Transcription by Vidhya Elango
Sex can be great! But it can also be scary. This episode of the podcast explores how sexual education should be set up, and what it might offer if it were to adequately support us in developing a healthy and grounded orientation toward physical intimacy. You’ll hear from four people about how they’ve learned about sex throughout their lives, and what sex means to them - all the good, bad, and in-between things about it
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For a transcription of ‘Sex Ed’ read on:
Sarah Feldbloom: Hi there! Welcome to the podcast! I’m Shameless Magazine’s Web Producer Sarah Feldbloom. As you may already know the issue of our print mag that’s on stands right now is about education. Learning is part of everything we do. On today’s podcast, we’re going to talk about how its part of sex. Sex can be great. In our better moments it can feel empowering and satisfying to learn about it, and take part in it. But those processes can also be confusing, scary, full of grey areas, and lot’s of other things. In this episode you’re going to hear from four people about how they’ve learned about sex throughout their lives, and what sex means to them - all the good, bad and in-between things about it.
[Sound up on interview]
Toni: My name is Toni, I’m from Toronto, but originally from South Africa. I am 27 years old, I identify as a woman and I am straight.
Sarah Feldbloom: What does sex mean to you?
T: Sex is a pleasurable physical experience between two or multiple individuals. For myself, it is a pleasurable experience of a sexual nature with one individual.
SF: What do you wish that you had been told before you’d had sex?
T: Definitely for myself, sex is so much in my head. Like, the experience of sex, it’s all about my thoughts. So, if I’m having sex with someone, and I’m so distracted because I have a deadline the next day or an assignment the next day, that is very distracting for me. So mentally I have to shut down in order to really get into it, because a big part of enjoying and being in that moment is about the thoughts that I’m having. So, I don’t know if that’s, sort of, an experience for many women, that sex is so much part of our minds, and I wish that, that sort of thing was talked about more.
I wish I had been told not to expect, like, doves flying around me, and rainbows. I think I also had read too much Mills and Boons when I was a child. It’s a romance series, kind of like the Harlequin series. So, somehow in my mind, all of these ideas around the first time included violins playing softly in the background and this, like, transcending, transcendental - is that what it is? - moment [laughs]. So, anyways, I expected some of that, I think. So, I just - I wish someone had given me a dose of realism and said, listen, it’s probably not going to be that good that first time.
SF: And what was it actually like when you first did it?
T: Pretty crappy. Pretty - pretty crappy. Yeah, it didn’t happen completely the first time, so I had to - which made it worse, because we had to keep going back to it, so that just killed any kind of romance that we might have been trying to create in that first time moment. So yeah, i was very uncomfortable, very uncomfortable, and I wouldn’t want to do it again.
I waited ‘til I was with my then-partner, the first partner that I had. And I waited ‘til l was in this long term relationship before I did it, because I felt like that was the best thing for me, sort of, mentally, to be with someone - to experience that first time sexual relationship - with someone who I really trusted, and that definitely made the experience better I think, in retrospect. But, the first time was really uncomfortable, and we were both really young, and, I think we were both trying to live up to this expectation of each other, what we thought the other person expected in us. And definitely, I think we both had these romantic illusions of what that person was supposed to be like, so I think we were also trying to live up to that expectation. So it made things very uncomfortable.
SF: What was uncomfortable?
T: Umm, being naked in front of someone. Like, completely naked. And, being completely naked in front of someone is, especially for a young woman who had, you know, body issues, body image issues, and a bit insecure about herself, it was a very vulnerable experience, so…
SF: What do you think is the most vulnerable element of sex?
T: Mm, for me, the most vulnerable was - is the trust, I think, like trusting that your partner is not going to hurt you, especially on that first time. Trusting that your partner is going to try to please you as well as themself, and in that very intimate moment not be selfish.
SF: Sometimes trust is broken during sex, so I’m curious about whether you’ve ever had an experience where your trust was broken?
