Posts Tagged ‘sex education’

The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything might be 42, yet is not helpful. I’m often tempted to distill everything to a simple conclusion or outcome and have to remind myself that it is not always the go-to approach.

The green horse joke is a great way to explain it.

This story is set in times when people had either to walk or go about on horseback.

green horse in fieldA man was really struck on a woman*.  He had it bad.  Trouble was, he hadn’t been introduced, and wanted a way to strike up a conversation, leading to a relationship.  He asked his mate for guidance on how to get the favourable attention of his desired woman.  ‘Tell you what’, says his mate, ‘why not paint your horse green.  Walk past her, leading your unusual green horse, and she’s bound to comment on it.  From there you can get talking, ask her out, give her flowers, and get what you want.’  ‘Right’, says our hero, ‘paint my horse green. I can do that.’

Before long the rather bewildered horse is a lovely grass green, and our hero is leading it proudly past his lust object.  ‘My goodness’, she says, and stopped and stared at the horse.  ‘Your horse is green!’  ‘Yep’, he replied.  ‘Wanna fuck?’

This story is not a description of how I conduct my relationships, but my approach to information.  I want the answer, now. That is not always the best or easiest way, though.

*Insert genders or non-binary options to suit your preferences

I’ve been asked to deliver a workshop on developing communication skills. Perfectionist me has been worrying about how to write the perfect workshop that will give people fabulous strategies to solve problems with communication. That is not possible. Yet communication in relationships is an essential aspect of my business. I decided to explore options by facilitating a meeting with friends attending where it was safe to play with ideas and make mistakes.

Yesterday I facilitated a sex geekdom meetup on the theme of communication, wanting to learn from the participants and test out some ideas. There were about eight people present, we mingled, ate and talked first, then people consented to let me try out the activities. First we did the handshake activity in a pared-down version as described in Meg-John Barker and Justin Hancock’s book Enjoy Sex (How, when and IF you want to)  and that led to lots of useful conversations and insights, including for some people that they did not like shaking hands and strategies for avoiding it. Then we used the 1, 2, 4, all strategy to explore a time when we were proud of communication done well, and share the concepts that made it successful. The outcomes included honesty (and knowing when to lie), trust, story-telling that is engaging and has an unexpected ending (a teaching strategy) and discussing each other’s needs in intimate relationships (and hopefully finding ways to mutually meet them). I had planned to do a version of TRIZ which looks at how to do things badly, but ran out of time.

What I got from this was a reminder that things don’t have to be perfect, baby steps are a good way to begin, that I already have the skills and tools to plan and deliver this workshop. People had a good time, and were happy to have me run the meetup as a facilitated event. I’ll have to be strict with timing in a more formal, paid education situation.

I’ve been reminded in a powerful, embodied way that 42 is not what I need or what others want. No doubt I’ll have to keep being reminded, though!


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We would love to share with you an exciting, new relationships education project we have developed and will be running soon in Bendigo. It is called Growing Up Human.

Gender and sexuality are implicit in the course, yet this is not like formal sex education. What makes it different is its focus on the culture rather than biology of sex and relationships. We cannot include a lifetime’s worth of content in a few sessions, yet we can expand conceptual understandings and develop skills that child and adult can apply to many life contexts.

Who we are:

The program is developed and facilitated by Dr Linda Kirkman, an experienced sex educator and Rose Broadway, an occupational therapist. Our shared passion for positive sexuality has fuelled our collaboration. For more information about Rose and her professional ventures please visit: madhuhealth.com.au; my professional website is lindakirkman.org.

Aim of the program:

We aim to provide a forum which enhances the safety and wellbeing of children in relationships with themselves and others. Through facilitation of constructive ways to interact with their internal and external world we aim to empower participants with positive self-perception and strategies to enrich their relationships with peers, family and partners.

Join us if you are, or have, a child aged 8-12

Children aged 8-12 are at a developmental stage where they are open to a new understanding of their inner and outer worlds. What they learn at this stage influences how they navigate adult relationships. Children are to bring their significant adult (parent, carer, other).


For more information or to be put on our mailing list E: kirkman.broadway@gmail.com P.: Rose – 0419 483 150 Linda – 0419 402 373

I’m the person on the right!

linda and rose

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I managed two meetings with significant sex educator, sex-positive people, Joan Price and Joani Blank.

Lunch with Joan Price

Kevin drove me north to meet Joan Price, guru of senior sex, author, presenter, former English teacher, line dance instructor and generally lovely and fun person. We got on like a house on fire and it was great to discuss all things sex geeky. Joan is a retired English teacher with a new career as a writer, sex educator, and advocate for a healthy, sex-positive approach to ageing sexuality (she calls it ‘ageless’ sexuality, which makes sense as the principles of being respectful to your partner/s willing to learn, open to new things, willing to adapt to circumstances apply to all ages and taking a safe sex approach). She has been travelling all over the USA giving talks in sex shops and at conferences – and this year won the Catalyst Award for “inspiring exceptional conversations in sexuality”. A key message I took from her was to always take opportunities to educate, with playfulness, fun and no judgement. Find more about her here.

