Lovers, Gurus and Teachers

Have you ever stopped to make a list of the people who helped or inspired you into your sexuality? As kids we were encouraged to bring apples to our favorite teachers, but it’s not a ritual we carry with us into adulthood. We don’t even consider the option that as grownups we might still gratefully pass out apples to the people who teach us well. Yet teaching and learning, as well as inspiration, go on throughout the life cycle, especially if we stay interested in and open to learning new things. And in a culture that still stigmatizes sex and gives beginning students inadequate information, our sexual teachers are precious friends indeed.

Remember the first person who gave you accurate information — a school friend, a sibling, a parent. The first person who consensually touched and pleasured you. The one who let you touch them. The first person who agreed to do it with the lights on so you could see as well as feel. The first partner who talked to you honestly about what they wanted, or who wanted to listen to your desires. The first person whose public talk or writing about sex inspired or aroused you. The first lover who tried something new with you. The person who helped you come out, who said they loved you and meant it, who surprised you because they wanted to try something you’d never heard of.

If you stop and think about it, all those people are teachers, and the instances in our sexual lives that involve teaching, learning, and inspiration are too varied to name. Each of us would probably cite different moments, different types of learning, as most important.

My list would be long, including some people who were my lovers as well as some whom I have never met. Some have inspired me politically, while others have touched me, talked to me, made me feel it was safe to explore. Some made space for me to be a writer and to speak publicly and openly about things that, not so long ago, were not supposed to be fit for public discourse. When I worry about exposing myself in print, I think about them — writers like Pat Califia, Marco Vassi, and John Preston — and try to live up to the standard of openness that I feel makes more room for their readers to live full lives.

When I worry about staying sexually vital as I get older I think of my friends Betty Dodson, Juliet Anderson, and Maggi Rubenstein (the latter, a noted bisexual activist and sex educator, made her first sexually explicit video — the terrific Sex: Love and Aging at the age of 65! In fact all of these women have appeared on screen, sharing their sexual energy with the world; see Betty in Selfloving and Juliet in Masturbation Memoirs).

I think of lovers whose requests and desires opened doors into pleasures I didn’t know existed; I think of partners whose names I don’t remember now but who gave me gifts or taught me lessons that remain important to me five or ten or twenty years later. Without Natalie saying “Let me watch you,” Robert saying “Talk to me,” and my many amazing customers at the peep show, I would never have written Exhibitionism for the Shy. Many of my erotic stories, in fact, have real people’s names on them: Robert, Leland, Barbara, Hugh, Rita — because if you live your life with wonderful erotic teachers, reality is better than fiction!

To celebrate our 20th anniversary and twenty years of pleasure — and learning — Good Vibrations has finally figured out what to substitute for a big basket of apples. Sex Guru Certificates, available from us throughout 1997, let you pick your own most important sexual teachers, mentors, and inspirations to honor. Send us their names with $10 per certificate ordered, and we’ll send them a personalized, frameable certificate stating that they are one of your Sex Gurus!

Besides letting the special people in your life know how important they’ve been to you, your $10 will be donated to an organization working hard to educate and motivate the public: choose from Feminists for Free Expression, Planned Parenthood, or the AIDS Project of the East Bay.

And stay open to new opportunities for sexual learning and teaching. Maybe this year someone will let you know that you were a Sex Guru for them.

Dr. Carol Queen

Carol Queen has a PhD in sexology; she calls herself a "cultural sexologist" because her earlier academic degree is in sociology: while she addresses individual issues and couple's sexual concerns, her overarching interest is in cultural issues (gender, shame, access to education, etc.). Queen has worked at Good Vibrations, the woman-founded sexuality company based in San Francisco that turned 35 years old in 2012, since 1990. Her current position is Staff Sexologist and Good Vibrations Historian; her roles include representing the company to the press and the public; overseeing educational programming for staff and others; and scripting/hosting a line of sex education videos, the Pleasure-Ed series, for GV’s sister company Good Releasing. She also curates the company's Antique Vibrator Museum. She is also the founding director of the Center for Sex & Culture, a non-profit sex ed and arts center San Francisco, and is a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and community-based organizations. Her dozen books include a Lambda Literary Award winner, PoMoSexuals, and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, which are used as texts in some college classes. She blogs at the Good Vibes Magazine and at SFGate's City Brights bloggers page and contributes to the Boston Dig. For more about her at

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