T: I mean with this same partner that I had, this long term boyfriend of mine, we had a breakup during our relationship and at that time he had gone away on vacation somewhere, and then when he came back, we were trying to sort of rekindle our relationship. And I mean, sex at that time of my life, having body issues and being insecure, and so young, having these sort of, this idea of what I should be like as a woman and what I should be like as a sexual partner made me even more so insecure. So sex, for me, represented this way where I could connect with him. This like really honest, this honest experience, where we were giving part of ourselves to each other, and that was that one place we wouldn’t lie to each other. In my mind, that was what sex represented in that relationship. And so, when he came back from his trip, and we tried to reconnect and rekindle our relationship, we started off our sexual relationship again, and I asked him if he had slept with anyone else, and he said “No, not at all”. The entire time we’d been broken up, he’d only thought of me and pined after me. And then after we’d started up our sexual relationship again - I’d asked him that before we did - only after did he tell me that he had. And I felt so betrayed, I felt so unclean, because I felt like that was that one piece of our relationship that was, like, sacred, right?
SF: So, how have you continued to learn about sex as you’ve been growing up?
T: Well, I’m not - I can’t say that I’m actively looking for new information of sex. I’m not actively going to tantric workshops or anything like that, although I wouldn’t turn down an opportunity to do interesting workshops, or learn interesting information on sex, it’s just not a priority for me. But I will say that as the older I get, the more self-assured I am. I think as a young woman, when you first understand your sexual nature, you first understand what you want sexually you feel - at least my own experience is that you feel guilty asking for pleasure.
I think as women we’re socialized to be the givers of pleasure as opposed to the recipients of pleasure. And, for women who do enjoy sex, and women who have an active sexual life, they’re labelled sluts and whores and bitches and whatever else. And, I mean, that’s the reality for young women. So, the older you get, the more you realize how problematic that is. The more comfortable you become in your body and the more in tuned you are with your own sexuality, the easier it become to say I don’t want this or I want more of this. So, definitely, the older I’ve gotten, the more comfortable I’ve become, and I’m able to say that this is not what I want, I want to have a better sex life or I want to have more toys, or I want to have more of this, and let’s try this, and I’ve become a lot more experimental. That also has to do with being in a healthy relationship that’s filled with trust and open communication that I’m able to negotiate that, but definitely it’s got a lot to do with growing up and feeling like I had a right to ask for different things.
SF: Are there things you’ve had to unlearn about sex?
T: Well, my experience is going to be different to other people’s, right, so I’ve got to, sort of preface that, and say that for some reason - and I’ve had this conversation with friends. There seems to be this idea that every single sexual encounter will lead to an orgasm. And I don’t know how true this is, I don’t know how true this is for other women. Myself in particular, I cannot say that every single time I’ve had sex I’ve had an orgasm. When I researched it, I think like only like, I think it’s like less than 50% of women actually orgasm by having sex. So there’s a serious miseducation, because I went into having sex with this expectation that I was going to orgasm every single time, and if I wasn’t that there was something wrong with my sexual partner and if I wasn’t there was something wrong with me, and I needed to go see a doctor.
SF: Are you talking about penetrative sex or are you talking about sex in a more general way?
T: I’m talking about penetrative sex. Also, I mean the other thing that I had to unlearn, is that sex is not always comfortable. That women’s bodies are created so differently that everyone’s experience of sex is going to be quite different depending on the way that their vagina is shaped, right? The way that a man’s penis is shaped. I’d never, ever had that conversation with anyone when I was much younger. The older I got, I felt a little bit more comfortable talking to my friends about it. In my mind, I thought that there was one vagina and that there was one penis, and that there was no variation between that, so, every single time that penetrative experience should be comfortable and lead to an orgasm. And then, the older I got, the more I learned about people who are allergic to semen, the more I learned about people having pain every single time that they had sex because of the shape of their vagina, and that totally just shocked me.
Y: My name is Yegi and I’m originally from Iran. I came here about 20 years ago. I’m 36. I identify as a trans person, as a transguy to be more specific. And I identify as queer.
SF: And what does sex mean to you? How would you define it?
Y: Sex? That’s actually pretty loaded. It can mean a lot of things, right? But, it depends on where you are on your life, I guess. It sometimes can just mean fun, but most of time for me personally, it’s just a connection. It’s a really deep connection.
SF: And how did you first learn about sex? And how did you feel in that first moment, when you first learned about it?
