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The sex ed we wish we had
Come Curious

These platforms are giving us the sex ed we should have had

We ask four experts why the government is deciding what ‘acceptable’ sex is and find out what they’re doing to change it

When it comes to sex, the war between white-haired puritans and vocal progressives is never-ending. 2018, though, seems to have marked a particularly depressing turn in events. Legislation such as SESTA/FOSTA (Stop Enabling Sex-Trafficking Act/Fight Online Sex-Trafficking Act) and the proposed porn site age verification might make sense on the tin, but pry further and it becomes clear that these measures reveal the ill-informed and archaic principles of those in power. In conflating sex work with sex trafficking, in addition to potentially putting independent porn producers out and homogenising the porn industry, these developments reveal how a nuanced understanding of the ways in which sex interweaves through social, cultural, and political frameworks is sorely missing.

What remains is an uncertain landscape where, in addition to cultural producers and livelihoods being put at risk, platforms that discuss sex in an educational context are bearing the brunt of passive censorship. Shadow banning, where content is blocked or banned from an online community (without them knowing what they’ve been prevented from viewing), is routinely enforced on platforms such as Instagram and YouTube. Hashtags are disabled, thumbnails are blurred and search results compromised so that particular platforms aren’t easily found. In this way, these web infrastructures are mirroring the basic thinking of governmental strategies, applying a blanket approach to content that centres on sex, even if the content itself isn’t explicitly sexual.

In this roundtable, three online video sex ed platforms unpick how these developments are changing how we discuss and teach sex, as well as what it means to expand our notions of what sex education can be, and how forging inclusive and approachable spaces for discussion are being affected by legislation that overlooks their value.

Come Curious: A London-based duo set on relieving anxieties and busting myths, Florence and Reed answer questions and open up debate on topics such as webcam culture, fetish and fantasy, and rimming.  

Sex School: Formed of sex workers, therapists and sex coaches, Sex School demonstrates real-life situations through explicit film, covering consent, kissing, BDSM, as well as the social, cultural, and technical aspects of sex.

Wild Flower: Founded by former dominatrix Amy Boyajian, Wild Flower is a sex shop and YouTube channel that creates a sex-positive educational environment to discuss everything from sexual anatomy, rope bondage, and what sex toys to use after trauma.   

“It’s just ridiculous to have an expectation of what ’acceptable’ sex is” – Florence (Come Curious)

Firstly, let’s discuss the current laws in place that affect how we perceive sex, specifically the banning of acts like face sitting and squirting in porn. What are your thoughts on the rigid markers of what ‘acceptable’ sex is? If certain acts like these are banned from porn, how does this affect how we teach sex?

Amy (Wildflower): It’s basically taking acts and saying these acts are bad and wrong, so if you want to partake in those things, you are bad and wrong. Squirting is the one that really gets to me – some people squirt unintentionally… it just carries on this rhetoric of shaming natural body functions and natural desires and fantasies.  

Lina (Sex School): Overall, my view on the current legislation in the UK is dreadful. Porn that is alternative and depicts acts such as facesitting and squirting, fisting, and so on, is something really important for those who are left out of this narrative to feel validated. It’s a form of erasure threatening people’s rights to sexual autonomy and to a self-determined sexuality.

Florence (Come Curious): It’s just ridiculous to have an expectation of what ’acceptable’ sex is. Sex is just as diverse as the people having it! If people aren’t seeing these acts in porn, which is where young people learn about sex, then they’re not going to see them as normal. It’s hard to think that they might then end up judging the person that they are sleeping with, in negative ways. 

By virtue of making videos online, you are to some degree susceptible to the rules of these platforms, especially in light of SESTA/FOSTA? Do you feel a degree of vulnerability on the platforms that you’re on.

Lina (Sex School): I find it draconian, to be honest. In my case and the case of my community in sex work, this is the kind of thing we have to face every day. When we opened our Facebook page we couldn’t write So now it’s – we couldn’t write ‘sex’, it’s insane! These measures come from a panic created by fundamentalist people that are in government, and from the influence of conservative groups, religious groups, anti-sex workgroups.

Reed (Come Curious): We are already being affected on YouTube by the fact that we talk about sex, we don’t get any money from YouTube advertisers anymore, especially if there’s a video that they’ve deemed inappropriate – even though they’re adverts on our videos – we don’t get any revenue from that, and our thumbnails have been removed.  

Florence (Come Curious): I found out that we were shadowbanned by chance, and then looked at all the other sex ed channels and exactly the same thing had happened to them! No word from YouTube at all. We keep getting emails saying our videos can’t be monetised, but that’s the only contact from YouTube we have had recently, so there must be a sudden change after SESTA/FOSTA.  Instead of taking the time to make sure content is on the right side of the law, they’re just going to generalise all sex education content with whatever the new laws don’t allow them to have online. 

Amy (Wildflower): It blows my mind the regulation surrounding sexual wellness. I can’t advertise. It was really difficult to get a bank account. We’ve been permanently shadowbanned. So any hashtags we use do not work, you never show up on the explore page (unless someone follows you) so a complete stranger would never find us. You’re also never put on top of the timeline. So if you’re trying to build a company with those restrictions, it can be really disheartening, but you have to be super fucking creative.

“Instead of taking the time to make sure content is on the right side of the law, they’re just going to generalise all sex education content with whatever the new laws don’t allow them to have online” – Florence (Come Curious)

How can we queer sex education and acknowledge and celebrate queer bodies, when we’ve been routinely omitted?

