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Nina Hartley on Sex Ed [Preview]

Porn star, sex activist, and educator Nina Hartley discusses the state of sex education for today’s youth. 


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Americans have a perpetually juvenile state of mind when it comes to sex. Paradoxically, this has the greatest effect on juveniles in need of actual sex education. The “Ooh, boobies!” attitude translates directly to curricula taught in schools. As a result, many young people turn to porn to learn more. While sexual intercourse does have serious consequences – “death or babies” – Hartley wonders if we shouldn’t advocate a more positive vision of sexual gratification than either sex ed or pornographic videos offer.

Comfort and Consent

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Safe sex should obviously be a part of any sex ed course. STDs are real, not urban myths. Unplanned pregnancies are an overused plot device because they happen all the time. But there’s more to sex than a condom demo with fresh produce props. Especially now, the importance of consent should be front and center in any sex ed discussion.

Especially now, the importance of consent should be front and center in any sex ed discussion. While saying yes or no is simple – or at least it should be – issues about sexual comfort are a little more complex. As Hartley mentions, two individuals might have very different ideas of what constitutes passionate sexual intimacy at the end of a first date. In an ideal world, sex ed courses would help young people understand and discover their own comfort levels without judgement one way or the other. Because as with the tired old condom demos, there’s also more to sex than simple penetration.

The Pleasure of Learning

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Was it surprising that Hartley recommended self-gratification as part of a rigorous sex ed course? It’s possible she didn’t mean it exactly like that, but if it’s shocking, that’s kind of the point. Masturbation is one of the sex topics that’s still considered taboo and a source of shame. Everyone does it. We all know everyone does it. Nobody ever wants to discuss it. Yet self-pleasure is perhaps the healthiest introduction to one’s own sexuality for both women and men. So long as individuals don’t force others to watch them masturbate without consent, it’s a completely harmless activity. More than that, it’s a way to understand likes and dislikes in basic terms before others get involved. If we can’t be comfortable with ourselves, it won’t get any easier when there’s another person in the bedroom.

Can we talk about it?

What are your thoughts about sex education? Did your school use “STD and teen pregnancy” shock tactics with little information about actual sex? Did you learn about sex from another source, such as a friend, parents, or other social group? Or did your curiosity take you to the 18+/NSFW regions of the Internet? Most sex ed courses are segregated by gender for reasons that once seemed obvious. Does this still make sense? Should it be co-educational in the hopes of fostering an open discussion on important topics like comfort and consent? Or should it be even further subdivided along the lines of sexual preferences and identities? Or would simply diversifying the perspectives on sexuality be sufficient under the existing formats?

Photo Credits

Nina Hartley by Michael Dorausch


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