Y: [laughs] I was actually I think 12 or 13. And I was actually looking at some books that I found around, lying around. And I was like hmm, this is interesting, and I looked at it and I’m like, wow, I had no idea it could happen this way, and I had that surprise moment. And then, as I got older, about 16, 17 and I got to experience it and I’m like,tThis is totally different from what I saw in that picture.
SF: How is it different?
Y: Well, because it’s more of a personal experience than anything else, right? The picture is just a picture, it shows you basically how it’s done kind of thing, but when you get into it it’s a whole different story, because it’s - especially for the first time, I’m sure a lot of people might this experience - you’re completely nervous, you don’t know what to do, you’re a wreck, and then things happen and you’re like oh my God, this is awesome! or, not so good. For me, it was awesome.
SF: What do you wish you’d been told about sex?
S: Well, when I had my first experience I wish I was told that there could be sex with a same sex partner. Yeah. So, ‘cause, my first experience wasn’t with a woman, and I was, yeah. And then when I had sex with a woman it was a completely a different story. I was like okay, yeah, this is what I’m talking about! [laughs]
SF: Can you describe what was different about being with somebody of the same sex as opposed to a different sex?
Y: For me personally the sex that I had with the opposite sex, it was like, more mechanical. It was like okay, this is how it’s done. And then I was like, okay, I like it, but I don’t know, I don’t know if I have control over this, I don’t like. I mean, not that necessarily I don’t like it, but I don’t like the fact that I’m feeling kind of strange about this, I don’t know where I necessarily I fit in, you know? And the connection wasn’t necessarily there. ‘Cause, I’m more about the emotional connection also, but when it was with a woman, I was like, oh wow, there’s a connection there, and I’m actually feeling way more comfortable about my own body and everything else.
SF: Have you continued to learn about sex as you’ve grown up?
Y: I think we all do, in many ways, yeah, because sex is different with every person. So you learn different things about that person, about that person’s sexuality, about your own sexuality with that person. So, that’s the way I see it. We’re constantly learning about ourselves and each other. So, I can learn this kind of thing with this person, about this position, or about this consent issue, or that emotional thing, you know.
SF: Are there things that you’ve had to unlearn about sex?
Y: Uhhh…yeah! Yeah, I definitely had to learn to be like, okay, you know what, loosen up a little bit. You know, like ,’cause, when I first started having sex - I’m 36 now - it was like 15. Obviously, I was very nervous, very like this is way it’s done, so this is the way it has to be. Just like you’re constantly learning, you’re constantly unlearning, too. I’m just, like, leaving it open now, and I’m just, like - as long as I’m comfortable with it and my partner is comfortable with it, then, definitely. That’s one thing that I wish, to just be more open. And I’m learning that as I go along, still.
SF: What is your process of teaching yourself things? Did you grow up in Canada?
Y: Part of my growing up was in Iran. So, between 9 and 14, 15, I was mostly in Iran. So, I have learned some of my sexuality there, too, which was quite interesting when I came here.
There was no sex-ed in schools, too, that’s one thing. You just don’t, like - you’re married, you get married, and you’re supposed to have sex after marriage. And people do it anyway, this is just the way the schools - because it’s an Islamic republic, schools are mostly religious institutions, right? But it’s interesting, because I feel like the more you restrict people, the more they’re going to do it. And that’s what going on in Iran, like, people, especially youth, are having sex a lot, because they’re restricted, right? I feel like the more open and honest you are about sex, the less of a big deal it is, the less teenage pregnancy you’re going to have, and people are going to be more aware when they’re going to do it. And this is, I feel like where sometimes our sex ed here comes short too. We just need to not make such a big deal out of it. And we need to just open it up, and normalize it, and sexuality is a part of humanity and just look at it that way. Like any kind of sexuality, right? And to make it completely normal, like kind of like, homosexuality, or— yeah —. There’s consent, which is to me, personally, it’s a big deal. There would be more consent there, they would have conversations about it, it would be more safe, you know. That’s the way I see it.
SF: Would you describe a significant sexual experience that you’ve had.
