Sex Education in the Video Age

It’s the video age, and so it’s not at all surprising that some sex educators have chosen video as the medium for their work, producing a new crop of tapes that borrow pornography’s explicitness while expanding on its possibilities. Today many viewers access porn in the privacy of their own homes, and they’ve watched it looking for information about sex and found it, shall we say, under-endowed. Sure, you can watch porn and get a fair idea of what fucking is all about — mechanically, anyway — but you don’t learn a lot about pleasure and pleasuring, nor do you get accurate information about the many fine points of sexual functioning. And if aliens from outer space judged us Earthlings based on Andrew Blake videos, they’d figure that women all raise our legs at a right angle when we fuck, and that we very often do it standing up. One of the reasons anti-pornsters decry porn videos is because they know that many people get (or try to get) sex information from them, and that the information most video pornography imparts is flawed or lacking.

Of course, you don’t see these folks rushing to recommend actual explicit sex ed, or setting up task forces to get good quality sex education courses in the schools. While anti-porn activists have a point about what bad sex education pornography can be, they don’t as a rule advocate for a better source. It’s been left to sex educators and even a few porn companies to try to fill the gap.

You may know that I’ve appeared in several explicit sex education videos, including my own Carol Queen’s Great Vibrations, How to Female Ejaculate, and Annie Sprinkle’s not-yet-released Orgasm Scrapbook. I had my first video experience in a class at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in 1987 and was struck by how powerful it was. Both watching explicit sex ed tapes (in those days the Institute practically cornered the market on these, made by videographer Laird Sutton) and seeing myself on screen (the result of a videography class in which we students used each other as subjects), the explicit images proved the adage “A picture is worth a thousand words.” I had seen very little porn, and suddenly I was sitting in class day in and day out watching every sort of sex act on film. My embarrassed squeamishness disappeared right away; this sort of education went right to the heart of my lingering ignorance about sex and dispelled it once and for all.

When I was given the opportunity to appear in an Institute-produced video for women about safe sex, Latex and Lace, I jumped at the chance. Did I worry that naked pictures of me might get in the way of me running for the Senate? Only for a second. Nor have I worried about it since; though most sex educators teach with their clothes on, I, influenced by my Institute education, have substantial respect for those who step across the artificial boundary of “professional propriety” to prove to me that they know what they’re talking about.

In the realm of sex educators who clearly practice what they preach, no one walks their talk like Betty Dodson. Now a Ph.D. thanks to 25 years’ worth of conducting experiential orgasm workshops with women), Betty is no more ready to retire behind a business suit than Dr. Ruth is to let a video camera into her bedroom. In her video Selfloving, a portrait of her workshop, Betty teaches naked and does all the exercises along with her students. The video’s long, orgasmic crescendo is like nothing else ever put on film.

By contrast, most of the new crop of sex ed videos (many of which Good Vibrations doesn’t carry) feature clothed “sexperts” doing voice-overs while hired performers demonstrate the sex acts. Some of these videos are quite good — I favor the Sex: A Lifelong Pleasure series, especially the recent release Sex: Love and Aging. I even made one of these videos myself recently, under the aegis of Libido magazine (www.sensualsource.com/libido), where I’m an associate editor. Libido editors Jack Hafferkamp and Marianna Beck produced their foray into sex ed on video, Fanning the Flames, to appeal to couples who’d like to add interest to their sexual relationships. I’m pleased to have been involved with the project.

Still, it felt funny to keep my clothes on. Maybe this is just further proof that I’m an exhibitionist through and through, but there’s a little more to it than just feeling like a video camera is a great sex toy. I think we learn more from others’ genuine sexual portrayals than we do from the voice-overs of sex therapists. That’s why, in Carol Queen’s Great Vibrations, I give information about sexual physiology and vibrator use and I show the viewer exactly what I’m talking about. We can talk until we’re blue in the face, but nothing teaches like a demonstration. Interestingly, Nina Hartley, America’s X-rated sweetheart, is using the same tactics in her sex ed tapes Nina Hartley on Oral Sex and Nina Hartley on Anal Sex, in which nothing is left to the imagination.

It’s one thing to read a book — the Good Vibrations catalog is full of good ones — or hear a lecture. But when you can see the thing itself — the ejaculation, the orgasm, or whatever — you learn in a different way. Seeing is believing, as they say. The new generation of sex information videos means access to new erotic possibilities. The sexual revolution has come to the video age.

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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 carolqueen.com.

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