Yesterday I walked across the University of Richmond campus with a tote bag of dildos slung over my shoulder. I’d parked my Toyota Scion, which is wrapped with an image of women’s bodies administering handcuffs and lubricant to one another, near the lake.
I’d spent a lot of time at that lake as a kid. The Commons, which sits at its head, had been my teenage go-to for cigarettes. There’d been a vending machine there that spit them out for anyone who cared to insert a couple of dollars worth of change. I would smoke by the lake and change my shirt before I went home.
Walking around that lake as a young high schooler, I’d met a college sophomore named Doug and we’d exchanged phone numbers, maybe kissed once or twice. When I was even younger I’d met a boy my age visiting for baseball camp and we’d made out in his room while he serenaded me with 90s R&B decidedly unsexy mega-hit, “Freak Me.”
The University of Richmond campus was had served as one of my primary escapes when I was living at home and didn’t have the luxury of a driver’s license. I “ran away from home” many times to its basketball stadium, where I’d call my cousin from a payphone and complain about my parents.
Given my unconventional youth, it’s no wonder that middle aged me would find herself back there, driving a car that attracts attention and sometimes scorn, hauling bondage tape and butt plug tails across the campus. The twist is that my bag full of “Taboo” and me had actually been invited.
The night before I spoke to Dr. Nathan Snaza’s class The Politics of Sexual Education, I’d sat on a panel with other sex positive members of our community before a group of interested and educated adults about the stigma surrounding female pleasure. It was a fun and fascinating experience and I took with me a sense of tremendous gratitude. This panel, this place even (The Broad, a workspace and social club for women) would have been hard to come across when I started Taboo 15 years ago. Conversations surrounding female sexuality were often either thin or, in one way or another, aggressive, and only a sliver of the population wanted to be caught having them.
As I hurried into Weinstein Hall (late, because I apparently haven’t retained my teenage knowledge of the campus or, more likely, I never explored much deeper than the lake and one dorm,) it hit me that, for the second time in two days, I was fulfilling a recruitment as a sexuality expert. I had been asked to speak about sex positivity to a class full of students whose had undoubtedly spent as much time in studying in high school as I had spent smoking cigarettes around their campus’s lake.
It reminded me, again, how when I started Taboo my father suggested that I instead “get a real job, like at Taco Bell.”
The importance of sex education and, even more so, of adult stores, seems to have been a source of confusion for a long time. If you touch yourself too much, you’ll go blind. It’s okay, though, if you’re a man. But try not to admit to it. Women should be virginal and demure, but also submit to their husband’s every whim. They should also submit to the sexual whims of other men, but only if you are that man, and after that they should expect to be discarded. Women should never, under any circumstance, discard a man.
Certain acts are for whores. Whores are sexy. Sexy is desirable. If you aren’t desired you are worthless.
If you use a toy you’re kinky. If you’re kinky, you’re a pervert. If you’re a pervert you’re a bad person. Bad people go to hell.
Fantasy is okay as long as your fantasies are shared by a great enough percentage of the population, but you should never share your fantasies with someone who isn’t your partner and you should only have one parter, to whom you should have committed yourself for life.
If you save yourself for marriage, you’re a prude.
And so on.
There’s so much anxiety, so much worry, so much elation and so much shame surrounding sex, humans have had to work hard to stifle the conversations surrounding it. Whatever your viewpoint, whether you want to save a soul or inspire an orgasm, it’s undeniable that speaking about sexuality has value.
I had a great time talking to the students at U of R. I was impressed and inspired by their questions and, even more so, by their eagerness to ask them. When I left and walked towards (but actually accidentally away from) my car, I felt so lucky for my job that is not Taco Bell, for my ability to spend afternoons discussing something I love, and for the fact that the importance of diverse sexual education is finally being recognized, even if not yet on a grand scale.