Y: Okay, here’s where the conversation before sex comes in. I just met this person and we ended up having a one night stand kind of thing, and, we had no idea and they also happened to want to be a top, and I’m like, well what the hell are we doing? And it was like, we’re both sitting there and we’re like, okay, I don’t think it’s going to work out, so that was the most - not interesting - yeah, well, I guess interesting experience that I’ve had. It was like, well, we’re both tops, so… I don’t know, we tried to work it out, it just didn’t happen. [laughs]. So, we were just sitting there laughing. But we became friends afterwards so it was all good.
SF: If sex education could be the way that you want it to be, what would that look like?
Y: Basically, talk about it openly, right? I feel like, even though we kind of talk about how to protect yourself sexually, we don’t talk enough about consent. We don’t have enough conversations about what sexuality actually means in humanity. We don’t talk about sexuality being a part of humanity and how it’s everyone’s right to be sexual - or not. We don’t really talk about those things. And just basically going about it that way, it makes it so much easier, because I feel like it’s such a big deal especially in Western society, because of the media and everything else. When you look at it, virginity’s a huge deal, and like, the prettier you are, and body image, all of that also comes into sexuality. We need to have a conversation about that too.
SF: Where do you think that conversation should be happening?
Y: In schools, for sure. And from a very young age so that kids do get the idea of whatever my body looks like it’s fine, I can be a sexual person, and my race…you know, all of that…or who I’m attracted to, all of those, it’s okay, it’s a part of my sexuality, and it’s okay to be sexual. And obviously, in the higher grades, when they’re ready to have that understanding - maybe 7th or even 8th grade - it’s really important to talk about consent in those ages also.
SF: Are there things that you think are being ignored in the kind of sexual education that you see around you or in social and cultural discussions around sexuality that are happening?
Y: There is this aspect of the cultural sensitivity that’s not there. In Canada, we do claim to be a, you know, a multicultural country. That doesn’t always work out that way. Because, we also need to realize that yes, we are becoming more and more diverse, and different societies have different views of sexuality, and we also need to be sensitive to that, and, I feel it’s important to also consider that.
SF: And I was wondering if you had any comment about sex and trust.
Y: Basically when you’re having sex with someone, yes, you’re attracted to them, but you’re also trusting them with your body. So, that’s why, for me, it’s really important to have consent, to talk about these things, to be like, is it okay? Or if the person is actually not okay with that, just stop it and be like, okay, let’s stop that right now. There’s this thing called the Yes and No Questionnaire. It’s actually a huge list of these awesome sexual stuff that you can put a yes, no, or maybe in front of. For instance, can I nibble on your ear? Yes, no, maybe. That kind of thing. I think it would be really cool if someone sends that to you and be like - I think it’s really sexy actually, like, can I? Maybe, maybe not? I’m willing to try that, that far. It would be cool, because you’re trusting a person with your body and that person is trusting you with their body, and your’e completely vulnerable, and it’s just really important, that’s how I see it.
Jenna: My name is Jenna and I am 29, and I reside in Toronto, but I come from a rural community which is in Ontario. I am a woman, I am female and I am straight, although, I would have to say, I don’t really think about it necessarily that way. I think I’m straight possibly because I’m with a male partner, but I feel like I could not necessarily have to be, yeah.
SF: How did you first learn about sex?
J: I have a lot of memories about just sort of knowing about it. And I think guessing at it. ‘Cause if you think about, maybe I would be, you know, about 6 or 7, and if you interact physically with someone, and maybe there’s like, kissing involved - I think when I was a kid, I defined that as sex, which is kind of hilarious, but also, is still in line with what I think about it now, in a weird way. Yeah, I think I probably really didn’t know very much about it and learn very much about it until I was already having it.
So, I think that’s probably why the physical part of it stays with me so much, because the physical part was what I knew, and I think that that is really, for a long time, was kind of what it was, just the actual act of having sex with someone, having someone like, insert themselves into you. And I would say that probably I learned about it on my own, I don’t think anyone ever told me anything about it, you know.
SF: So there wasn’t anybody in particular who taught you about sex, you taught yourself about sex?
