By Robin Mandell
Looking back, it seems that I was always destined to become a sex educator. If my interest in sex wasn’t enough of an indication, my passion for social justice and equal access for all people should have given me a clue. I remember, as a high school student, being baffled by homophobia. It just didn’t make sense! Common sense was paramount to me; I remember one strange conversation in which a friend expressed disgust at the idea of her parents having sex, and I merely shrugged my shoulders, claiming it was only logical that they would. I was a fairly naïve girl, but I soaked up information like a sponge—I read every sex-ed book in the school library—and I intuitively understood that sexual “difference” wasn’t gross and that sexuality was natural. I never got “the talk” from my parents, skipped the grade where they told us what sex is, and wound up learning from peer conversations (bad idea) and the aforementioned reading.
My journey into the sexual light really started with a “travelling vulva” and a sex educator. The travelling vulva was nothing more than a tam–a woolen hat with a pompom on top–and the sex educator was none other than the owner of a feminist sex toy store in Toronto, teaching a sex toy workshop at a college. As she addressed the group, explaining the form and function of vagina, urethra, clitoris, and other parts of female anatomy, our hands tented and folded the fabric of the hat to create the map of the vulva–the pompom, of course, was the clitoris.
I was eighteen. It was my first year at college. I was away from home for the first time. And yes, I previously had no idea where my clitoris was, let alone what it could do. Looking back, I know that was the best $20 I could have spent.
My fascination continued, with college courses in gender and sexuality, and lots of reading. I became a frontline worker for a sexual assault crisis line. It was difficult, educational, and ultimately rewarding work. I heard all about the nasty side, the abuse of power through sex. I talked to women, and sometimes men, hearing their stories which they told, sometimes, for the very first time. Sometimes, it killed my spirit a tiny bit to hear this pain. Still, I knew how important this work was, and it never occurred to me that I could ever work with people on the affirming parts of sexuality.
My world blossomed in unexpected ways. I performed in my college’s production of the Vagina Monologues, and got to say the “C word” in a venerable old building in front of hundreds of people. I met a transgender woman for the first time. I studied everything from First Nations literature, to cognitive psychology, to queer identities. I became disillusioned–not seeing my own experience as a disabled woman reflected in literature supposed to support equality. I got married. I moved to a new country. In short, I lived.
Then I heard the voice of a feminist sex educator again, this time on satellite radio. I was entranced by her humor, her sassiness, and her unparalleled knowledge on the topic of sex. Her frank information-sharing taught me more about human sexuality, and my own body, than I’d ever realized. I followed her radio appearances, and other work, doggedly, buying her book, joining her Facebook page, and generally engaging in fangirl behavior. Through circumstances too convoluted to list here, she became my mentor. She convinced me that I, too, could be a sex educator.
For a while I sold sex toys and taught people about sexy things. The demo toys kept piling up, though, and I decided I was more of an educator than a salesperson. These days you’ll find me writing in my blog, figuring out what comes next, working on other writing projects, and teaching short, free tele-classes–what I like to call bite-sized sex ed. I believe that the topic of pleasure belongs in all sexuality discussions, and I learn and talk about everything from solo sex to sexuality and people with disabilities.
Guest Educator Biography:
Robin is a feminist sex educator and toy maven based in the Washington D.C. area. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Women’s Studies from Queen’s University in Canada and currently studies professional writing. Through her blogs and tele-classes,Robin is committed to making pleasure-based sex education fun, comprehensible, and accessible. She believes that sexual pleasure and empowerment are a birthright for everyone. Sometimes, though, she just wants to discuss theoretical concepts like gender fluidity and the understanding of power dynamics. She has developed a passion for starting dialogues on sex and disability, and has come to the realization that, as much as she just wants to be like everybody else, she can use her visible reality as a blind woman to start these dialogues. When not writing or talking about gender and sexuality, Robin enjoys practicing yoga, singing, watching live music, cooking, walking the dogs, and spending time with friends.
Web site: http://www.robinstoynest.com