A new sex education center is born

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Next weekend, on September 26th, I'll be speaking at the grand opening of the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health, a nonprofit resource center run by certified sex educator Megan Andelloux. I'll be on a panel with some of my role models in the world of sex education and research: Carol Queen, Becky Chalker, Barbara Carellas, Gina Ogden and Bill Taverner. I'm also very excited about the screenings of Tara Hurley's Happy Endings? and At Your Cervix by Amy Jo Goddard and Julie Carlson.

I admire Megan's work a great deal and was thrilled to be invited to participate in the grand opening of her center. Several times I've been struck by the courage she's shown in the simple act of including the word "Pleasure" in the name of her center. It shouldn't require courage to pair pleasure and health in talking about sex, doing sex education work, or naming sexuality resource centers, and yet it does. Sexual pleasure is a lightening rod in this culture. Pairing pleasure and health takes special courage because while we are willing - sometimes, grudgingly - as a society to spend money on sexual health education we are most unwilling as a society to spend money on sexual pleasure. Publicly recognizing that sexual health and pleasure go together could seem very threatening not only to those whose conservatism requires the public denial of most sexual pleasure in the first place, but also for those who depend on the health discourse to legitimize their sex-related work in the eyes of funders. Megan's insistance that sexual pleasure is an integral part of sexual health is admirable for its honesty in the face of tremendous pressure to disguise or hide the connection.

Anyway, I mention all of this because Megan recently published a piece on Carnal Nation (where Chris Hall, co-founder of Sex In The Public Square lives these days) that reflects on the challenges she's faced in getting her center born. I asked her if I could reprint it here, she said yes, and so here it is, below the fold.

How Big is That Closet, Really?

Originally posted at Carnal Nation, reprinted with permission of the author, Megan Andelloux.

Through the years, I've had quite a few interesting encounters with those who have chosen to come out of the closet. Back in my college days, "outing yourself" simply meant openly proclaiming yourself as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. This was, of course, long before the alphabet-soup expansion led us to GLBTIQQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, and questioning).

Then, after college, things started to change. Amongst young female professionals, "outing yourself" could refer to declaring whether or not you were a feminist. I would often get embroiled in conversations with colleagues at Planned Parenthood who were quick to deny to me that they were feminists. God forbid! Feminists, as the story went, didn't wear skirts and hated men almost as much as they hated sex. But privately, most of them would pull me aside and affirm their dedication to feminist causes. A few would even go so far as to flash me their NOW membership cards. "As a young sex educator, I was stunned: How could women who worked for reproductive rights not proudly and publicly don the mantle of feminist?” At the time, I was furious with these closeted co-workers. But nowadays, after personally suffering through the injustices of workplace discrimination, I've become less judgmental of those strong women afraid to come out.

In the past few years, "outing yourself" has taken on a whole new meaning. Anonymity over the net has led some to take on new roles and new personas. But still, the fear of publically revealing that you are also known as captain-kirk99 or mistressfootworship on the local chat-rooms keeps whole new segments of the population deep in the back of the closet. And often with good reason. Though the news of late has been the widely-reported story of Pittgirl, a well-known political blogger from Pittsburg who recently came out after publically critizing the Mayor, only to lose her job as a result

Nowadays, "outing" myself has taken on a very personal meaning: should I tell people what I do for a living? Do I choose to tell the person next to me on the plane that I promote sex education? And what are the consequences if I do so?

Usually, I choose to disclose. I find it uncomfortable in that closet! Don't get me wrong though; it can get just as awkward outside the closet as in. For instance, upon revealing my profession of sex educator, people feel strangely free to reveal their deepest desires. For instance, years ago I proudly outed myself while perusing an antique shop. No sooner had the words "sex-educator" left my mouth than had he declared his secret diaper fetish. Is it so shocking that while drooling over original colonial dry sinks I might not want to imagine the sexual scenarios of this shirtless man?

Sketchy man, and a yucky situation all around. But I liken it to that of being a doctor or a lawyer. I know that when people hear my partner "out" himself as a doctor, they will soon be lifting their shirt to point out some kind of rash or mole. We sex educators are few and far between, and many people are desperate for the information I dispense, which is one of the reasons why I decided to open a non-profit resource center for sexuality information. The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health will be opening in Rhode Island and is a first for its kind in New England. The CSPH's mission is to provide people with a safe space to receive quality information on sexuality issues.

But perhaps creating our entire business model out of the closet wasn't such a great idea. Our grand opening was set to take place on September 26th. For a three-hour event, I booked nationally known speakers, including Carol Queen, Bill Taverner, Elizabeth Wood, Barbara Carellas, Gina Ogden and Becky Chalker who are to speak on the need for quality sex education and sexual advocacy issues.

Enter the zoning board. Because of the scandalous nature of openly proclaiming "Sexual Pleasure" in the CSPH's title, the grand opening is not likely to be granted a permit to take place (though I've now managed to secure an alternative location!). Seems that I've yet again made people nervous by telling people that sex can be pleasurable. Never mind the health benefits of openly discussing human sexuality in the community; all the old-boy network hears is the one word "sex," and images of whips and chains and unlawful carnal knowledge come swirling. Yet meet with these same officials, and I'm told that I'm not as scary in person as I am on paper. They've told me that they were surprised to find a sweet, intelligent woman. People hold all these misconceptions because of the work I do.

Choosing to out yourself causes controversy, no matter what part of yourself you're outing. Outing the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health has certainly forced us to move our grand opening to the next town over. And it certainly has caused commotion in my small little suburb outside of Providence, RI. But you know what? I'm glad that I chose to name my business "The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health." I'm proud to disclose my profession, because when we out ourselves, we provide the opportunity for change.