J: Yeah, and I don’t even know if I would have taught myself about it necessarily. I mean the relationship that I found myself first sexually active in was one in which I kind of just allowed….I shouldn’t say that I allowed stuff to just kind of happen, but I didn’t really think about what I was doing when I was doing it. And I didn’t really necessarily take the lead in a lot of things, and I didn’t necessarily ask for things or say that I didn’t want to do things. I just kind of went with kind of whatever was happening, you know? Yeah, so, I don’t recommend that way, learning about it [laughs], because it’s really - I think that’s part of the reason why it’s still very mixed up for me is because I didn’t learn lessons from a safe person when I first started learning those lessons. And nobody talked to me about it. My parents didn’t talk to me, my teachers didn’t talk to me in a way that was at all helpful. Even my friends - I was the only one that was interested, really. Everyone else just kind of wanted to be private about it. I think I was trying to connect with people about it for a long time.
SF: What do you wish that you had been told about sex before you ever had it?
J: I wish that I had been told about the emotional toll of it. I feel like I was very damaged by the way that I had sex for a very long time. And, not only that, but that I think people around me maybe had a sense of that but didn’t necessarily feel comfortable talking to me about it. So I wish that somebody had indicated, you know, that it doesn’t have to be so fraught, I guess. So, it doesn’t have to, it, uh [stutters] good, and I mean good in all of the ways. Good, like physically satisfying good, but also good as in kind, and with good intentions. Like, if all of those things, if that had been expressed to me that that was what sex should be, then I think that I’d have had a very different attitude towards it for a long time, and probably would have found it to more fulfilling a lot sooner. And not even just fulfilling, but…easy or comfortable or…loving. Like, I think that’s probably one of the biggest hurdles, is really to think about it as something that can be loving as opposed to something that is just there to satisfy a need, and not even necessarily mine, you know? Yeah, it’s certainly the one thing that always stands out in my mind as something that I would change about the way that I learned about it.
SF: Does any anecdote or story come to mind that would illustrate a moment where you realized that that was something that you wished that you had known?
J: I mean I think, I went through a phase in my current relationship where, without really being able to understand why, I felt really afraid of my partner’s advances. We were together for a while before we moved in together, or even lived in the same city together, so when we saw each other, everything was always good. But I found once we moved in together, and it was there all the time, and it was a possibility all the time, that really scared the shit out of me. And we really talked a lot about the reasons why I was feeling that way and worked through approaches, ways that possibly things could be better, because there’s a lot of frustration involved in that, right? I think that every now and then, there would be a sort of break through, I guess, where I’d sort of, not during maybe but afterwards think, oh, okay this person is still here, and this person still loves me and obviously respects me and this is a very different experience for him than it is for me - he’s really comfortable with it in a way that I’m obviously not.
And, um, he does this thing where he will pinch my cheeks. I think that that it is his way of connecting himself to me in this really innocent way, but also, like, really loving way. It’s a super, super loving gesture, it’s probably the most loving gesture that we have between us. And I remember one time, we were having sex and he was underneath me, and he just reached up and pinched my cheeks, and I was so surprised, because there was this loving gesture, which was not in any way based in any sexual situations that we’d had, but here it was appearing in this situation, and I think that that for me was a realization of, oh, okay, so love is definitely a part of this, and respect is a part of it, and kindness is a part of this. And I think that was really the first time that I actually was able to put all those of pieces together.
SF: How have you continued to learn about sex as you’ve been growing up?
J: I guess that I’m been doing that by talking about it, for starters. And…trying to be honest about it with my partner - and also with myself. And, I’ve started following my menstrual cycle, and that really helps me be aware and notice the way that my body feels and what that’s connected to, whether it’s fertility or whether it’s the other person, the person that I’m interacting with, even people that I just happen see on the street or whatever, it just has really helped me become sort of more open to accepting the fact that sexuality is inserted into many different aspects of your life.
S: I’m wondering how you have gone about repairing, and what advice you would give someone to move beyond an experience like that?
J: Mm…being able to talk about it is important. Umm, pulling away from sex in general was something that I had a very strong urge to do and did do for a certain amount of time. I think that you have to listen to your body and start to actually pay attention to what’s going on in it when you are having certain thoughts, when you are remembering certain things, and being prepared to feel kind of bad about them, but also trying to learn how to feel better about them.