Amy (Wildflower): For a long time sex education has been about STI protection, and also about this whole concept of virginity and pregnancy, which are very hetero-normative ideals. Is virginity really penis in vagina sex? If so, are some queer people forever virgins? Or do you have multiple virginities like an oral sex virginity and an anal virginity? Queerness devalues the idea of virginity. I feel like if we were to totally revamp sex education to be a little more queer-centred, people having more heteronormative sex would be grateful for that.

Florence (Come Curious): It’s not acceptable to omit diversity when it comes to sex education. We’re having to find our sex education from other sources because schools neglect so many important things when it comes to sex. We’re really lucky that we have the internet for people to share their experiences, for people to find answers to questions they were too afraid to ask their friends about. But the problem is, are we going to start being censored? 

Lina (Sex School): All four of us (in Sex School) identify as queer. We also have very different backgrounds, for example, I am Mexican, we have two British performers, and one American one, and we definitely want to have a queer approach towards the episodes we are bringing. But we also want to create some sort of bridge between a heterosexual audience and queer audiences without being apologetic about our sexualities and beliefs.   

What topics do you find difficult to discuss on your platforms, if any? What is associated with those topics that still make them hard to talk about?

Amy (Wildflower): The most important thing I feel I talk about, and the most difficult thing I feel I talk about, is sexual trauma, sexual violence, and living with that. I’m not sure what the figures are in the UK, but in the US, one in four people have experienced some kind of sexual trauma, from sexual assault to rape. If that many people have experienced sexual violence, now think about the people who are going to be partnered with people who have experienced sexual violence – they need information too.

Reed (Come Curious): We just released a video about fantasy and we decided to remove a section in case it was too offensive and might upset people. My point was that when I was younger, I thought I was pretty screwed up in the head because rape turned me on, and it was only until later I realised that it wasn’t the actual rape – actual rape makes me sick – but it was the sparking off of my imagination and my fantasy thinking. It’s not real rape that I enjoy. For a long time people I’ve spoken to say they’ve had these fantasies and they’ve felt awful, but there is nothing wrong with a fantasy – it doesn’t matter how dark, how twisted your fantasy might be, it’s a fantasy.  

How have discussions about sex changed since the inception of movements like #metoo? How have you responded/acknowledged this in the content you make?

Amy (Wildflower): I have always been big on consent and it comes from my background in BDSM. It’s a conversation you have before, but it’s also a conversation you have throughout. It is never assumed, it’s not set in stone; it fluctuates. So it was really important for me to talk about consent as the first building block in sex.

Lina (Sex School): In many ways, it’s unveiled a very important issue around discussing consent and how it is such a difficult area to navigate, yet a crucial aspect of our lives and relationships. From the perspective of a sex worker, we have been marginalised from the movement, but I like how it has addressed questions on toxic masculinity, questioning this hook-up culture we are immersed in and our misogynistic biases around sex.  

Reed (Come Curious): I feel that any sex should be okay and should be allowed as long as it’s consensual, if they are two consenting adults they can do anything they like in my opinion; cut each other up, eat each other’s body parts… as long as it’s consensual!

You all feature and/or champion sex workers as sex educators on your platforms. This is vital in so many ways, can you tell me your thoughts on why it’s important to expand our view on who sex educators can be?

Reed (Come Curious): The more experience you have, the better you can teach. Everyone’s got a different story and opinion. I do believe that sex workers and people in porn should educate. Knowledge is power, and the more you know, the more you understand.  

Florence (Come Curious): I think anyone can do it and I think it’s better if they are coming from a different angle. There’s so much that people can learn from sex workers, they probably have the best experience out of all of us. If people can see sex workers as real people with real jobs, then these laws might be looked into a little more further.

Lina (Sex School): I think for many sex workers, it comes as a natural thing to feel that they can be educators. Being a sex worker gives you a very deep insight into cultural and political dynamics surrounding sexuality, communicating desires, and gives us a very deep insight into sexual health.   

Amy (Wildflower): I think it goes in hand with people not really believing that sex work is real work – because it is real work.  At first, I thought, ‘do I have the qualifications to do this?’ But I came across a book by Betty Dodson, called Sex For One: The Joy of Self-Loving, it’s all about masturbation, and she just started doing these masturbation classes in her NYC apartment. She was like ‘I don’t know if I’m qualified?’ and a friend said to her, ‘you’re a woman with a body, you are qualified.’

“It’s a form of erasure threatening people’s rights to sexual autonomy and to a self-determined sexuality” – Lina (Sex School)

What’s the future of sex positivity? What more is needed for it to thrive?  

Florence (Come Curious): People are definitely becoming more open to talking about sex. It's not going to happen really quickly. There are still a lot of people on this planet who don't see the benefit of talking about sex, but one day they will be replaced with the younger generation! The future is sexy. 

Lina (Sex School): As with feminism, I think that sex positivity needs to be more intersectional and far more inclusive, and I hope for a more diverse approach. When it comes to media, we are in a time where, on the one hand, we have all of this encouragement when it comes to hook-up culture but then have all these laws and legislation enforcing censorship in government –  I don’t know, it’s tricky to navigate.

Amy (Wildflower): I think it’s going to be very messy like it currently is. I don’t think there is any definite point that we will hit then we’ll celebrate some sort of sexual revolution. I do think a lot of things are going to happen once these regulations are put in place, but I already feel people are being louder and showing their views – people are using the resources they have to speak out and that’s super important.