What I learned at a sex ed summer camp for adults
If you had the chance to spend 24 hours in the woods at a sex education retreat where cabins are air-conditioned, and where steak and conversations about butt stuff are both on the menu, would you go?
If your first response to that question was to ask “Wait, that’s a thing?” then you’re in luck because sex retreats are a very real thing. Although their locations and offerings might vary, if you have the time and the means, getting away and making some time to prioritize your sexual wellness is an invaluable experience.
I recently had the opportunity to attend a one day sex education retreat with Lovehoney, a U.K.-based brand specializing in sex toys, lingerie, and other pleasure products. A group of sexuality professionals were invited to luxury campground Gather Greene, located in the fittingly-named Coxsackie, New York. There were strap-ons and sex pillows for decor, and plenty of chances to not only openly talk about sex, but about the various barriers that keep so many of us from experiencing, reclaiming, and embracing sexual pleasure.
Sexual wellness and curiosity can fall by the wayside due to the demands of adulthood, so it’s important to keep learning and unlearning information about our sexual health. Here are a few things I learned during my time at sex camp:
Kink is okay.
Francisco Ramirez, sexual health expert, walked us through a discussion around kink and shared a valuable sentiment: “The problem is not your kink, the problem is our internalized sex panic.” Mainstream depictions of sex are prone to kink-shaming, where certain kinks are accepted and others are not, or where being seen as kinky is a novelty or spectacle. As a result, admitting to yourself or to your partners that you have a sex kink or identify as kinky can be a super vulnerable experience tinged with shame, embarrassment, or fear of being rejected for having a particular kink.
But reframing our kink narratives to shift away from shaming ourselves to unpacking and unlearning negative associations tied to our kinks can widen our paths to sexual pleasure. Plus, if kink is defined as “unconventional sexual preferences or behavior,” then doing what makes you feel good in spite of existing in a pleasure-shaming society might make you a little kinky anyway, regardless of what you enjoy during sex.
Pleasure is a part of our liberation.
There are a lot of terms floating around the internet and within the sexual wellness community describing the links between pleasure and sexual health. Terms like “sex positivity,” “sexual wellness,” and “sexual happiness” all aim to acknowledge the nuances in the larger cultural conversation about sex and pleasure, and how those things impact our overall health and wellness. During a camp session that explored what sexual happiness looks like in 2019, Sonalee Rashatwar—a therapist, community organizer, and clinical social worker—spoke about everyone’s right to sexual happiness, adding, “Investing in our pleasure is a part of our liberation.”
Rashatwar’s statement is powerful because, when she spoke of pleasure as a concept tied to liberation, she acknowledged that not everyone gets to access pleasure. Black people, brown people, fat people, disabled people, queer and trans people, and other identities at different intersections of oppression haven’t been taught that they deserve pleasure—let alone how to demand it or invest in it. And thinking of pleasure as a means to—or at least a vehicle for—liberation is something to carry with you, whether you’re an activist or simply a marginalized person trying to find more ways to feel good in a world that centers our pain and trauma.
We still need to normalize anal sex.
Alicia Sinclair, certified sex educator, sex coach, and the founder of b-Vibe and Le Wand, recently launched a much needed social media campaign reiterating the idea that everybody has a butt. That means that most, if not all, bodies/genders can access anal play.
The conversation around anal play has often happened in hushed tones, if it happens at all, and pleasure involving the ass has long been stigmatized as an area of exploration for queer men only. Queerphobia/homphobia and heteronormativity still keeps some folks from diving into butt stuff.
Sinclair went into some of the mechanics of anal play, like hygiene prep, and emphasized having patience and slowing things down when trying anal sex. But perhaps the most insightful point that she made was the importance of trust, consent, and communication in the act.
Anal sex is often depicted in the mainstream as an experience that happens as a surprise, or that can only be enjoyed by one kind of person. Normalizing discussions about how we can derive pleasure from it helps to destigmatize the act, and uplifts it as pleasurable fun that anyone can enjoy.