It’s not just your trust, right? When you have a violation that is related to sex, even if it’s, you know, not necessarily rape - it may just be someone who has absolutely no respect for you, who is continuing to take advantage of you, whether it’s your emotional state, or your relationship that you have with them, whatever it is - that affects you, not just mentally, but also physically. And I was very, just afraid of the things my body felt for a very long time.
I really thing the most important thing in a situation like that, because that’s what it really comes down to, is if someone treats you badly and it is sex-centred, could be something that seems almost trivial, because if you think you’ve consented to something, then it seems like it should be cut and dry, right, but it’s not always. I think that you can consent to something thinking that the intentions are different, and when they’re not, that is really a shattering experience.
Being able to actually acknowledge that to yourself and possibly to someone else who can help you sort through what that feels like, and why that feels like it, is really important. You know, I had a partner who was really understanding and very patient, and I was very lucky to have that and I don’t recommend being in a relationship, a sexual relationship, if you have really negative feelings around sexuality, because I think that that just tends to make it worse, unless you happen to come across and be with someone who is very careful with the way that you feel. Being prepared to face very difficult feelings is really the most important part of trying to come back from something like that…but if you know that you can recognize that situation in the future, or if you know that you can recognize even just a certain feeling in yourself in the future, and if you can avoid that feeling by sticking up for yourself, or asserting yourself or talking to someone, or just doing something else until, you know, you feel safe again, then that’s kind of just something you have to do.
SF: If you feel comfortable doing it, would you describe your first sexual experience?
J: I remember the boyfriend that I had in high school, I had gone over to his house and it was maybe the second time that we had hung out in this capacity, I guess. And I remember that we were making out, and he wanted to - he wanted to touch me, and so he stuck his hand in my pants and started to, like, you know, try and stimulate me, but because he is a 16-year old boy, he doesn’t really get how it works. But the weird thing about that is that I remember saying, okay, I don’t think that this is something I want to do, and I said it to him, and he stopped. But I remember very specifically not being able to tell him why I wanted him to stop, and not being able to tell him that I was uncomfortable and that he wasn’t doing it right. And, you know, we just sort of moved on from there and it was never really addressed, and that really stands out as the first really, the first time I actually knew anything about what was going to come next, you know? Yeah, it was pretty uncomfortable [gives a small laugh].
Anastasia: My name is Anastasia and I was born and raised in Hamilton and I’m currently living in Toronto. I self identify as a queer woman/lesbian, dyke, practicing homosexual, and a femme - I think that’s a pretty important part of my gender identity, woman, really strongly identified. Oh! - and I’m 25.
SF: And what does sex mean to you? How would you define it?
S: Uh, it kind of, it means - a pleasure and connection I guess? That’s the simplest way I can kind of put it. It’s a really important part of relationships for me.
SF: Are there any physical dimensions of the definition for you, or is it devoid of that?
A: Yeah, I think there are for me, but I recognize that what I look at as sex varies wildly from the mainstream definition, for sure, as well as other folks’ definition of sex. Yeah, I would say there’s definitely physical dimensions to what it is, what constitutes sex and what doesn’t. I think I do have to do some rethinking about the non-physical, like, where exactly does emotional intimacy figure into that, and how intimate do I have to be with somebody before something crosses the line? I would say that usually it involves some sort of touching of genitals without a clothing barrier, definitely gloves and dams and all that stuff and practicing safer sex, so, physical barriers are a part of sex for me, but I would say, yeah, that’s usually how I judge things, if there’s been some sort of contact with genitalia minus clothes.
SF: Do you remember generally the time when you first kind of knew about sex and were thinking about it, and how it made you feel?
A: [Laughs] Confused! I think I started thinking about sex in a not super abstract way probably in middle school. I was sort of like, hmm, this seems like a good idea but mmm, there’s something not quite sitting right about how I feel about boys and whatever, and [makes frustrated noise]. And so, I didn’t actually figure out what I wanted in terms of sex probably really, really late in the game, like around the time that I came out when I was 19. And at that time I even still thought that would involve men and not so much.
SF: Is there something that comes to mind that you wish you’d been told about sex, something that you found yourself having to figure out?
