A Challenge to Sexuality Advice

Before I can start my story I feel like I have to admit something. I’m a sexuality educator, and at times I listen to the Savage Love podcast by Dan Savage. Maybe you do too. Maybe you can’t stand him. Either way, I feel like there’s this odd place where his show resides – he has a strong national awareness, brings on acclaimed guest speakers and does powerful work in the world. On the other hand, sometimes I hear the advice he gives and I want to thunk my head on the desk.

It’s not because I expect all sexuality educators to come at topics the same way, or because he may say things that are inflammatory. That’s part of what makes his show intriguing. I see gaps in how his advice is administered, like it feels generalized, or it’s going to perpetuate gendered expectations or sex-negativity in a way that makes me cringe. What makes me feel ashamed to admit that I listen to him, is that I fear judgement from fellow sexologists who may have similar reservations. I hate to be critical because I think overall his work is so important and community for folks in sexuality is paramount. So I ask – if you’re an avid fan, great. If not? Don’t judge me for it. There’s something to be said for learning from others and challenging perspectives. It’s how we grow.

I listened to Episode 310, where a cis-male caller was struggling with the ‘resexification’ of his wife’s genitals following pregnancy. He was a bit traumatized by how graphic delivery was, and had some terror over the fact that women’s bodies are capable of such an astounding process. Dan’s response is an example of that generalized advice – he encourages men to ‘get out of the way’. They shouldn’t be encouraged to play the role of ‘catcher’ during delivery if the process is going to be too overwhelming.

In general, I agree. Alright. It’s a big deal, not everyone is cut out for the gore of it, not to mention how confusing and stressful the entire process of bringing a new person into this world can be for anyone. What bugged me about it was that it felt like a breed of backwards sexism – where instead of revering women as precious/gentle/mom entities, we should revere the vulva as this all-powerful, sex-only entity. Don’t get me wrong, vulvas (really, all bodies) are incredible and amazingly sexy things! But why aren’t women’s bodies enough the way they are? Why can’t we break down the dichotomy of thinking about a vulva as either sexual or life-bearing? There are all sorts of tasks parts of our bodies take on, why can’t we accept how literally awesome they are?

We have no problem coming to terms with the fact that a penis is a member (haha) of the excretory system, and for some folks urination can be a sexy thing. But for those who aren’t drawn to water sports, it’s not usually a block that keeps them from being turned on by that body part. Why can’t the father (or anyone interested in the genitals of said woman) be astounded by the¬†immensity¬†of the delivery process, be involved and then get back in the sexy game later in a process that fits both partners?

I don’t think this is a far-fetched idea. Think about what the pregnant woman goes through! I am astounded by the sacrifice women make to have a pregnancy. Their bodies spend months diverting resources, and the process changes every moment of their life down to finding a comfortable way to sit/sleep/breathe/dress – all before the big moment of delivery! It’s not all negative by any means, and I know many women love the process. Seriously, this is the beauty of life. I think it’s an incredible thing that bodies can do. Big ups to everyone who has done it.

By encouraging that father to idolize his wife’s body, it adds pressure. It makes women feel like our bodies need to be sexy, or to feel a certain way. It teaches those who are drawn to said parts (whether it be a penis, breasts or vulva) to hypersexualize them and simplify that person’s sexuality.

My question is this: after the delivery, readjustment phase (does that ever stop?), and whatever else to get back into feeling sexy – what do you think that’s like? Why aren’t we taking this time as an opportunity to rediscover a sense of sexuality for both the mom and any partners involved? To assert that there is a proper role for a man is thinly veiled sex-negativity, and I wish Dan would have moved towards a place of larger body acceptance. There was an opportunity to encourage communication for that couple, and to encourage all his listeners to reflect on sexuality in a broader sense.

So I’ll keep listening and take any cringes as a challenge to re-evaluate. And for that, I will say thank you to Dan for the challenge and opportunity to expand my opinions of sexuality. I can’t wait to get started.

Image: Series I White & Blue Flower Shapes by Georgia O’Keeffe


Joanna Dawson earned her Masters in Public Health (MPH) before working for years in the non-profit world with sexuality, sex-positivity, GLBT themes and health education for young people, adults and communities. Sexuality is a complex, diverse and evolving component of our lives, and she works to equip folks with the tools to take charge of their sexuality and their health. Joanna is dedicated to promoting sex positivity as an advocate, educator and ACSM-certified personal trainer. To join in her pursuit of wellness, health and a fulfilling lifestyle follow Joanna's blog.

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