culture, that makes me a bit of a pervert. Here’s what I really think, though–if I allow myself to shed that shame, my interest plus my education and professional background gives me a gift that I can share with others. That’s far from being perverted. It is, in fact, pretty cool. It’s also a tremendous privilege that people trust me enough to ask.
Up next: My Love Doth Come Too Soon….
Happy New Year!