A: Um, yeah! - that I could have it with women, I think was probably was something - like information that I would have appreciated at a younger age. I think it probably would have shaved a couple of years off the coming out process.
SF: Can you tell me about that moment, or that feeling of, you know, finding yourself wishing that you knew that, that you could have sex with women? Like, what was that discovery like, is there an anecdote, or like a story that you can tell about that?
A: [Laughs] Yeah, oh my God, this is so embarrassing, this is actually so embarrassing! So, I was sitting at my desk and I was in first year, and I had started watching The L-Word, thinking like, oh! This is a really great show! and it kind changed my views on sex and it was, like, my first major exposure to queer sexuality. So, I was sitting at my desk and there was this one scene, and one of the characters, she had divorced her partner, was separated from her partner, and was kind of distraught but also was like, okay, gonna jack off, ‘cause that’s a thing, you know, I’m still human and sexual and whatever. But I was sitting at my desk and I was watching this woman masturbate on screen, and then, proceeded to cry, so it was sad, and then credits for that episode came on, and I was like, okay, [exhales], that was interesting, and then I noticed that, like, my nipples were hard [laughs] and I was like, okay, alright, maybe that this is something that I need to think about.
‘Cause I mean, hot sex is hot sex, and bearing witness to that can really impact you. But I think, you know, where I’d already felt a little weird and a little unsure and kind of not really wanting to be involved with boys a lot. There was already a lot of questioning happening and that was sort of a big moment, there was never - I can’t think of any other instance, as like a defined, a really super-solid moment when I went, oh, I might be fuckin’ gay, I might be queer. And, yeah. I think that was a couple of months before I “came-out came-out”, but that was big.
SF: What made you feel sure enough to come out?
A: It wasn’t any particular thing, I think it was just because it was the way I was feeling and I was going to tell everyone about it!
SF: At that point, had you never been with another woman sexually?
A: Yeah, I hadn’t even kissed a woman before I came out and I think it was another, like 8 months before any sort of intimate contact - or, like, not even intimate, like making out with another woman - that was a long way down the road.
SF: And then, what was your first sexual experience with a woman like?
A: Uhm, it was…it was good. I mean - ugh God - I don’t think I would repeat exactly the way it happened ‘cause I was so drunk [laughs]! Knowing what I know how about consent, and sort of being able to establish that ahead of time, or not establish it ahead of time - consent isn’t a light switch, anyway I know that to be a thing. But in my younger days, I hadn’t developed a lot of my politics in the same way, and that and just drunk sex, I - ugh - I really dislike. So, it was fun, it was great, I was happy about how things went.
SF: It’s a very, very common thing for people to have trust and/or respect broken in a relationship and have that relate to sex. And I’m wondering if you have ever had a situation where you’ve had an experience like that, and if you wouldn’t mind talking about it.
A: There was an instance where I hooked up with somebody - and it was sort of a one-off thing - and I, I mean I’m pretty comfortable doing a format that’s like, okay, I’ll let you know if you’re approaching anything that I’m not comfortable with. But at the outset I had been like okay, I don’t want to have any sort of penetrative sex tonight. I kind of laid everything out for her and she wasn’t super supportive about it and just was sort of like, okay, I can do that, and said that she would be fine with that and respect that, but didn’t end up executing that so well, following through. Yeah, and there was an instance where she did cross a boundary, and, I mean, she said it was accidental, and I’m sure that that is something that she believed to be true and so, okay fine, and I didn’t feel super-traumatized or anything. I was okay with that, the way that that felt to me wasn’t awful, but just it kind of, like, took me aback a little, and I was sort of like, meh, this doesn’t set a great stage for this happening again.
SF: Have there been any other situations where you felt really vulnerable and had to do some repair?
A: I think probably the closest thing is, my last relationship ended because my partner told me that she would have protected sex with somebody, and then, didn’t. And that, I didn’t think that would be as big a deal to me, but it really was.
SF: How have you continued to learn about sex as you’ve grown up.