Joan Price'Joan and Linda

Dinner with Joani Blank

I did my homework before meeting Joani and visited the Polk St Good Vibrations store, as well as checking out the Antique Vibrator Museum. I love it that people collect specialty items as having a historical perspective adds a lot to our understanding of the present day, and that such a visit counts as work for me.

Good vibes1Good Vibes 3Good vibes 2

Joani was a livewire and we had heaps to talk about. As with Joan Price it was really easy to talk about sex and sexuality. Joani noted that Joan was a writer where she was not; this distinction is evident in their approach to books. Joani’s Still doing it: women and men over 60 write about their sexuality (2000). San Francisco, California: Down There Press is an edited book with individual chapters of contributors’ writing, while Joan’s Naked at Our Age (2011). Berkeley, California: Seal Press is a narrative written by Joan with reference to other people’s input synthesised into topic chapters. Both books are useful and good reading. Joani gave me a copy of Still doing it and some workbooks for women and children; the children’s book, designed to be written in, is available as a free (or donation) download here. Joani was disappointed that she had not been invited recently to run workshops at Good Vibrations, the sex store she founded but no longer runs, as she likes doing that work and has done so for many years. One piece of advice she gave me was to have single sex workshops as the dynamics work better. I can see her point however think is good for people to have the opportunity to speak, and to hear each other in a facilitated safe space. There probably isn’t a definitive answer to that one and it would depend on the workshop, topic and intent. We had a great time and I loved seeing her gorgeous cohousing space. Share the message, talk, be sex-positive and give permission was the key approach from both awesome women.

Joani Blank

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“One of the other facilitators is obsessed with sex” said a student to my friend and facilitator colleague Charon. I wonder who that could be? The next day one of my students asked me “Why are you so interested in sex?” I did not have to think about my answer – and it might not have been what he was expecting. I study and teach sexuality, sexual health and relationships because I don’t get them and want to make sense of them. 

      I don’t understand human sexuality and relationships – they are central to everyone yet taboo, poorly taught and not well explained. They are a deep and mysterious undercurrent to human society that people have to navigate as best they can. I think understanding the diversity of sexuality, sexual identity and sexual expression and learning good relationship and communication skills will help us all to be happier and healthier in all aspects of our interactions with others. That includes intimate relationships, family, friendships, workplaces and the daily exchanges we have. Yes, there is a difference between an interaction with our lover and one with the shop assistant; however even in overtly non-sexual interactions assessments are being made about our sex and gender, sexuality, relative power, relationship status – things not relevant to the exchange that is happening. Those assessments come with judgements, value judgements that have the potential to be harmful. As long as sex and sexuality is taboo and poorly understood in the wider world people are going to have limited awareness of the diversity that is out there; people who are not considered mainstream will be marginalised or will marginalise themselves. There is no ‘them’ there is only us. Having a limited understanding of ‘sex’ and the bigger picture of gender, sexuality and relationship diversity perpetuates a divide.

       In Tristan Taormino’s interview with Thomas Maier, author of Masters of Sex, the biography of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, Maier makes the point that Masters was clueless about relationships. I’m not comparing my research efforts with theirs yet have empathy with the urge to understand human sexuality and relationships by researching it.


      In answering my student I said “It’s a bit like studying marine biology; there is so much under the water we don’t know about, and it is fascinating and mysterious.” “That’s so Scorpio” said Charon. “Always looking in dark places for hidden things.”

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The other: reflections on fitting in and balancing acceptance with advocacy

I worry sometimes about being different, and not accepted, or worse, outright rejected, because of it. I was invited to speak at the Zonta meeting last night on the theme of it being women’s health week, and as I mingled with the women who were in many ways similar to me, I was more aware of how I was different I was from them. Yes, I am middle class, educated, midlife, and can speak with a Merton Hall accent when required: but I have ideas beyond what is socially acceptable, my hair is grey and quite wild instead of coloured and carefully groomed, and I am a somewhat unpredictable sex researcher with an ‘out there’ topic who more and more identifies with the queer community.

 When a friend expressed doubt about my suitability to speak on behalf of a conservative organisation she described me as ‘out there’. I was deeply cut by this comment, which was probably not thought out or intended to hurt in the way it did, but it has resonated with me. I should not let it inhibit me. I am generally very careful about what I say on public record, even if in private I can be outspoken.

