Nov
252014

What is a “Beacon of Permission?”

Beacon lighthouse.jpgAs is glaringly obvious, I love talking about sex.

For me, being a sex educator isn’t just about teaching about sex in a vacuum – it’s also about talking about it with others in order to normalize discussions about sexuality.

Far too often, people feel uneasy talking about sex. And I don’t mean sensationalized, pop-culture sex. There’s a lot of that talk happening. I’m referring to genuine, sincere discussions about sex that lead to healthful, mindful choices and meaningful connection in people’s lives.

Some people might avoid sex conversations altogether, while others might make jokes to mask their discomfort. I’m all for finding the playful, humorous sides of sex, but I recognize that laughter can sometimes be an indicator of embarrassment or shame.

Many of us – not just professional sex educators and therapists – have the unique desire, knowledge, and skills to become what I call “beacons of permission” in the world. By “permission” I mean permission to have honest, educational, and even healing conversations about sex. Many people who describe themselves as “sex positive” or “sex geeky” fall under this category.

Does the following sound familiar? Many of the sex-positve folks I know describe themselves as always being “that friend” to whom others could turn when they had sexual questions. That sort of unofficial peer education is a manifestation of that permission-giving.

When I tell new acquaintances what I do for a living, I often become the sounding board for sex and relationship questions and (occasionally) whispered confessions. Nearly all of the sex educators I know describe having similar experiences.

This is what being a beacon of permission looks like: by communicating that you are a safe person with whom to talk about sex, you create spaces wherein people can explore ideas that have been marinating for days or decades.

Not all conversations about sex are equal. Most people notice that sex occupies a significant percentage of the airwaves. From “sexting” moral panic, to the recent sexual exploits of a B-list reality TV star, the media is full of sex, but it’s very rarely explored in a way that leads to better understanding of sexuality.

I suspect that some people may become so oversaturated with the sex alarmism and titillation that permeates the media that they may find it more difficult to hear messages that are actually educational, useful, or health-promoting.

Not all conversations have to be serious. I think it can be deeply cathartic to laugh about sex (see “Burritos and Ball Jokes”). But I think that bringing greater intention to the conversation – intentions like “shedding light on a taboo topic” or “reducing sex-negativity” – can go a long way in shaping our understanding of what it means to talk about sex.

So when an audience member at a panel I was on asked, “What can we as sex geeks do to make the world a more sex-positive place?” I lit up. I responded by describing this concept of being a beacon of permission and intentionally fostering meaningful dialogue.

I suspect that people are hungry for this kind of meaning, so when a safe-space creating, sex-positive person enters their lives, they’ll usually take the opportunity to engage. Whether you would consider yourself a “sex geek” or not, I encourage you to become a beacon of permission to others.

I argue that in order to reduce sex-negativity, the world needs to start by having more of these safe spaces. I’m grateful that it’s my job to help facilitate them.

 

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