A: Uhhh, uhh, yeah, practicing with other people, practicing alone, like masturbation’s been really great, watching mainstream and feminist porn, talking to friends, reading ‘zines, reading other published materials, Tristan Taormino and Violet Blue do a lot of writing, blogs, yeah, just consuming a lot of sex positive and feminist media.
SF: Are there things that you’ve had to unlearn about sex?
A: Yeah! There’s been a lot - let me count the ways! Learning that sex can mean a lot of different things to different people. Yeah, ahh, that kink and BDSM can be, like, really loving and awesome and non-monogamy can work for people. Umm, I haven’t quite figured out if it’s what’s for me. That gender has, in a lot of ways, very little to do with who you are as a sex partner. We tend to assume that like - I was just explaining to a straight acquaintance of mine today that I’m a top and here’s what that means, and she was like really?! And it’s just sort of, depending on your demeanour and your gender, I think people tend to pin you down. So, top and bottom, to me, that means I tend to be more dominant in sexual interactions. So, top is a piece of my identity that I didn’t come into very late, because I didn’t know much about that language, and it was like butch and femme, I used think that that was really outdated and now I’m like, oh my God, this fuckin’ rules, like let’s celebrate this. It’s an amazing part of our history, and something that we’re - especially radical queers are getting back into now.
SF: Would you describe your first sexual experience for me?
A: I had a boyfriend when I was 17 and a half, and yeah, that was my first foray into the sex-ish…I do count him, and another, a subsequent boyfriend after that, as sex partners, because we did have oral sex. So, yeah, that was weird and uncomfortable. But, okay, I guess it was like you’re 17, and it’s both your first-ish times, so it’s going to be weird and uncomfortable and I wasn’t, like, super-crazy about him, because I was about a year and a half away from coming out [laughs] as not wanting to sleep with men! So I was ready to be sexual, but I didn’t, hadn’t figured out that it should probably be with women, that that’s where my interests were going to be.
SF: So what did that feel like?
A: Uh, to be - well I mean, I was like, okay, I guess that this is just the way it’s going to be and like, I was into it to an extent, but there was something that wasn’t sitting right, like, my first kiss was with that boyfriend. You know, he’s such a sweet guy, and, I just, I wasn’t - there was just something that didn’t sit right with me. I just remember feeling a sense of loss after going home at night. I think I tried, I really suppressed that a lot when I continued to have those experiences with him. And he was, again, like great, good consent practice the whole way through, and it just, it was…yeah, there was always something a little off…yeah, ‘cause I just, I just figured that was the way it was going to be, and I would always have a bit of [makes a disgusted noise] or conflict about it.
SF: If sex education could be just the way you want it to be [Anastasia laughs] what would it be like?
S: I think, obviously, we’d learn a lot sooner about sex, because kids are little inquisitive weirdos and we all want to know stuff so there’s no reason to hold back that basic information, like, these are genitals, and here are the names for them, and, like, just give them the general process and stuff, you don’t need to go into it, you can give them the basics in gender and sexuality and sexual orientation, it’s super easy.
And then later, I think it would be great to teach high school students, ‘cause it is such a shame, sort of adled thing, or it can be a process that’s fraught with a lot of shame, when you’re discovering your sexuality, and when you’re discovering that you might be, like, kinky or whatever. And to teach kids to practice that safely, I think would be great. Like using toys safely, practicing anal sex safely, I think that’s stuff we can start introducing into our sex-ed curriculum. I don’t know where, I don’t know when that’s appropriate. Like I don’t know a lot about elementary or secondary education, like I don’t know how to deal with kids and teenagers so well. So, I don’t know what that would look like or when it would be age appropriate to introduce those things, but I think all of that stuff, everything that I know now, I would want to - I ideally would have known earlier, a lot earlier.
[Sound up on extro]
SF: I’m Shameless Magazine’s Web Producer Sarah Feldbloom. You’ve been listening to Toni, Yegi, Jenna and Anastasia talk about what sex means to them, and how they figured that out. Don’t forget to pick up a copy of our Education issue, which is on stands right now and available through our iphone app. It features stories about how to get an education outside the classroom, the Quebec student movement and the right to education, and the affect of residential schools and the current state of aboriginal education in Canada. I hope you enjoyed the podcast today! Thanks so much for joining me!