The university climate where mild criticism is slammed and students and staff are advised to keep critical observations to themselves feeds my concerns. I was told off for tweeting that a lecture was boring, even though I also said the content was ok and did not name the lecturer. I want a job; I value free speech; I value excellent pedagogy and wish to fight for it. I have not totally silenced myself but take more care than usual to consider the ways I express ideas.

I gave a rave in my talk last night about the importance of comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education. I criticised a school where the administration will not allow condoms to be given out by the school nurse, who then in her weekend job as a midwife delivers the babies of the students she denies condom access. I was speaking from the heart, not my logic centre (and I don’t think I named the school – but the school’s PR person was present and would have recognised the scenario), but then worried that I had caused offence. Is it more important to cause some potential offence or to advocate? Obviously to me advocacy and good public health wins, but I wish it didn’t come with self doubt. Feedback on my presentation was positive.

My self-doubt extends to my PhD topic too. I write this as a Facebook status today: Sometimes when I hear about worthy projects like preventing violence against women or supporting safe birth practices I think my PhD topic sounds frivolous. But then I think no, positive sexuality and sexual health for people of all ages is important too and is part of the good aspect of life, and feel ok. I was not consciously seeking affirmation but it came swiftly. Kate McCombs, a sex educator I hugely admire wrote: I frequently think about how your PhD topic is beacon-of-permission-ing in a powerful way. Having non traditional relationships, enjoying sex after 55, and TALKING about it? Amazing, world changing stuff I reckon. Karyn Fulcher, another awesome sex-positive educator and PhD student said, So much sexuality research focuses on preventing negative outcomes or events, but there is not nearly enough focus on encouraging the positive. Your work does exactly that and that’s why it’s so important. I value the acceptance, support and love of my #sexgeek community – thanks!

There is a fine line between having acceptability so the message is heard, and silencing the message to maintain acceptability.

I must be brave. I take inspiration from people who are much more obviously ‘the other’ than I am, and who cannot hide or pass as easily as I am able to. I do have important things to say, and am in a position to say them, so say them I will.

The music in my head is ‘Do you hear the people sing’ *punches fist in the air*.

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I bought Cory Silverberg’s book ‘What makes a baby’, described as “a book for every kind of family and every kind of kid”, and took it to a family gathering to read to my great nephews. This is the story of that reading. Image

I selected a lucky child and offered to read to him. We snuggled up on two chairs. “What makes a baby, by Cory Silverberg” I read. “Where do you think babies come from?” I asked, before opening the book. Ben* squirmed a bit, and said, “It’s something I’m not allowed to say”. We were sitting in the lounge room with adult relatives all around, so I said, “Whisper it to me”. “Sex” was the answer. “What do you think that is?” I whispered in return. “I don’t know”, Ben replied. “OK”, that was cool.

The book does not use any gender terms or relationship descriptions. This means it does not exclude people who may not fit easily in the usual boxes. As someone who avoids boxes and labels, and does not fit well with some, I loved this approach.

The book explains that babies need an egg, sperm, and a uterus. The book is beautifully illustrated (by Fiona Smyth), and in the depiction of eggs there are drawings inside of family portraits and books. I took a moment to explain that those things symbolised all the genetic material we came with, called DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, because I’m geeky and like to bring science into things. Then we discussed who had provided Ben’s egg, sperm and uterus, “Mum and dad”. As it happens I gave birth to Ben’s cousin, my niece, Alice, in IVF surrogacy, using my sister’s egg and donor sperm, so we talked a bit about how her circumstances were different, and clarified some of the details. It is lovely that the book emphasises identifying who wanted the child to be born, and who loves the child, without naming the relationships or roles those people have; it is up to the child to identify those people.

The sperm picture, a few pages on, also has all sorts of symbolic images in it, including a colourful double helix. Ben pointed at it and said, “That’s DNA”. The earlier picture, when I had mentioned DNA, had not included the double helix, and I was totally impressed that he had recognised the symbolic drawing. What an amazing world we live in that an eight year old has such knowledge of science. His mother assures me that their policy is to answer fully questions about sex as they are asked, so I am confident he will be given the bigger picture when he wants to know.

We have ‘the gayest family ever’ (family expression), so What makes a baby can be used to explain not only the circumstances of Alice’s birth, but if she and her fiancée Karma have a child it will apply to them too, as well as his uncle Andrew and his partner Josep. It was read by many of the adults that day, and conversations were started about sex, gender, chromosomes, identity, cis and trans, as well as the sexual orientation aspect. I have emailed additional information to people who asked for it.

I bought the book with the intention of keeping it, but ended up leaving it with my great nephews, as I thought it had a better chance of being more widely read and discussed there than on my bookshelf. Thanks Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth for such an awesome book!

*a psuedonym

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