Sex Educator Profiles: Lee Harrington
How did you start giving sex advice?
I was really active in the Science-Fiction fandom community back in the early nineties as a teen. A friend of mine and I were sick of seeing so many bad sexual health rumors going around, and so we decided to do something about it. We dressed as “The Condom Faeries- our nod to the Japanese Manga “The Bondage Faeries, and teamed up with King County Medical (Seattle, WA) to distribute condoms, gloves, lube, dental dams, and sex advice. It started with how to use condoms, but soon we were debunking myths around oral sex, pregnancy, multiple partners, kinky sex, queer identity and much more. I was 15.
Where do you teach?
As a full-time sexuality and spirituality educator, I spend a fair amount of time on the road lecturing for universities, doing workshops at kinky sex, gender studies, and spirituality conferences, leading discussion groups at sex shops as well as doing one on one coaching and quite a lot of writing. Really, I teach almost everywhere I go it seems- on my last flight from Phoenix to Seattle I ended up doing sex advice for the 2 women next to me as soon as they heard what I do for a living!
Where is your favorite place to teach?
One of my favorite teaching environments is week-long intensive retreats. Dark Odyssey: Summer Camp, Sacred Sexuality Beltane, In The Woods, Leather Retreat, CampOUT– these and more are immersive experiences where folks take classes, play out in the sunshine, enjoy the adult-themed entertainment, eat great food, and in general have a fun time focusing on growing and exploring as complex sexual individuals. The thing I love about these kinds of retreats is that the educators don’t “vanish when the class is done- we get to go swimming, attend the same parties, eat side by side with our students. All kinds of magical conversations, rituals and connections have taken place for me at these events, making friendships that will last a lifetime.
What was the most interesting thing you learned in your exploration of sex?
The fact that women have as much genital erectile tissue as men. When I came into sex education 15+ years ago, I thought of the clitoris as a small bundle of compact nerves¦ and the head is. But the clitoral shaft is 3-6 long, and there are the clitoral “wings that come off the shaft and wrap around the vaginal cavity. When I learned this I just blinked, and suddenly realized the whole “theirs is bigger than mine thing was a fallacy, and my penis-envy fell away. As a transman (born female, I now am legally and socially male), when I went on testosterone supplements, I was told my cock/clit would grow. But it did not grow- it migrated out from being based internally to now being more external. I had my cock all along- that radically transformed my relationship with my own genitals.
What is your favorite sex toy or product and why?
The hand. Covered in a latex or nitrile glove and some lube for vaginal or anal play using a few fingers and listening to your partner’s reaction. Uncovered, landing with firmness on our lover’s rear end. Fingers slowly caressing across their hips, lightly pinching our own nipples during sex. The back of the hand brushing away hair from our partner’s face as we stare into their eyes. A single bend of the finger from across a room beckoning our partner seductively to come to our side. Grabbing your own body during hot, sweaty solo sex and masturbation. Yup- my favorite sex toy has to be the hand.
Which is your favorite project that you’ve worked on?
A safer sex video game. Choose your own adventure style. The script writing for the project with University of Minnesota was really difficult due to the sheer volume of approaches that can be taken to negotiating safer sex, but worth the struggle. Characters can negotiate verbally, through action, through inaction. And what I loved about the project was that unlike so many safer sex systems that just tell you what to do- your character (and you) get to decide what to do next. When you walk into the bar, do you flirt with the guy who caught your eye, or sit down and see who cruises you. When your lover proposes to not use a condom, do you point out STD concerns, that you have a latex fetish, or mention then cleaning up will be easier with a condom? Such fun variety and such a great challenge to design!
What do you think is the biggest misconception about sex?
The belief that everyone likes the same stuff! I do a class called “Let’s Talk About Sex, where I bring up a sexual act and have everyone in the room give their frank feelings and thoughts on their experience with it. I remember giving the class one time, and the topic was “receiving oral sex. The variety was huge- some folks loved it, some liked it but only if their partner was not goal oriented, some folks had a minor distain for it, one woman outright hated it and hated that her partner always pressured her saying she should like it.
But what hit home that day was a married couple in the room. They had been together for over a decade, and he had shared earlier that before marriage he had had numerous other sexual partners, a fact that his wife who sat next to him knew about. When the topic came around to him, he said he thought it was okay, it was fun, but he had never cum from oral sex and thought that mutual masturbation and intercourse were more for him. His wife was staring at him, wide eyed. “Really? she asked? Yes, he said, and hadn’t they had that discussion before? She told him that she just thought he had been being nice to her¦ for ten years she had been convinced she was a bad lover because she had never made him cum from oral sex- when it turned out he just wasn’t wired for climax through oral sex. She had internalized the belief that everyone likes oral sex, and that belief had made her feel like she was a bad lover. It was heartbreaking to see how much she had been hurting, and so delightful to see this couple connect on a deeper sexual and emotional level.
What was your most unusual panel or experience?
Hands down it was the guy who asked me about zombie creation. No, really. I was doing a class on erotic breath and air flow play, and having run through the risks, dangers, desires, practical considerations, and more, I paused and asked if anyone had any questions. A man in the front row of about 70 students shot up his hand. I called on him, and he asked what my thoughts on zombie creation were. Luckily, I had recently read some of the world-travel work of [Douchan Gersi], and was able to say, without pause “If you are referring to the Haitian Bakor or dark magician practice of convincing someone they are dead through use of chemicals and extreme experiences such as being buried alive, I think it is a fascinating practice that does involve asphyxiation that causes some degree of brain death- but today’s class is on erotic asphyxiation, and thus I do not see the relevance. He nodded, thanked me for my time, and the class went on. It was so baffling. Let’s hear it for having a brain full of random information!
What would be your number one piece of advice for someone interested in a career of sex education?
Figure out your unique voice or calling. Some of us are called to be mentors. Others hear the draw to be lecturers, entertainers, experts, academics. Not everyone needs to be Annie Sprinkle letting strangers examine their vulva up close and personal, nor will everyone want to be Dan Savage with a weekly column dispensing advice to strangers. You are your own person. You will reach people best by being you, which means learning more about yourself. Once you know you are called to being a sexual comedian, you can then start figuring out how to incorporate that into your work. Be you, with excellence.
Where can people find out more about you?
My website is PassionAndSoul.com, and there you can find out about my books, audio work, upcoming appearances, and so much more. I have been keeping an online sexuality blog since 1998, and I also have my Sutras of Soul series for those looking for deeper conversations on our emotional and relationship journeys.